Driven: 2019 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang, Don't Forget About Me

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Sep 12, 2019
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With all the hoopla surrounding the impending launch of the 700+ horsepower Shelby GT500, Ford wants to make sure Shelby’s original track star, the GT350 doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. So for 2019 they’ve made several improvements to the GT350 I drove a few years ago at Road America and brought it to the short, tight track at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan to show us just how much its handling has been improved.

The M1 Concourse was the perfect place to sample the upgraded Shelby GT350

Changes to the GT350 are few, but significant. The 526-horsepower, 5.2-liter V8 engine with its flat plane crank and six-speed manual transmission from Tremec are carryover.

That’s just fine because the highlight of this car has always been the spine-tingling howl the engine makes as it nears its 8,250 RPM redline. I’m also a fan of the purity and guts of only offering a manual transmission. You want to drive it fast? You have to learn how to heal and toe.

Aero enhancements up front reduce lift at track speeds.

While they’ve kept all the body panels the same, they’ve reworked the aero on the car, modifying the openings up front to reduce lift and adding a new hybrid spoiler/wing – or as they call it, a “swing” – with an optional Gurney Flap on the rear deck to increase downforce. Inside, everything remains the same except for the standard 8-inch Sync 3 touchscreen and new 12-speaker B&O Play sound system (although, I’d argue the engine still offers more aural entertainment than anything on SiriusXM).

Inside is still clean and purposeful. The 8-inch Sync 3 system is now standard.

The biggest changes are to tires, suspension, and brakes. Gone are the Pilot Super Sports of the previous generation, replaced by Michelin Cup 2 tires designed specifically for the GT350. The tread pattern and compound are optimized for track driving. They’re okay on the street unless the pavement is wet, then I’d recommend parking it and waiting for the roads to dry. If you really want to daily drive this car, get a set of Super Sports and save the Cup 2s for the track. The extra grip provided by the new tires required a recalibration of the springs and re-tune of the MagneRide active suspension, making the car corner more level. The electronic power assist steering was tweaked over hundreds of hours of track testing to provide more feedback and control.

The rear “Swing” with the optional Gurney Flap increases downforce.

Finally the Brembo brakes were upgraded with solid rotors and a more aggressive calibration. Seemingly counterintuitive for a track car where drilled brakes are usually used for cooling, the team found the new aero package provided plenty of airflow around the discs. This means you have more swept area for greater stopping power and stronger structural integrity for improved longevity.

Custom made Michelin Cup 2 tires and Brembo brakes provide plenty of grip and stopping power.

On the track these changes come together to create a supremely confident car. I was unfamiliar with the track at M1 Concourse but in just a few laps I was braking later, throwing the power on more aggressively out of each corner. We had a little rain on our test day, so I kept the car in Sport+ with traction and stability control engaged while I got more comfortable in the car. After lunch the track had dried so I drove my last session in Track mode with all the electronic nannies disabled and was able to really get a feel for how balanced the car is and how easy it is to control the car under heavy braking and throttling out of the corners as I passed the apex.

Available with an array of options and colors, the GT350 is a track car that can double as a daily driver.

The 2019 Shelby GT350 starts at $59,140 and includes one-day at the Ford Performance Racing School to help you get the most out of your new track toy. The way I’d order it with manual, cloth Recaro seats with faux suede inserts, the technology package giving you blind spot warning, navigation, and the B&O Play sound system, and the handling package, comes to $64,275. That price also includes the gorgeous Orange Fury paint which reminds me of the cars driven by George Follmer and Parnelli Jones in the heyday of the SCCA Trans Am over 2.5 liter series. And that’s something that comes standard on Mustangs few other cars have, a rich heritage and tradition of winning on some of the greatest race tracks in the world.

Channeling Parnelli Jones.
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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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