FIRST DRIVE: Shelby GT350 is nirvana for enthusiasts

Upgrades unleash 2019 Ford Shelby GT350’s performance potential

Published: May 13, 2019, 9:00 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2019 Ford Shelby GT350

PONTIAC, Michigan – It’s now well known that Ford has shifted its focus to building utility vehicles – the trucks, SUVs and crossovers that today’s consumers are demanding – and abandoning the traditional car market. One exception to this corporate strategy, however, is Mustang, and one only needs to look at that nameplate’s halo model, the Shelby GT350, to confirm Ford is still fully committed to its legendary pony car. In fact, Ford has developed the Mustang into a truly global product, now available in 146 countries.

For 2019, Ford Performance engineers have pushed the envelope even further with the Shelby GT350, incorporating new chassis, aerodynamic and tire technologies that make this performance machine even more capable of delivering heart-pounding excitement. I can attest to the “heart-pounding” part after being treated to a day of track testing the new Shelby at the private M1 racetrack complex.

The enhancements engineers have added to the 2019 Shelby can be traced directly to Ford’s successful experience in road course competition that dates back to the original 1965 GT350, as well as lessons learned in the development of the current Ford GT supercar and imposing 700-horsepower Shelby GT500 muscle car, which is expected to be unleashed to the public in the fourth quarter of 2019

Aerodynamic upgrades

The most obvious changes are aerodynamic upgrades. There’s a new rear spoiler with optional Gurney flap (available after launch) that’s similar to the GT500’s carbon-fibre spoiler. It delivers more downforce to improve cornering capabilities. The chin splitter on the front fascia also shares design cues with the upcoming “King Shelby,” including side vanes that help direct airflow around the front wheels. As well, the grille area has been optimized using designs and tuning gained from wind tunnel development of the Mustang racing cars and GT500. Overall, the changes have significantly improved the car’s aerodynamic efficiency.

To capitalize on the increased downforce, Ford Performance engineers have worked with Michelin to develop a new tire with unique construction, tread pattern and rubber compounds exclusively designed to maximize the performance capabilities of the Shelby GT350. The new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 FP Spec tires – 295/35ZR19 front and 305/35ZR19 at the rear – are fitted to new standard 19-inch aluminum alloy rims and significantly improve acceleration and lateral acceleration, as well as braking.

The Shelby GT350’s standard MagneRide active suspension has been upgraded with recalibrated springs and revised damping to complement the aero and tire upgrades, while stopping power is provided by 6-piston front and 4-piston rear Brembo brakes. Ford has also revised the car’s electric power-assist steering and 3-mode electronic stability control settings based on data gleaned from hundreds of hours of competitive track testing.

The changes to the 2019 Shelby are intended to unlock the car’s true potential, especially on the racetrack. The powertrain remains the same as the previous model – a 5.2-litre, flat-crank V-8 delivering 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque through a 6-speed Tremec TR-3160 manual gearbox to the independently suspended rear end with a limited-slip differential. However, the chassis, tire and aerodynamic improvements help the car get into corners quicker and accelerate back out with more haste, too.

Track experience

Extensive lapping on the M1 circuit demonstrated the Shelby’s capabilities, which a few times felt like they exceeded the driver’s capabilities. The car felt so rock-solid on the track it boosted one’s confidence – sometimes, too far – yet it never faltered when pushed hard. I’m sure I didn’t tap into its full potential, but pushing it to my personal limit felt amazing. Steering into the corners was precise, yet effortless, with plenty of feedback as to what the front tires were doing. Through the corners, the Shelby simply used its improved downforce and grip to make the experience uneventful, then on exit, the rear end stayed where it was intended to be, without even a hint of becoming uncontrollable. Most impressive were the Brembo brakes, which repeatedly hauled the Shelby down to manageable speeds, yet never complained or revealed a hint of brake fade. This impressive overall performance was delivered, it should be noted, with nearly zero downtime during the nearly seven hours of flogging by the media.

Ford also had new Shelbys available for street drives, which demonstrated the GT350 can be a true chameleon. While it is a thoroughbred on the racetrack, the same car can be well-mannered on the road. Dial up the comfort steering mode, tone down the visceral exhaust sound (or not) and shut off the track settings and you have a vehicle that will handle long drives or short runs to the grocery store with ease. I had the opportunity to drive the previous GT350 on a lengthy cruise to Dayton, Ohio and the experience was impressive – even the fuel consumption was decent – and this latest iteration, based on my drive through the streets of this metro Detroit community, suggest the 2019 Shelby will be equally adept. The only complaint was the tendency of the wide, grippy Michelin tires to be drawn into lane depressions, not unlike the effect trolley tracks can have on a vehicle’s directional stability. Once aware, however, it was less of an issue – and disappeared completely on level road surfaces.

The GT350 is nirvana for enthusiasts – a car that handles mundane daily duties, yet is ready and able to deliver amazing performance on a racetrack.

Pricing and availability

The 2019 Shelby GT350, built at Ford’s assembly plant in Flat Rock, MI., is available now at selected Ford dealers in Canada. Pricing starts at $75,600.

Opting for the R package, which boosts the base price by $10,000, adds 19-inch black carbon fibre wheels, red brake calipers, carbon fibre rear spoiler and large front splitter, upsized tires (305/30R19 front, 315/30R19 rear), adjustable front strut top mounts, special chassis tuning and unique interior touches such as red stitching on the seats, door trim, centre console and a red centre marker on the steering wheel – and deletes the rear seat.

Other available options include Recaro seats ($850); an electronics package ($400), which includes a premium B&O 12-speaker audio system, blind-spot monitoring system, heated side mirrors with memory feature and turn-signal indicators, Cobra puddle lights and voice-activated touchscreen navigation system; carbon-fibre instrument panel ($850); handling package ($1,000) with Gurney flap and adjustable strut top mounts; black roof ($850); racing stripe ($600); and a custom car cover ($475).

If you’d prefer your Shelby finished in Ruby Red ($450) or Orange Fury ($550), that’s extra.