2016 Shelby Super Snake Review - Charming the Right Serpent

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
2016 shelby super snake review charming the right serpent

I’m not a “tuner” kinda guy. There, I said it. It’s a load off my mind. It’s not that I don’t like extra power, or a different suspension tune, I just prefer parts made by the company that made my car and I like the car to look “stock.”

A case in point was my 2006 Volvo V70R. I kept the factory exhaust tips but jammed in a racing cat, different muffler and I fiddled with the suspension. I didn’t lower the V70R — I raised it. [Say what?] My V70R is a tale for a different time, but I mention it because when I got an email invitation from Shelby, I almost deleted it. Fortunately, my cousin, a rabid collector of classic Shelbys [s]swore he’d saw my nuts off[/s] convinced me to fly to Vegas to check out Shelby’s latest wares.

In case you didn’t know, Shelby American tunes Mustangs. Why “Shelby American?” Because now that Shelby has gone public, Shelby American is the division that actually modifies cars. Of course, seeing how nothing is more ‘Murican than a modded pony car, I secretly wish they had gone with “Shelby ‘Murican,” but I digress.

How thoroughly Shelby mods your Mustang depends on your patience level and the size of your bank account. Shelby will sell you parts so you can do the work yourself one mod at a time, or you can send your ‘Stang to Vegas and they’ll do it all for you.

Starting with the ‘Stang

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Mustang is the Aston-Martin-meets-Fusion-meets-Mustang styling. The sheetmetal looks more elegant, more intentional and more expensive than before. That last part is important since a Shelby conversion can more than double the original MSRP of your Ford. Also helping things out are standard HID headlamps on all models, slick sequential turn signals out back, and generally improved fit and finish when compared to the outgoing model.

Ford overhauled the interior for this generation, though it’s still apparent its MSRP starts under $24,000. Like most cars in this price range, the center console, portions of the doors and dashboard are cast out of hard plastic. The new steering wheel design is attractive and loaded with buttons, but the rim is somewhat thin for a high performance vehicle. All of this is perfectly reasonable and expected in a car that ranges from $24,000 to $40,000, but by the time you factor in a Shelby conversion, the interior can look a little low rent for a car that’ll set you back $70,000. Helping soften the blow are Ford’s new SYNC3 infotainment system in 2016 and the availability of radar adaptive cruise control with collision warning even on models equipped with a manual transmission. While you’ll clearly find a nicer interior in a BMW M4, it won’t have Shelby power figures under the hood.

When it comes to Mustang tuners, we’re spoiled for choice. We have the big boys like Shelby, Roush and Saleen, and then perhaps a thousand smaller shops selling everything from new headlamps to questionable engine mods. The biggest difference between the two groups is that companies like Shelby have a history, a track record, and — most importantly for me — a warranty. It’s not that certain modifications will de facto void your warranty (thanks to the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act), but selecting the right tuning company results in your Ford service advisor seeing what’s been done as a “known quantity”. A quick troll of online forums indicates that as long as you stick to the mods that Shelby says retain your warranty, Ford and the dealer network play nice. You can even finance much of a Shelby conversion (or a few other top-line conversions from the big boys) through Ford Motor Credit Company. You can’t really do that at Big Steve’s House of ‘Stang around the corner.

Ford, Shelby and the Ford Shelby GT350

Ford and Shelby have had a long relationship that started in the 1960s when Carroll Shelby started importing the British-built AC Ace and stuffed them with larger, small-block V-8s. Shelby chose a Ford engine and a 55 year relationship started. Shortly after selling the original Shelby Cobra in America, Carroll started tinkering with Mustangs and the original Mustang-based Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500 were born. Over the years, the company Carroll created has acted as a tuner, a performance consultant to Ford and it even had a brief flirtation with “manufacturing” where partially completed Mustangs were sent to the Shelby factory where final assembly was completed and Shelby was the “manufacturer of record.”

Since then, Shelby has settled on post-title transformations. This means you buy your Mustang, then send it to Shelby for modification. That path is important because it is not the course taken by the new Ford Shelby GT350 and GT350R. Those two performance pony cars are made by Ford, in a Ford factory, and have never set a tire inside a Shelby-owned facility.

What is a Shelby anyway?

The post-title nature of a Shelby Mustang is also important for a few reasons. First off, you don’t really buy a Shelby off the lot. Shelby says a few dealers (many local to Vegas) have bought cars and had them Shelby-fied for sale on the lot — but more than 99 percent of Shelby cars aren’t done that way. You configure your Mustang however you want it configured, then you send it to Shelby and they do their thing. That means that while the GT350 has a more limited color palate, isn’t available as a convertible, and can’t be had with an automatic transmission, all of those things are open to the Shelby shopper. Shelby will convert just about anything if you’re willing to pay for it. This is the area where post-title tuners have an advantage.

The conversion starts out by bringing your ‘Stang to a “looks faster, handles better” state and dubs the resulting Mustang a Shelby GT. For $23,995, plus the cost of your donor car, Shelby will swap in a carbon fiber hood, rocker panels, spoiler, some fascia tweaks, a Shelby grille and badging. On the inside, they replace the Mustang plaque on the dash with a Shelby plaque and swap out the headrests and floor mats. To improve handling, the Ford wheels are kicked to the curb in favor of new 20-inch wheels with grippy rubber and the suspension gets a thorough rework with parts designed by Shelby and Ford Performance. Rounding the package out is a short throw shift kit, cold air intake and a new cat-back exhaust system.

If $24,000 sounds like a bundle, hold onto your hats, folks, because that’s where the Shelby starts. From that point, you can add more carbon fiber, performance half shafts, braking upgrades, different rear-end ratios, adjustable rear control arms and even a roll cage with race seats and a five-point safety harness. And we haven’t even talked about the engine yet.

The process of giving your pony some extra giddyup is very different at Shelby American and Ford. The Ford Shelby GT350 swaps out the Coyote 5.0-liter V-8 for a related, but heavily modified, 5.2-liter V-8 that features a flat-plane crank and a screaming 8,250 rpm redline. Shelby bolts a supercharger on the 5.0-liter engine instead. While the 5.2-liter V-8 has a unique sound and a heavy dose of marketing speak, its peak 526 horsepower don’t happen until 7,500 rpm. Since it’s naturally aspirated, torque gets only a tiny 29 lbs-ft bump over a stock 5.0-liter GT. The Shelby supercharger adds a significant amount more.

Shelby offers three different superchargers depending on how much power you need and how much you like your factory warranty. First off is a 670-horsepower version which produces a hearty 545 lbs-ft of torque — 144 horsepower and 116 lbs-ft more than the GT350. It gets there by using a Ford Performance-branded blower, which retains your factory powertrain warranty, and is even available with the six-speed automatic transmission. Next up is a Kenne Bell or Whipple blower which pushes the engine to 725 horsepower and 585 lbs-ft of torque. Checking this box means saying goodbye to your factory drivetrain warranty. If you’re already throwing caution to the wind, you might as well stump up for the big-boy-blower which cranks the V-8 to 800 horsepower and 650 lbs-ft of torque. Shoppers should know that exact performance numbers are a little vague as Shelby doesn’t bench test the engine to get an SAE net number. Instead, all testing is done with a complete vehicle on a two-wheel dyno.

This land of forced induction land is the home of Shelby’s top-end Super Snake. Assuming an essentially base Mustang GT is the donor car, the Super Snake has a super-sized price tag of $82,790 for the 670-horsepower variant. (Add a sophomoric giggle for buying a car called a Super Snake.) If you want the full treatment that makes your Super Snake as super as possible, you’ll be out-of-pocket more than $90,000. On the bright side, Shelby says that all Super Snakes are emissions legal in California.

Track time

I was surprised by Shelby’s track choice: Spring Mountain in Pahrump Nevada. Although the course can be configured as a 3.4 mile track with long straightaways — which could have highlighted the straight line ability of a 600-plus horsepower car — they chose a 1.5 mile configuration. Oddly enough, it’s the same configuration that Scion used to launch their FR-S back in 2012. The track makes sense for small, lightweight cars with moderate grip because you can explore the limits of the car and assess its dynamics at lower relative speeds. In the FR-S, I don’t think I ever hit 70 miles per hour on the track and you could steer with your right foot at “low speeds” in the corners. Compared to other curvaceous tracks — Laguna Seca, Sears Point or Willow Springs — Spring Mountain feels more like an autocross track. For the old Mustang and Shelbys based on them, this was a problem. Almost to prove the point, Shelby had a 2013 Super Snake on hand.

All of the improvements Ford made to the Mustang for this generation translate directly to the Shelby. The chassis is lower and wider than before and, most importantly, the Shelby retains the Mustang’s independent rear suspension. While a live axle may be the preference of drag racers, the new suspension makes an enormous difference on road and on track. The older Snake had a hair more steering feel, but the rear end was constantly upset over rough sections of track and camber changes at speed. With this much power in the back, an upset rear end spikes the pucker factor. The new Super Snake, on the other hand, ate up the corners like a captive pet store food mouse.

When designing the GT350, Ford made a key structural change to the body. It’s wider. Specifically, the front of the GT350 was broadened to accommodate massive 295/35R19 tires up front. Since the Shelby GT and Shelby Super Snake are based off a Mustang GT, the widest you can go up front is 275 in section. While Shelby wouldn’t rule out a wide-body option in the future, they did tell us that the changes Ford made to the front end to accommodate the wider tires were “substantial.” Although 275-width front tires are not skinny by any stretch, the GT350 has the road holding edge. When it comes to power, however, the Shelby wins in both total oomph and delivery. The GT350’s high-strung V8 has to rev to 7,500 RPM to access its power. The Super Snake’s supercharger gives its engine massive low-end torque that means less shifting is required on and off the track.

I don’t imagine that many Super Snake shoppers will commute in their GT or Super Snake, but I was surprised by just how liveable they are thanks to the extra low-end torque and suspension changes. This is not an ultra-stiff performance machine like the Alfa Romeo 4C. Making the concept of a tuned Mustang more attractive is the ability to get a rag top version. (For obvious reasons, Shelby didn’t have a topless Snake for us to flip on the track.) While I suspect the automatic transmission may be a pragmatic choice, you should know that cooling is still an issue. After a non-stop day of beating the Snakes out on the track, the only car that had troubles keeping up was the 670-horsepower Mustang with the six-speed automatic which would occasionally get the transmission fluid over temperature. While this is unlikely to ever happen on your daily commute, if you track your car you should stick with the six-speed manual. That said, Ford’s GT350 has a few additional cooling tricks for track duty, such as an active rear differential cooler, you won’t find on the Shelby.

Now, since we already covered the fact that I’m a philistine when it comes to tuned vehicles, my next statement shouldn’t shock you. The most interesting thing Shelby brought to the track was a Mustang with the new 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo. While I’m sure tuners in Europe are hard at work on a turbo swap or a completely new engine management system to increase power, the Shelby power mods are modest with power going from 310 horsepower and 320 lbs-ft to approximately 349 and 340, respectively. Yet, it wasn’t the power that impressed me with the four pot — it was actually the suspension. The stock Ecoboost is tuned for a conservative, grand touring kind of ride. It’s lighter than the Mustang GT and it feels like it on the road. However, the softer tuning doesn’t allow the Ecoboost to feel sharper than the GT. The Shelby version (oddly named a Shelby GT) uses many of the same suspension tricks they employ on the Super Snake. The result is a coupé that is sharper than the factory Ecoboost trim — and the Super Snake as well — thanks to its low curb weight and better weight balance.

At times, the 670-, 720- and 800-horsepower Shelbys can feel a little too powerful, a little too grippy in the rear and a little too heavy up front for me. The grip is insane. But the balance, which is similar to any rear wheel drive coupé that’s a little nose heavy and has wide tires in the rear (like the M6), can dull some of the excitement in neutral handling situations where the front feels reluctant to turn. The Ecoboost model, on the other hand, reminded me of the Scion FR-S — in a good way. Thanks to the weight balance and the identical tires front and rear, the Ecoboost felts light and nimble and much more like a light European sports car than what you’d normally associate with the Mustang nameplate.

The Nitty-Gritty

If you haven’t noticed by now, value is a strong factor for me. When pricing was discussed, my eyes began to water. There are plenty of high performance cars on the market with stickers between $50,000 and $90,000. Most of them will have a more luxurious interior, a few will even be faster at the drag strip, and you wouldn’t have to deal with the additional step of having your new car modified. Yet few will be as powerful as the Super Snake and none really target the same customer. The M6 is just 560 horsepower. Mercedes’ bi-turbo V-12 makes 621. Both are over six-figures. Neither is competition.

With 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, with your choice of an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual (and a factory warranty) for $60,000, the Challenger Hellcat could be seen as a valid competitor. It has a nicer interior, a 5th seat belt and it’s less expensive than most Shelby conversions. However, the Hellcat is just not the same as a Super Snake. The Dodge is a hoot and a half in a straight line, but things go pear-shaped in the corners. Although the power figures are close together, the Dodge is notably larger and considerably heavier (4,500 pounds) than the Shelby. Curb weight itself isn’t always a problem (the M6, after all, is just about as heavy). The real trouble is that Dodge didn’t modify the chassis much from the $20,000 rental car version. That means the widest tire offered is a 275/40R20 front and rear. The “narrow” tires in the back combined with its heavy curb weight mean traction is a serious issue for the Dodge when running to highway speeds or beyond.

Clearly, the practical thing to do would be to buy a Charger Hellcat for $66,000 and spend some money having the body modified to accept wider tires, but even that would be missing the point. After getting home and sitting on this story for nearly a month, two things surprised me. First, nobody at the event made a joke using “Super Snake” as a double-entendre. Second, I finally understood Shelby. I’m still not sure if I’m a tuner guy, but the premium modification companies allow those with enough cash to get a car specific to their tastes — and with more horsepower than many supercars with comparatively low risk to the owner.

A Shelby is going to be less expensive to keep around than the Ford GT that Sajeev got his hands on a while back and the interior in the Shelby is actually nicer. The Shelby will fly further under the radar than a used Lambo or Ferrari, and will be cheaper to insure. Perhaps making the choice a little easier is Shelby’s try-before-you-buy program, something I wish more cars offered. For $2,500 you can fly yourself to the very same track on which I drove the Super Snake and sample Shelby’s wares. If you decide to buy a Shelby conversion, they’ll credit that towards your purchase. Another $750 buys you factory delivery, a rarity in America. While I’m still not sure I’d part with the kind of cash required to Super Snake a Mustang, I could see myself buying an Ecoboost model and swapping in the Shelby suspension package.

What say you? Are you a mod kind of person?

Shelby provided the vehicles, hotel and transportation to the track, I was on my own for airfare.

Join the conversation
4 of 25 comments
  • Bachewy Bachewy on Dec 13, 2015

    "Cheaper to insure" Are you sure about that? My insurance company quote doubled when they found out I got a GT500 instead of a GT. I assume the same scenario if they know it's a Super Snake.

  • Doctorv8 Doctorv8 on Dec 14, 2015

    Regarding the Ford GT comparison you made, Alex, the car in Sajeev's article has appreciated enough to pay cash for a new Super Snake, so it's really far less expensive to keep around than any late model Mustang, regardless of whose name is slathered all over it. If it were to ever appreciate, it certainly won't be anytime soon.

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