First Drive: 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350

Changes to the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 for the 2019 model year are incremental, with the focus being primarily on improvements you can feel rather than see. Updates were meant to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Having the opportunity to experience the refreshed model on both the street and track, this mission appears to be successful.

Given that the current generation of Mustang, codenamed S550, was the first to be produced specifically for the global market, 2019 features the most customizable version of the pony car yet. The GT350 and GT350 R continue to use the high-revving 5.2L V8, unchanged for this year. Churning out 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque at the 8,250 rpm redline, it remains the most powerful naturally aspirated Ford production engine. Unlike the upcoming GT500, which won’t offer a third pedal, the GT350 is offered exclusively with a Tremec six-speed manual transmission.

Notable enhancements include improved aerodynamics that reduce drag, as well as an optional new spoiler featuring a Gurney Flap. Far from a new concept, the original application was first used by American racing legend Dan Gurney in 1970. He found that fixing a piece of sheet metal to the rear wing at a right angle generates more downforce – which not only improves traction, but also allows the car to negotiate turns at higher speeds. Of course, the Shelby’s version is more sophisticated and visually appealing than its predecessor, but is said to achieve the same results. The flap is part of the $1,000 handling Package which also includes adjustable strut top mounts for added adjustability.

In addition to building the F-150 Raptor and Ford GT, Ford Performance was heavily involved in the GT350’s enhancements. Key learnings came from aerodynamic improvements of the 2020 Shelby GT500 both on track and in the simulator; Ford GT World Endurance driver Billy Johnson, meanwhile, helped dial in the updates for real-world conditions. The result of the GT350’s aerodynamics tuning, revised brake calibration, and much greater downforce is a more balanced, higher-performing car on the straightaways and especially in the corners, according to Johnson.

Granted, it was my first time at this circuit and it’s been three years since I drove the GT350, so I can’t say with any certainty how much of a difference was made. I can however say that the level of grip was fantastic. In addition to some chassis and ABS tuning, the 2019 Shelby gets a set of custom Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. Designed and tested by Ford Performance and Michelin engineers, the tread pattern and compound of the FP spec tires was made exclusively for this model: Measuring 295/35/19 up front and 305/35/19 in the rear, the GT350-specific tires were designed to assist with optimized braking, handling, and acceleration. Braking duties are still handled by the six-piston front and four-piston rear fixed-caliper Brembos.

Attending the recent media launch it was clear that Carrol Shelby’s legacy is alive and well. Not only were we able to test the latest updated model on the street and racetrack, but a race-prepped version of the 1965 GT350 in the classic Wimbledon White was also on hand to provide direct visual comparisons, along with some hot laps on the track (as a passenger) to offer added context on just how far the pony car has come. Prepared by Jim Marietta and Ted Sutton who were members of Shelby’s original Venice team back in the mid-1960’s, they and their crew are currently working to revive 36 authentic 1965 Mustangs that will be as close to the original as conceivably possible.

The original GT350 is a handful to drive both on the street and the racetrack, but the 2019 model can seamlessly cross over from one to the other and back again with ease. Suspension is firm but not abrasive even on poor surfaces, while steering is direct, accurate, and predictable thanks to modern materials and advances in tire, aerodynamics, and chassis technology. The MagneRide active suspension has also been reworked to compliment these changes while damping and spring rates have also been recalibrated, as have the electric power-assist steering and three-mode electronic stability control settings. It can brake later, hold more speed in the corners, and get on the power faster than its 2018 counterpart.

Changes to the interior were minimal on my tester, even from my own 2016 GT, with only the shifter, steering wheel centre insert, machined aluminum instrument panel appliqué, and Shelby badge on the dash providing any indication of its prowess. Exposed carbon-fibre bits are now available, as are newly designed suede door panel inserts with accent stitching, a wrapped centre console, and the availability of power-adjustable Recaro race seats with suede inserts. A new 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo is also offered as part of the $400 Electronic Package, operated via the 8-inch Sync 3 touchscreen. The package also includes blind spot monitoring, heated mirrors with memory function, integrated turn signal indicators, and Cobra puddle lights. Dual-zone climate control and a universal garage door opener have also been made standard equipment.

Shelby’s grandson Aaron is co-president of the Carrol Shelby Foundation and was on hand as an ambassador. “It’s not revolutionary, that wasn’t the goal,” said Shelby. “But it’s a great evolutionary step for those who want to go to the track, or drive it on the street.”

The GT350 starts at a MSRP of $75,600; the R version can be purchased for an additional $10,000, which includes 19-inch black carbon-fibre wheels with locking kit, red brake calipers, a carbon-fibre rear wing, larger front splitter, wider Michelin pilot cup sport 2 tires, a rear seat delete, red accent stitching on the centre console, doors, seats and steering wheel, specific chassis tuning, and an adjustable strut top mount.

Built in Flat Rock, Michigan, new colours for 2019 include Velocity Blue and Ford Performance Blue. Optional contrasting over-the-top racing stripes are available in Shadow Black, Oxford White, or Kona Blue. Aside from the Gurney Flap and new colours, most people won’t even notice the bulk of the changes made to the 2019 Shelby GT350, but you can certainly feel them if you’re lucky enough to get behind the wheel.

More than meets the eye. 5/14/2019 6:00:00 AM