From 300-750 hp, Shelby keeps its Ford Mustang roots firmly planted
Four years after the passing of Carroll Shelby, his performance legacy lives on in the heart and soul — as well as under the hoods of several new Shelby Mustangs. We drove six of them last week over the hilly whoopdeedoos and down into the decreasing radii of the west loop of Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in beautiful Pahrump, Nevada. Horses and horsepower, what a day.
While Shelby American makes a wide variety of ridiculously powerful performance machines, from the 700-hp Shelby F-150 to the 289 FIA Cobra and Daytona Coupe, our day’s drive would be all about the Mustangs. There were four of them all together.
Shelby provides upgrades to just about every component on the cars, from suspension and handling to horsepower and cosmetics. Many of the parts are either developed with Ford Performance or taken directly from the Ford Performance catalog.
“It’s been informal until lately; now it’s much more formal,” said Shelby COO Keith Belair of the relationship between Ford and Shelby. “When we developed the (Shelby) GT, our agreement was we would try their parts first, test them, then give them our feedback. The Ford parts are probably a less-aggressive setup. If they don’t have a part we need, we can source it from a vendor. We give them first shot, of course. For instance, if we had a supercharger, we try theirs first. If there’s something in the aftermarket that’s better, we go with that.”
A good example of that philosophy is seen in the Super Snake. There are three superchargers available from Shelby for this most mighty of muscle cars. The Ford Performance blower offers “670-plus” hp and lets you keep your warranty. But the siren song of more power draws many a Shelby buyer to choose the “750-plus” hp supercharger options available from Whipple and Kenne Bell. Eighty more horsepower is very tempting, even when you’d already have 670.
To get all that power to the ground, Shelby offers Ford Performance springs, dampers, sway bars and bushings for its Mustangs.
“They’re tighter bars in back for the extra horsepower,” said Shelby senior designer and test driver Vince LaViolette. “You get comfort on the street, but you can also have a good day at the track.”
The bushings Shelby offers help get the power down, too.
“The bushing package tightens everything up,” said VP of international and strategic sales Gary Patterson. “It really bites coming out of the corner.”
Of course, the new Mustang’s independent rear suspension was a big help, too.
“The new platform is a great proven formula,” said Patterson.
Being headquartered in Las Vegas means they know where all the dry lakebeds are. Super Snake is parked on one of them.
Are they worth all that cash? In a word, yes. In two words, heck (or “hell,” depending on your language restrictions) yes.
Our drives were all on Spring Mountain’s west loop, the one with that big, high-speed drop off after the very tight hairpin.
Shelby GT with the Ford Performance supercharger
While these will eventually get 670-plus hp, ours was a development unit and offered “only” 627, we were told. It had a six-speed manual transmission, which was a nice surprise. While Shelby sells more manuals than automatics, they sell a third of their Mustangs with automatics. In this car, the clutch pedal travel was fairly long, while pedal engagement was way up near the top of pedal travel. There’s not much feel in the clutch, at least not as much as we’d like upon engagement. We stayed in third gear through most of the corners and upshifted to fourth on the two short straights.
The car felt really solid over that big drop-off and really solid in the turns. With 627 hp, we found we could just about steer the car with the gas pedal. It was a dance of adhesion, with the gas pedal position determining whether the car started to slip in front or in back. You go out to the edge of grip and keep dipping your toe over it. Even though it’s only 627 hp, it’s still a very powerful car. Most people might not consider the Mustang a track car, but the new Mustang really can be. Add all this Shelby stuff and you’re not wanting for anything. Package price to have Shelby breathe on this model was $49,999.
Shelby GT with manual transmission (again)
Same car, same 627 hp, different color. In this track session, we felt the traction control intervening at some points, particularly where the car understeered. Whoever had it before us had the TC on. We didn’t want to look down and search out the TC button while on track so we just put up with it. There wasn’t too much interference but we preferred the Mustang with the system off. Again, not much feel through the clutch. Likewise there was not much feel with manual shifter, either, but we never mis-shifted as a result. As in the earlier car balance was a matter of deft foot application on the gas pedal. Be gentle and exit corners smoothly, we told the voices in our head, a little too much gas and the rear cinches over a little bit. Still, the whole thing remained stable at speed exiting corners. Remarkably so for such a big brute as this. Its stable grip was confidence-inspiring. The exhaust sounded appropriately roaring when the gas was floored, too. It burbled at all other times. The brakes we didn’t notice as much. There was not a remarkable brake pedal feel but it wasn’t as bad as the clutch pedal feel.
Super Snake with the Whipple supercharger
Good for “750-plus hp,” according to the Shelby spec sheet, the Shelby Super Snake package also includes Weld Racing one-piece forged 20-inch wheels, Shelby Wilwood six-piston front brakes, Ford Performance half shafts, 3.73 gears and a Ford Performance short-throw shifter. Carbon fiber graces everything from the gauge pod cluster inside to the front splitter, hood, rocker panels and rear wing. That’s most of the “base” Super Snake, which adds $49,995 to the cost of your Mustang. For $54,999 you move up to the 750-plus-hp packages.
You run out of your ability to use horsepower on this track after about 102, we had been thinking. So what the hell do you do with 700-something? Turns out you have seven times as much fun. This one had an automatic transmission with paddle shifter but in our couple of laps we didn’t even try to shift, we just let the transmission handle everything and kept steering. We only had to wait a few times a lap at the two hairpinny turns for it to downshift, and then it downshifted kind of quickly to the appropriate gear. The rest of the time — well, the rest of the time we had a blast. It offered a lot of power in a straight line, so much so that we were waved past on a straight by a slower herd of less-powerful Mustangs. This option package was the priciest at $54,999, not counting the donor ‘Stang, but we kept telling ourselves it would be worth the added sticker.
2.3-liter Eco Boost with automatic transmission
The wimpiest combination of the day. After commanding 600- and 700-hp cars, this was quite a step down. Shelby officials said the car offered “315 hp on regular gas and 335 on race fuel.” We had regular gas. What power there was came on like and on/off switch. It kept frapping into some kind of power band and then frapping off. We were paddle shifting the automatic, which seemed to control raising and lowering the front end of the car a little but didn’t feel connected to the progress of the car down the track. That seemed to occur at a uniform rate no matter what the operator was doing. It was not much fun at all. Why would anyone buy this when it has the same $23,995 base package price as the non-supercharged version of the Shelby GT V8? For twice that, you could have many times more fun!
So there you have it: four Shelby Mustangs at three different prices. Which one would we recommend? The 750-plus hp version, of course. Do whatever you need to do to come up with the money, which along with the 30 grand for the cost of the donor Mustang, worked out to around 85 grand. Should you buy this or a GT350 from Ford for around $48,000? Or a GT350R from Ford for $61,295? A difficult question, to which we respond: buy one of each and start a race team.