This isn’t a car of the year award. It isn’t really even a review of the GT350. It’s more of a year-end retrospective, a love letter to the automobile, to the experience of driving, and all things automotive culture. Looking back at the year, a lot has changed across the board. Emissions scandals, executive fraud, and mergers have dominated the corporate headlines. Autonomy, electrification, and shifting trends in markets and segments have resulted in radical changes to future product lines. How we interact with and become consumers of automotive brands and content is also challenging media and dealership concepts. Print outlets now create TV shows, TV personalities now work for streaming services, and there’s a whole host of non-traditional content generators that customers listen to and trust but the brands don’t know what to do with. And who really needs a traditional “car salesman” anymore? It just feels unnecessary in this day and age. And yet through all of that, I’ve been witness to more variety and enthusiasm in the automotive community than ever before. And as I reflect on all this in the closing days of 2019, there’s really only one car that really sums up the whole experience; the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350.
The Shelby GT350 is, in itself, a love letter to the automobile, to the experience of driving, and all things automotive culture. And earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend 19 days with one. I was participating in a Halloween Trunk or Treat, a charity event where car owners decorate themselves and their cars to provide a safe space for inner city children to trick-or-treat when going door-to-door isn’t an option. I was all ready to dress up as a race car driver, and all I needed was a race car. Ford was so excited at the idea that they let me pick up the Shelby on October 16th at Monticello Motor Club and didn’t want it back until November 4th. Those 19 days ruined any other automotive experience I had for the rest of the year. The GT350, to my eyes, is as perfect a road car as you could buy this year. A high-revving naturally aspirated motor, a 6-speed manual transmission, and the very best track-driving technology all wrapped into one very boisterous and very blue package.
Not a whole lot has been changed since we first drove the Shelby GT350 back in 2017. But the Ford Performance team has learned a thing or two over the last 2 years, and they’ve applied to the GT350 to make it better than before. It starts on the ground, where Ford and Michelin engineered a Ford Performance-spec Pilot Sport Cup 2 tire for more grip and then fitted them to stiffer 19″ aluminum wheels. Ford redesigned the rear spoiler and fitted a front grille with a narrower opening to improve aerodynamic efficiency and reduce front-end lift. The optional $850 Handling Package also adds in a gurney flap for more downforce and adjustable strut mounts for dialing in a track-focused alignment. Ford also retuned the steering, springs, and dampers to account for all the aero and tire changes. The stiffer front springs, softer rear coils, and stiffer anti-roll bars help improve the Shelby’s body control. Finally, the brakes and rotors were upgraded for better performance.
On the road, there’s almost no discernible change in the 2019 Shelby’s composure. If anything, the revisions calm down some of the tramlining we experienced in our first review. What is noticeable is the increased grip from the Cup 2 tires. In our late October testing, this became a double-edged sword. My laps at Monticello were hampered by a damp track. Heavy rains fell during the first week. The second week saw sunny skies and moderate temperatures, before a cold spell settled in during the third week. The rather interestingly named “Slippery” drive mode does an excellent job of limited wheel spin and slip angle to keep the GT350 manageable in adverse conditions. In all, I managed to drive the Shelby GT350 18 of the 19 days available, opting to take an SUV on the one day I needed to drive on a gravel road. That amounted to almost 28.5 hours of drive time, covered 1083.9 miles, and returned an average of 16.3 MPG.
On the occasion that the weather turned warmer, I grabbed a friend and a camera and headed out to find some fall foliage. Our ride took us first to the local Porsche dealership to partake in the new “992” 911 debut. There, we met another blue Ford. From there, we headed to Saratoga National Historical Park, a 3,400 acre site that encompasses the sites of the Battles of Saratoga. These Revolutionary War battles are credited with being a turning point in America’s struggle for freedom. The British surrender on October 17, 1777 lead to France allying with the United States. The commercial and military aid provided by France turned the tide of war. Without the hard-earned victory there almost 241 years to the day, the Shelby GT350 may never have been made. And had it not been for the GT350, I can’t say I would have ever taken the time to drive that far out of my way to visit.
There are lots of different cars that fit all sorts of needs and cater to all different types of people. That means there’s a car suited for everyone, but also that nobody can ever agree on the perfect car. There is no golden standard. But if you ask me, I prefer a high power naturally aspirated engine, a manual transmission, and rear wheel drive. To my eyes, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is as ideal a new car as those attributes can provide. It’s not exorbitantly expensive, difficult to insure, or limited in production. You could take $64,000 of your hard earned dollars down to a Ford dealership today and drive home with one. And the experience behind the wheel is unlike any other new vehicle I’ve driven this year. The sound alone could be enough, but the linear power delivery, confident shift linkage, and razor sharp steering seal the deal. I maintain that the brakes provide the best pedal feel of any production car on the market. The ride is planted, but not harsh when the dampers are left in normal mode, and the level of front end grip is profound. The 5.2L V8’s 526hp can still break the rear end loose, but the GT350 is as predictable in a slide as it is glued to the pavement.
Its rare that we get to live with a test car. They’re normally gone in 5-7 days. But I had the rare chance to live with the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350. And life with the GT350 wasn’t good, it was excellent! It is a performance car for the ages that can live equally on track and on the street. It was the vehicle of choice 95% of the time, and I even had the opportunity to use it to help the community. In a year where many questioned the value of the car, not to mention the year that gave us the all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV, the GT350 is a car for this car lover. It inspired conversation, adventure, community support, and a whole lot of honest-to-goodness driving enjoyment. And it’s all thanks to the Shelby GT350.
|2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
|P295/35R19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires||$0|
|RECARO® Cloth Sport Seats with Miko® Inserts||$0|
|As Tested MSRP||$63,085|