If ever there was a Mustang that just looked right, here it is. Leaving aside that Ford is showing it off to us alongside an original 1965 Shelby GT350 with SCCA racing bonafides, the GT350R Heritage Edition has a proven pedigree that goes much deeper than Wimbledon White paint and Guardsman Blue stripes. It marks the end of the line for one of the best pony cars of the decade. We were more than willing to borrow one for a few hours to say “so long and thanks for all the fish exhaust music.”
As expected, Ford has confirmed that 2020 will be the last act for the stellar Shelby GT350 and GT350R, first introduced in 2015. With the Mach 1 coming in for a landing and the 760-hp GT500 keeping the Shelby marketing arrangement up to date, the GT350’s farewell visual package, announced at the end of 2019, closes the book on this model and nicely coincides with the 55th anniversary of the 1965 original. In addition to the full-length racing stripe, Heritage Edition GT350 and GT350R models receive a Guardsman Blue front badge instead of the standard red, rocker stripes to match, and a unique dashboard plaque. Aside from the 10-millionth Mustang, these are the only Mustangs of this generation painted in the famous Wimbledon White hue.
Ford isn’t saying how many it will build in total, but all Heritage Edition orders are in and the production run is fully spoken for. Production began in early 2020 prior to pandemic-prompted shutdowns, and since resuming work the Flat Rock factory is nearly finished the limited run. The package has clearly won approval from the Mustang faithful, who only had to, ahem, pony up an additional $1965 over standard GT350 and GT350R prices ($61,535 and $74,530, respectively).
Our test car was a full-bore GT350R complete with active exhaust, MagneRide dampers, carbon-fiber rear wing, 19-inch carbon-fiber wheels, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. We managed without the $2000 optional B&O 12-speaker sound system; the only soundtrack you want comes courtesy of the 5.2-liter flat-plane-crank Voodoo V-8 and its 526 high-revving horses. Minor irritants in this model included poor rear visibility (obscured by the wing) and a somewhat underwhelming, typical Mustang interior for a car that otherwise feels immensely special.
For this brief sojourn we were lucky to enjoy relatively empty and recently repaved rural Michigan back roads, a welcome contrast to our last drive of a 2020 GT350R on truly heinous metro-Detroit pavement. The car makes no attempt to sugarcoat its intended purpose as a deadly-effective performance instrument—the relatively heavy clutch, generous seat bolstering, and stiff suspension come to mind—but it is nonetheless well-mannered when unprovoked. The right-when-you-want-it throttle response and smooth brake pedal operation make the GT350R perfectly civil to drive around town. The only necessary consideration is to mind the nose, which is low enough to warrant careful approaches to parking blocks and steep driveways.
When it’s time to raise hell you simply visualize your path and attack. No preemptive menu surfing or mode-setting is required to get the most out the driving experience. Yes, you can select pre-set Sport and Track modes as well as dial in the damper and steering settings to your liking with handy buttons on the steering wheel, but the beauty of this car is that it satisfies on demand. The steering is hyper-responsive to inputs, which both demands and rewards your attention to the road ahead. Demerits as far as this chassis is concerned are minor: a tendency for the front tires to suddenly tramline over changing surfaces as well as some noticeable head-toss over larger bumps, particularly with the dampers set to anything stiffer than Normal. We should stress, however, that these behaviors are easily forgotten in exchange for the GT350R’s oh-so-crisp turn-in and effortless mid-corner balance.
Particularly brilliant is the ability to fully wind out first gear without hitting license-revoking velocity. This way, you can actually hear the full vocal range of the engine without having to leave public roads. The temptation to blast into extra-legal territory is nevertheless ever-present, especially once you’ve experienced the majestic third-gear swell of acceleration from 60 mph. Our eight-cylinder call while passing traffic on the highway soon elicited a vociferous response from delighted young driver in a slammed B6 Audi A4. Grinning, he pulled up next to us more than once, subjecting himself to the privilege of certain, sonorous defeat. Is there any other car on the market that costs less than $80,00, looks this good, performs like a no-excuses supercar on the track, and elicits that kind of response?
When we pulled back into the parking lot to return the GT350R we had a chance to chat with Ken Costella, the owner of the ‘65 Shelby on display. He races the SCCA veteran in two or three vintage competitions a year, and he also has a number of GT500s. “Shelbys are my thing,” he says with a smile, and he can hardly stop gushing about the modern GT350R. How impressive it is. How the recent tweaks to the steering geometry and brake feel have made it even better. And how good they look in Wimbledon White. As far as heritage goes, that’s the type of endorsement we can get behind.
Highs: Glorious V-8 with unique character, timeless color scheme, exceptional performance-per-dollar.
Lows: No back seat, poor rear visibility, all sold out.
Summary: The GT350R Heritage Edition is a fitting farewell for what’s destined to be one of the best-loved American sports cars of the decade.