Review: '11 Mustang Shelby has racer's edge
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.