It was in a small, crowded shop on Princeton Avenue in Venice, California, just a couple of miles from the crashing waves of the Pacific and the bulging biceps on world-famous Muscle Beach — where Arnold Schwarzenegger would soon savor his initial taste of stardom — that Carroll Shelby and his crew built the first high-performance Ford Mustang to wear his name: 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350.
All Shelby Mustangs were Wimbledon White fastbacks powered by a 306-horsepower small-block V8 tweaked by Shelby and using a four-speed manual transmission. The Mustang, first introduced in 1964, was an immediate success, but it now had a true high-performance variant. Shelby built 562 vehicles for the street in 1965 and 36 for the racetrack. Today, the street cars can command half a million dollars from collectors and the competition models are seven-figure vehicles. Ford and Shelby continued to produce the GT350 model until 1970. The 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 continues that legacy, offering the most power and performance in the model’s history. Today it competes with the supercharged Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the various Hemi-powered variations of the Dodge Challenger including the Scat Pack and Hellcat.
Less Expensive than Rivals
Available only as a coupe, the 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is the most powerful and most expensive version of the Mustang. However, that will change in 2019 when Ford reintroduces the Shelby GT500 model with a supercharged V8 with a promised “over 700 hp” — the most powerful Mustang in history.
Mustang prices start at $26,485, including a $900 destination charge, while the V8-powered GT starts at $35,995. A Shelby GT350 like our test vehicle costs $58,045, and the GT350 R, which get carbon fiber bodywork, stickier tires, and exotic carbon fiber wheels that are stronger and lighter than aluminum rims, starts at over $65,000. That may sound expensive, but the Camaro ZL1 and Challenger Hellcat cost significantly more. Both Shelbys are built in Michigan and include more aggressive bodywork with vented front fenders and a more sinister grille and front bumper. Massive Brembo brakes with six-piston front calipers, Recaro sport seats, launch control, and coolers for the differential and transmission are also standard.
Special Engine for a Special Car
The 2018 Shelby GT350 is among the most powerful factory-built Mustangs of all time, and it’s capable of 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds. All Mustangs are rear-wheel drive, and the Shelby GT350 and GT350 R are powered by a 5.2-liter all-aluminum V8 with a flat crank, a unique design also used in some Ferraris. It allows this engine to rev to an incredible 8,250 rpm and gives it a radical exhaust sound. Both models use a six-speed manual transmission. No automatic is available.
Unlike the supercharged V8s found in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Dodge Charger Hellcat, the Shelby’s V8 engine is naturally aspirated, which means it isn’t turbocharged or supercharged. Ford says it makes 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque, which is significantly stronger than the 460-hp 5.0-liter in the Mustang GT, but well behind the 650-hp Camaro and 707-hp Dodge.
Even in the age of mass production, platform-sharing, and universal powertrains, the 2018 Shelby GT350 is the only Ford model to use the 5.2-liter “Voodoo” V8, and it gives this Mustang its own personality. Push the start button and the high-revving engine crackles to life, provides adequate low-end power, and really comes alive up over 5,000 rpm. In most modern performance cars, you change gears between 6,000 rpm and 7,000 rpm — but not in the Shelby. Although the big V8 isn’t perfectly smooth when you’re exploiting its lofty redline, it’s fun to wind it out and hold gears past 8,000 rpm. This engine revs so high you have to change the way you drive, recalibrating your internal clock between shifts as you wait for the V8 to climb its way around the tachometer.
This Mustang has an old-school manual transmission, just like the original GT350 in 1965. Today, however, there are six forward gears, and they’re properly spaced to keep the V8 churning. Braking performance is also exceptional, and the GT350’s five driving modes include Normal, Track, and Drag, which adjust the throttle response, stability control, and suspension. The weighting of the steering is also adjustable.
During our week with the 2018 Shelby GT350, we took the Mustang on an 800-mile road trip from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona, and back. If you think the Ford Mustang is unrefined and uncomfortable, you’re stuck in the 1960s. Today’s Mustang is a comfortable cruiser that’s pleasant to drive every day.
Although the Shelby GT350 rides on larger wheels and tires than other Mustangs, and its suspension is tuned firmer, special magnetic shocks keep its ride comfortable, especially when you consider its exceptional handling. The Shelby feels solid on the open road, and its interior is quiet on the highway for such a high-performance machine. After 350 miles on the road, including plenty of high-speed driving through the barren deserts of the California and Arizona, we arrived in Scottsdale with a smile and a desire to drive the Shelby even more.
Good Fuel Economy for Its Class
Although other Mustang models have gotten quite fuel-efficient, with EPA ratings up to 31 mpg on the highway, the 526-hp Shelby GT350 remains quite thirsty. It’s rated at 14 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway on the highway, and it runs on more expensive premium fuel. That said, the Shelby’s economy numbers are normal for its class. The Camaro ZL1 is rated 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, while the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is rated 13 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
We averaged 15 mpg in mixed driving around Los Angeles and 20 mpg during our road trip in which we rarely left the interstate. One gripe is the Shelby’s small gas tank, which only holds 16 gallons. This severely limits the muscle car’s fuel range. Buyers should prepare to fill up every 250 miles.
Modern, Comfortable Interior
The sixth-generation Mustang debuted in 2015, and its interior is a pleasing blend of modern design and retro elements from classic Mustangs built in the 1960s. The shape of the dash is reminiscent of the 1968 Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt, and its clean white-on-black analog gauges offer a retro simplicity that perfectly fits the mission of the machine.
Comfort is high for the front seat passengers in the Shelby’s well-bolstered Recaro seats. Our test cars interior was well-constructed and all the controls are well-placed. The red engine-start button is a cool touch, and the thick three-spoke steering wheel, covered in leather and suede, is just the right diameter. Our test car also included an optional $3,000 electronics package, which adds dual-zone climate control, Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system with navigation, a premium audio system, and an 8-inch touchscreen.
Useful Trunk and Rear Seat
Unlike the cars in this class that can accommodate five passengers, the 2018 Shelby GT350 only seats four. There is no middle back seat. Rear legroom and headroom are tight if you’re over 6 feet tall, but my teenage daughters fit in back without complaint. The Shelby’s trunk is also larger than you might expect. At 13.5 cubic feet, it’s roomier than the trunk of the Chevy Camaro. Plus, it expands with a standard folding rear seat, which is split 50/50.
Every Shelby gets keyless entry, a rearview camera, and an SOS Post-Crash Alert System, which notifies first responders to the vehicle’s location if its airbags deploy. However, unlike other Mustang models and some other modern high-performance cars, the Shelby does not offer high-tech driver aids like active cruise control, a forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, or a rear cross-traffic alert.
Looks Like a Shelby
Dressed in classic blue with white racing stripes and riding on black 19-inch wheels, our Shelby GT350 test car looked tough and ready for action. Its muscular proportions, fastback roofline, and large open grille are classic Mustang touches, as are its six tall taillights. But the Shelby is not stuck in the past. Its look is completely modern, and it turns heads with a sleek aerodynamic shape, four big chrome exhaust pipes, and a rear diffuser.
This is an American muscle car, and its look is unabashedly aggressive — just as it should be, but the Shelby also remains understated compared to its competitors. The GT350’s lines are clean and its badging is simple. Ford also resisted the urge to install an oversized rear spoiler on the Shelby, keeping its silhouette low and more pleasing to the eye.
With electric and autonomous vehicles dominating much of today’s automotive conversation, along with ride- and scooter-sharing, there’s still a place for high-performance cars like the Ford Mustang and Shelby GT350. In fact, there are more than 50 new cars and SUVs for sale in America today that offer more than 600 hp. That’s by far the most in history.
If you’re in the market for a sexy high-performance coupe, the 2018 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is a very desirable overall choice. It offers a very appealing mix of modern and retro style, awesome performance and solid in-cabin infotainment. Carroll Shelby may have left us in 2012, but his legend lives on.