Review: '11 Mustang Shelby has racer's edge

The 2011 Mustang Shelby GT350.

The 2011 Mustang Shelby GT350. (Credit: Sportscars)

Can we agree that some cars are for transportation, and some are for, well, other things? The 2011 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is only incidentally transportation, in the sense that a 100-foot yacht might also be used as a fishing boat.

This is not to say there aren't plenty of good, tangible reasons to buy a Shelby GT350, and I have a long list of my own. But let's not pretend any of those reasons satisfy any common-sense standard.

Really, how could they? This is a loud, uncomfortable, profoundly rough-riding car that is as thirsty as a dehydrated camel, and don't even think of offering it regular gasoline. But I can't recall enjoying a car this much during the four days we spent together, and when they came and got it I was a bit emotional.

The GT350 is a time machine, and it sent me back to a period where life seemed simpler, my waist seemed smaller, and I still had hopes that I could someday afford a car like this. I cannot. But hey, four days were better than nothing.

Likely even casual car fans are familiar with the name Carroll Shelby: Now 88, the native Texan started his career as a race car driver, but made his reputation as a car builder, starting with Cobras, some of which have risen in value, such as the Shelby Daytona Coupe that was worth maybe $6,000 after its brief racing career. One sold at auction two years ago for $7.25 million. Shelby has worked with various manufacturers to build cars, most notably Ford, which is where the Mustang comes in.

That said, his relationship with Ford is confusing. You can buy a 2011 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 at your local Ford dealer, but the 2011 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is a different animal. Shelby licensed his name to Ford for the GT500, and it's built by Ford. The GT350, though, begins life as a white Ford Mustang GT, which is then shipped to the Shelby American factory in Las Vegas, where Shelby's crew modifies it.

Ford's 550-horsepower GT500 is a great car, more livable day-to-day than the GT350, but many Shelby purists prefer models like the GT350 that have actually benefitted from Shelby's touch -- though at 88, he doesn't actually touch many cars these days.

You can get the GT350 in several performance versions. The test car was the most extreme, with the 5.0-liter V-8 engine, which comes from Ford with a nothing-to-sneeze-at 412 horsepower in the regular Mustang GT, pumped up to a supercharged 624 horsepower when it leaves Las Vegas. The price varies somewhat depending on what you start with, and where you end up: You buy a new Mustang GT from Ford, likely for about $35,000, and you give Shelby another $35,000 or so to work his magic. With all its various performance options, we're told our test car listed for closer to $80,000.

So how was it? Oddly, it seemed like even more than 624 horsepower: Acceleration was breathtaking. The exhaust note sounded like a NASCAR racer, and the rock-hard ride resulted in superb cornering. The huge disc brakes were strong and linear, and steering feel was spot on. The six-speed manual transmission shifted well.

2011 FORD MUSTANG SHELBY GT350
Base price:
$68,000 (estimate)
Price as tested: $80,000 (estimate)
EPA rating: Not rated.
Observed overall fuel mileage: 12.3 mpg
Engine: 5.0-liter, 624-horsepower supercharged V-8
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Length: 188.2 inches
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Bottom line: Sheer, steroid-soaked muscle.