Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro’s have been making cars enthusiasts loyal to each side have raged amongst themselves. In the muscle car battle, the vehicle of choice on the Bowtie side has been the Camaro. Despite a recent brief absence, Chevy brought back the Camaro marque and lobbed over a WMD (Weapon of Mass Domination) with the fifth generation-based Z/28. For 2016, the Blue Oval team has fired back with a lethal track weapon of their own, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R.
Much like the Z/28, the GT350R isn’t about making the most horsepower or posting the quickest quarter-mile times, those are the roles of the ZL1 and GT500, respectively. The classic Pony Car battle between the Z/28 and GT350 is a street legal track car that’s designed to turn incredibly fast lap times at road courses across the country. To reach this goal, the engineers at Ford Performance made some major changes from the tried and true Ford Mustang GT platform.
The biggest changes happened under the hood. The team at Ford took the 5.0L engine and slightly bored and stroked it to 5.2L. They lightened the valve train with sodium-filled exhaust valves and hollow intake valves, increased the lift to 14mm and increased compression to 12.0:1. But the best stuff happened on the bottom of the block where Ford switched the engine to a flat plane crankshaft.
Heretofore, flat plane crankshaft V-8s are usually only found in race cars and exotics like Ferrari. If you look down the axis of a flat plane crankshaft, the connecting-rod journals are on opposite sides, giving the crankshaft the appearance of a minus sign. Traditional cross plane cranks have connecting-rod journals at 90-degree intervals and look like a plus sign when viewed down the axis. In addition to an intoxicatingly sweet exhaust note, the flat plane crankshaft offers lighter weight and the ability to alternate ignition events between the two cylinder banks to vastly improve engine breathing. This all adds up to a V-8 that redlines at an incredible 8,250 rpm and generates 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. That’s 102 hp per liter of displacement without the need for supercharging or turbocharging.
On the road, the Shelby GT350R makes its intentions known to the driver right away. But while the ride, as you’d expect from a track-honed tool like this, isn’t buttery smooth, the MagneRide dampers are able to soak up expansion joints and the like without knocking out a filling, especially when they’re set to Normal mode.
While improvements in supercharging and turbocharging have helped to reduce the surge of power that can sometimes catch a driver off guard in a corner, they still can’t touch a high-revving, naturally aspirated engine when it comes to throttle control. With an 8,250-rpm redline, the Shelby GT350R provides ample room between gears to enjoy that addictive exhaust note, making it hard to resist taking this engine to redline again and again.
An engine this special needs a good home, and the Shelby GT350R’s chassis fills the bill. Like all of the sixth generation Mustangs, Ford finally switched to an independent rear suspension, a move not seen since the 1999 SVT Cobra. But the Shelby GT350R gets additional help putting the power to the ground via a Torsen limited-slip rear differential. Managing the corners is Ford’s first ever use of continuously variable MagneRide dampers. An extensive system of sensors work to monitor the car’s motion and can make changes to each corner in just seven milliseconds. The Mustang suspension has come a long way from the old live rear axle setup.
Making sure the Shelby GT350R can stick to the road is the job of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. These nearly R Compound tires are wrapped around carbon fiber wheels. Ford is the first major carmaker to use carbon fiber wheels on a production car and they eliminate approximately 15 pounds of unsprung weight per corner compared to the aluminum wheels found on the Shelby GT350.
On the road, the Shelby GT350R makes its intentions known to the driver right away. But while the ride, as you’d expect from a track-honed tool like this, isn’t buttery smooth, the MagneRide dampers are able to soak up expansion joints and the like without knocking out a filling, especially when they’re set to Normal mode. In fact, the GT350R has five different drive modes (Normal, Sport, Weather, Track and Drag) that optimize everything from throttle response, damper stiffness, traction control, steering effort and exhaust note. The Drag mode is interesting in that it optimizes the system for maximum traction at lower speeds and then adjusts automatically to optimize stability as speeds increase.
Like most cars today, the Shelby GT350R has gone the way of electrically assisted steering, but unfortunately a lot of the steering feedback was lost in the transition. The GT350R has immediately quick turn-in with a tendency to slightly under-steer, but a quick throttle adjustment brings everything back in line. Stand on the brakes and the car sheds speed with amazingly little drama and outstanding control. This remarkable stopping power is courtesy of the six-piston front Brembo brakes that bite down on enormous two-piece cross-drilled 15.5-inch rotors, while four-piston calipers with 15-inch rotors handle the rear. Brake ducting keeps things cool and ensures that there’s virtually no fade lap after lap at the track.
Ford went to great lengths to reduce weight in this car. In addition to the carbon fiber wheels and lighter brakes, the Shelby GT350R features the use of exotic materials and the removal of non-essential equipment. Anything that didn’t make the car go faster was removed including the air conditioning, stereo, carpeting, rear seats, the backup camera, tire sealer and inflator, exhaust resonators and the trunk floorboard. This helped drop nearly 130 pounds of weight from the R model compared to the Shelby GT350. Some of these options can be added back if, for example, you live someplace where the lack of air conditioning would make the car unbearable to drive for long periods of the year.
A number of aerodynamic and visual upgrades give the Ford MustangAutomotiveShelby GT350R a distinctly more aggressive appearance than the standard Mustang. Up front, the reengineered grille opening is now reinforced with a carbon fiber composite that’s as stiff as steel, yet 24% lighter. Its shape gives the appearance of fangs when viewed from the front, nicely matching the Cobra badge fixed to the grille. The hood features a large vent that helps extract engine heat and improves downforce. Also assisting in downforce is the large carbon fiber rear wing. Ford claims that the Shelby GT350R makes as much downforce as the Porsche 911 GT3. Overall the look is impressive and takes this new sixth generation Mustang to the next level.
For those of us who wish to save the manual transmission, Ford has done us another favor by equipping this car with a smooth-shifting Tremec six-speed. Not only is this transmission lighter and stiffer, but it also features an oil-to-air transmission cooler to keep temps under control during aggressive driving. Shift action is solid and precise with the dual-disc clutch requiring surprisingly light action. Pedal placement is also ideal, making heel-toe downshifts a pleasure.
The $63,495 price tag might sound like a lot for a Mustang at first, but once you consider the amount of technology and track-ready performance parts that come standard, it’s right in the neighborhood of other performance coupes like the BMW M4 and Cadillac ATS-V coupe. Once you hear that flat plane crankshaft V-8 fire up, you’ll quickly start asking where to sign. The 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R clearly shows Ford is serious about track performance and does so in one sexy-looking package. With the sixth- generation-based Z/28 yet to be announced, it’s now your move, Chevy.
by Aaron Smith Photos Courtesy of FMC
A version of this article first appeared in the January 2016 print issue of Drive Magazine.