2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Review: Seems Awesome, But We Really Have No Idea

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Have you ever heard of the word anticipointment? It’s one of those Urban Dictionary words that seem to be all the rage with the kids nowadays. Basically, it means that you look forward to something with great anticipation, but the experience ends up being incredibly disappointing.

Yeah, that’s kind of how I felt after attending the GT350 Track Tour at Sebring International Raceway. Let me count all the ways that this event wasn’t awesome.

First of all, I do want to compliment Ford for their intent with this event. The GT350 Track Tour is a combination press event/owner event, which means that GT500 and Boss 302 owners were invited to drive the car side-by-side with members of the press. As a Boss 302 owner and a sometimes auto writer, I qualified in multiple ways. The curious nature of this setup turned out to cause problems for me later in the day, but we’ll get to that.

Jim Owens, VP at Ford Performance, kicked off the day with a rousing welcome to all of the attendees, some of whom really stepped up their driving game by wearing their Piloti shoes. He then introduced one of my personal driving heroes, Cindi Lux, who is the chief instructor at the Ford Racing School at Miller Motorsports Park. She let us know that she had brought several of her fine instructors with her to be coaching us, which I was glad to hear based on my outstanding experiences with both the Boss Track Attack and the ST Octane Academy. However, she followed up that good news with the Disappointment Number One: We would not be driving the full course.

Uh, come again?

See that little gray line by Turn Three? We were going to be coming onto course on Turn Twelve, turning right on Turn Thirteen, and then turning right again at that little gray line, which basically cut off everything that makes Sebring, well, Sebring.

Oh, and we’d only be getting three laps behind the wheel. That was Disappointment Number Two.

I was assigned to the Blue group, which meant that I was going to be the last of the four groups to actually drive the cars. Before my drive, I was rotated through three stations where I heard the same facts about the Shelby GT350 and GT350R three times.

Here are the things Ford really, really wants you to know about the Shelby GT350 (I wrote them down, just in case hearing it in triplicate wasn’t enough):

  • The motor generates 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque.
  • That motor? It’s a 5.2 liter, flat-crank V8.
  • The aero on the GT350R means that the R will generate more downforce than a 991 GT3.
  • The GT350 is entirely different from the A pillar forward. It doesn’t share anything with the GT.
  • The R has carbon fiber wheels weighing 18 pounds, a first for a production vehicle. I picked one up. It was light.
  • Nearly everything on the GT350 is a custom-built, bespoke part. There’s nothing “off-the-shelf.” Even the Michelin tires have a custom tread pattern. The seats, shifter, and steering wheel are all GT350 specific. Even the chrome surfaces have been dulled for track driving.
  • The MagneRide suspension is also customized. It can detect variations in pavement in less than seven milliseconds, and can communicate it to the rest of the vehicle just as quickly.

This is a picture of a flat crank, in case you’ve never seen one.

Got all that? Good, because it’s very important. Now, this next thing I’m going to show you was in no way disappointing.

Stealth Gray Focus RS. The desire is strong. In fact, I’d be much more interested in a Focus RS Track Tour. Maybe as a Fiesta ST owner I’ll get an invite to one. In fact, I mostly tuned out from the second reading of the list of GT350 features so I could drool over the RS. I’ve yet to see a color that doesn’t suit it.

Okay, well, after all of that and much standing around talking to one of the event girls (she was very interested in becoming a race car driver, so I advised she get a comp license), it was finally time to drive the cars. Yes, I had waited roughly three hours to drive the car, but I was sure that it was all going to be worth it. I grabbed my helmet and my Sony Action Cam (now available at clearance prices at Best Buy) and I headed over to be fitted for my HANS device.

Here’s my video from my drive:

Ha. Were you tricked? Because that was Disappointment Number Three. No video was allowed to be recorded on the drive for, um, “safety reasons.” However, that didn’t prevent Ford from putting their own GoPros inside the car…gaahhhh. So my camera is unsafe, but theirs? TOTALLY SAFE. Maybe they were afraid that my video would look something like, well, this Lime Rock video from my bestie Matt Farah?

My favorite Farah Quote: “That’s how short this video is. And I’m sorry for that.”

So, in case you’re somewhere where circumstance prevents you from listening to my whiny voice and wind noise, let me sum up what I said on that video: My drive was Disappointment Number Four.

I was lucky enough to drive an “R” — and a yellow one, no less. My instructor, Stan, was a super cool guy and a fine driver. He allowed me to do a little more shifting than they were supposed to (I went down to second in the slower turns and up to fifth in the exit of turn six into turn seven), and he didn’t make me stick to the event-mandated 100 mph limit. Unfortunately, even with allowing about thirty seconds between the my entry and the car ahead of me, I caught up in less than one lap. They were only allowing passing in turn six, so I had to chill behind the driver ahead of me for half a lap until Stan was able to radio for a point-by. I passed quickly and easily in turn six and caught the car ahead of that before the end of my second lap. So, I chilled behind him until turn six again, at which point I put the motherflippin’ hammer down all the way into the hairpin of turn seven. Yes! Finally, some clear track! I roared through turns eight and nine, revving the engine to the limiter in third gear …

And then my session was over.

“Ahhhh! I need another lap!” I shouted. I was not granted another lap.

In summary, I got about three or four fast turns out of three laps and spent a lot of time waiting to pass at about 50 mph. That being said; even in less than ideal traffic conditions, it’s impossible not to be impressed by that motor. It just never stops revving. Like, never. My natural inclination was to shift at 7,000 rpm, but that’s not a winning strategy in the GT350R. The motor sings its happiest when you let it go all the way to redline. It’s a feeling and a sound that’s unlike anything else on the market — at any price.

Likewise, the lateral grip is just bananas and predictable as well. I never really had the chance to go full tilt into a corner, but I also never felt like I was in danger of losing grip. The accelerometer read 1.29 G to the left and 1.41 to the right. My Boss has never seen anything like that. The best I’ve ever pulled is slightly over 1 G. In comparison, the 991 GT3 I drove at Atlanta Motorsports Park was peaking at just over 1.5 G. It’s entirely possible that with more speed and more downforce, the Shelby could have similar lateral grip.

That’s it. I can’t tell you about the glorious MagneRide suspension. I can’t tell you about the greatness of the brakes. I can’t tell you much of anything other than what it’s like to be entirely frustrated behind the wheel of this spectacular machine.

I will be blunt here: Anybody who writes a glowing review of this car, based on the drive that Ford provided at Sebring, should never be allowed to pen another syllable about cars. If a person were to write such a piece, the reader can only draw one of two conclusions:

  1. The author is desperately shilling in hopes of being invited back to another event in the future
  2. The author cannot drive his way out of a paper bag, and would have been similarly impressed by a base V-6 car with Shelby badging

In fact, feel free to draw both of those conclusions. Based on the “OMG WOW” conversations I heard around the paddock, I have no doubt that you’ll be able to read your share of these reviews in the next several days. But when they tell you how they pushed it to the limit at Sebring, just go ahead and click that little X in the upper right hand corner of your browser.

Ford heavyweights, if you’re reading, I want you to pay attention to this: I am a bonafide fucking Ford fanboy. I have bought three new Fords in the last three years. I wanted to write a glowing, slobbering review of the GT350R. I paid for my own airfare, my own hotel, and my own rental car just so I could drive your masterpiece at Sebring. I didn’t get to do that. Therefore, the best grade I can give the Shelby GT350, as a Boss 302 and Fiesta ST owner, is an “incomplete.”

Send us a press car. Let me drive it back-to-back with my Boss. Then I’ll be able to give you a real review. Until then, our readers and I are left wanting. And your car deserves much better.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • Tjh8402 Tjh8402 on Oct 17, 2015

    ugh that would've killed me, both because of the car and the track. Being in Orlando, I have long considered Sebring my home track. My memories of going every year to the 12 Hours during the heyday of the ALMS 2005-2013 will be ones I treasured. I've been fortunate enough to drive the full course, although not under racing conditions. Being cosigned to the short course must've been so frustrating. I would've loved to know how that car handles turn 17.

  • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on Oct 22, 2015

    Well, Bark, having on more than one occasion taken on the role of a critic of your writing and/or some of your points of view, it is only fair that I say that I think you did an excellent job of conveying the entirety of the good, the bad, and the ugly of your adventure. You also managed to convey a fair impression of what you were able to experience of the good of the car, without becoming so embittered about getting "shortsheeted" on track time that it caused you to fail to note the good. And though I have on at least one occasion criticized you for your use of what struck my ear as way too slangy, even for the TTAC crowd, I have to say that you seem to have struck the sweet spot between what could have been stilted-sounding slang, or excessively formal writing, in your entire narrative. The article conveys a natural tone throughout, as if you had just gotten back, and were telling your friend about your experience, in a well-ordered and carefully detailed manner. I have never been a fan of the phrase "bestie" but it doesn't seem glaringly out of place in the way that "totes" (a/k/a Valleyspeak) does to my ear, and I suspect to the ear of many other readers, though they may not comment on it. This was a really good one, Bark. I enjoyed it the whole way through, and it read as well as articles published in the leading trade mags. I am definitely looking forward to my Walter Mitty-esque opportunities to experience the GT350R in its full glory, once you get that opportunity, and give us your report. I will gladly and avidly seek out that review, even if you wear a two button suit while standing in front of it, and describe the car as "a totes driving experience." The nits I picked are just that, nits, and fashion is largely, if not entirely "de gustibus non disputandum", but when it comes down to conveying what the car is truly like, you did an excellent job. You left me feeling like the only way I could better understand the car would be to amass a lot more racing experience and then to drive it myself. And I like the idea someone else suggested...you and Jack putting a Vette and a Mustang through the paces, side by side, with each of you driving both of them under all conditions and then comparing your impressions. That has the potential to be an alltime classic. I hope you guys get a chance to do it, and then post it for our reading enjoyment. I seem to recall something like that in the distant past, in one of the main car mags, but no longer can recall if it was a Vette vs. Mustang or Vette vs. TBird setup. But I do recall that it was played up as a classic "us vs. them", bowtie vs. blue oval rivalry. A 21st century version with the Z06 and the GT350R, as orchestrated and executed by los hermanos Baruth, would be a car comparison to end all car comparisons. Please make it happen, and then give the B&B the finished product. I can't conceive of any other authorship arrangement that could hold a candle to what the two of you are capable of producing. So please, just do it!

  • Ravenuer No, I wouldn't be interested in doing this at all. Seems like it would be quite expensive.
  • Tassos Why buy either when you have two matching 2007 diesel e-classes with combined over 950k km. NO ONE SHOULD WANT MORE THAN I HAVE SETTLED FOR.
  • FreedMike Depends on the used car. If we're talking a numbers-matching GTO or something like that, then hell no. But if we're talking about something like a six-banger '67 Mustang, it'd be cool to make it into an EV with modern suspension, brakes and electronics. Call it an electro-restomod.
  • Billccm I think history is repeating itself. In the late 1980s the French acquired AMC. They discovered no easy money in that deal, Chrysler took AMC and Jeep is all that remained.Present day the French acquired FCA, discovered no easy money in the deal, and some Asian manufacturer will take what remains of Chrysler, and Jeep and RAM will be all that survived.To understand the future study the past.
  • Jalop1991 "why did the governor veto a bill to give me free gummint money?"