Driven: 2012 Shelby GT350 Convertible 624HP

By Seyth Miersma

September 08, 2011

—Ann Arbor, Michigan
Fleet manager Brandon Turkus was the lucky duck that got the first Winding Road ride in the Shelby GT350 this time around. He drove down to Ford HQ in Dearborn, Michigan to pick the monster convertible up, and returned to Ypsilanti with a face-bursting smile on his mug.
“Seriously, this is the most fun driving a car that I’ve had since the Ferrari 458 Italia,” crowed a bemused Turkus.
With a mind-boggling 624 horsepower on tap, and not having had our first steer yet, we were hardly in a position to argue. But, having since driven (or at least held on to) the roaring Shelby, we feel comfortable saying that, while Brandon’s comment was spiritually correct, his comparison with the 458 painted the wrong picture of the GT350 experience.
See, both the Shelby and the Ferrari are fast—that is without question—but driving the Italia at speed is a bit like creating art on the road, while driving the GT350 is more like taking someone’s virginity. In their parents’ bedroom. With the lights on. So, while both cars are, to put it blandly, fun, the Shelby experience is far more tawdry, dirty, and chest-swelling than that of the stunning Italian.
Yep, we like this Mustang.
We like it in the way that we can’t help liking other examples of too-good-to-hate, wretched excess. Maple bacon donuts. Christina Hendricks in seven-inch heels. And 600-horsepower pony cars, with convertible roofs, racing suspensions, and twin tailpipes as loud as Jimmy Page in a subway tunnel.
If we’re honest, saying that we like the GT350 is as little surprising to us as it probably is for you to read. There are good and bad fast cars, certainly, but there’s almost always something to make us smile when horsepower figures start creeping up north of 500. And being as this new version of Ford’s 5.0 V-8 has engendered a lot of good will in our office already, we knew that we’d dig the power, even if the rest of the car were garbage. The good news is that, not only is the GT350 not bad but for its motor, it is actually one of the more sparkling high-performance cars we’ve driven all year—just like Turkus told us.
True to the long heritage of the Shelby name on the back of the car (and the Ford Racing parts underneath it) this GT350 is really a racecar for the road. That identity starts with, of course, a completely mad, supercharged V-8 engine under the bulging front deck lid. It’s almost silly to describe the experience of power here in anything less than purple prose, but we can start by recounting that anything more than three-quarters throttle will smoke the rear tires in the first two gears. Still, throttle modulation isn’t tricky—the gas pedal is smooth enough, and, more importantly, the clutch pedal isn’t overly heavy or grabby. When we felt like it, we had no trouble driving the big Shelby at normal speeds through the suburban world.
But lay into the thing with the rightmost pedal and you’ll find yourself quickly flung to the speeds indicated on the rightmost side of the speedo. If there’s a chink in this accelerative armor, it can be found at low speeds, where the supercharger needs just a half-pause to start pouring on the power; we actually found we were usually shifting into second gear (quickly now) when we felt the darkest thrill of speed.
Of course we were never tempted to look down, even for a split second, when the needle was (probably) moving at its most brisk jog toward the end of the dial. Unleashing the full fury of the motor was just such a dunk into a frightening soup of pressure and sound, that doing anything less than looking up for the next corner while hanging hard onto the wheel seemed foolish. The sound itself is enough to make you understand the seriousness of the car. At no point is the GT350 quiet; idle speed racket is enough to wake the neighbors, and the milieu of pops, and blats, and roaring from the exhaust during downshifting would consistently make drivers of closed-windowed cars turn their heads to search for the source. (If you haven’t yet taken the time, please do have a look at the short GT350 video we shot, if only to listen to this thing—turn your speakers up.)
Speed and sound accounted for, the third and best racecar-like characteristic of this apogee of Mustangs was the way in which it allowed us to completely devastate curving roads. We wrung the Shelby out on run after run of our favorite vetting road—a stretch that has seen us mildly disappointed with Mustang GTs and GT500s, mind you—and found a car that had clearly been tuned to grip and rip. We experienced exactly none of the typical Mustang bad behavior that we half expected, as the Shelby was just as flat and rigid under hard cornering loads as you’d want it to be. The chopped-roof car showed no flexing of the body structure at all, nor any of the tremulousness that one might have predicted from its missing dome. 
Now, all of that isn’t to say the Shelby didn’t move around at all over the surface of the road; the car’s buckboard-stiff ride made it utterly jarring over broken stretches of tarmac. But those same underpinnings went a long way to communicating at-limit behavior through the seat of our pants, something that was well received considering that the steering wheel was still pretty numb. In fact, it’s fair to say that the steering feel was the only non-intense part of the whole GT350 package, and we’re counting the floor mats in that equation.
The car is no shrinking violet from the standpoint of interior fittings, either. A spiritual match for the amps-to-eleven body kit was found in the swaths of red, white, and blue theme-park interior, and the profusion of Carroll Shelby signatures rendered in stitching, stickers, and paint. We love ol’ Carroll, but we do believe he’d sign our Grandma’s face if we let him, and offered him twenty bucks for the privilege. While we could do without the extra, and sometimes bad-fitting do-dads like the row of gauges mounted on the driver’s A-pillar, the functional portions of the cabin were solidly done. The six-speed gear lever felt robust enough to handle the massive torque on hand, while still allowing us to shift up and down with confidence. The brake pedal was a match for the progressive clutch and accelerator (and the brakes themselves wilted speed with ferocity), and never felt too heavy or light. Seat bolstering could probably be heightened and tightened to counteract the serious g-forces that are available here, but at least the tradeoff for comfort was probably the only one to be found in the car.
With a price of around $80,000 once the base Mustang GT and Shelby package have been figured for, it’s less hard to imagine who the target market for this car is than it is to suss out the competitive set. A theoretical comparative shopper would likely have to either spend more money for similar power and performance (as with the $110K Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, or the $137K Porsche 911 Turbo), or spend less and get less (with something like the upcoming Camaro ZL1). Roush and Saleen have probably got at least one truly competitive Mustang upcoming, but nothing we’ve driven so far has got this Shelby’s combination of absolute power and slick handling.
In the end, what Shelby is offering us, for a price that’s not outrageous considering the car’s 99th-percentile performance, is a reasonably well-built supercar for someone who doesn’t mind pony car roots. That the GT350 can be had as a convertible, and lose very little capability in the process, is just extra frosting on top of double fudge cake. Let’s face it, you knew before you were through reading the first paragraph whether or not this kind of excess is for you; if it is, you’ll find Ferrari-level thrills just in front of one very long trail of tire smoke.
2012 Shelby GT350 Convertible 624HP
Engine: Supercharged V-8, 5.0 liters, 32v
Output: 624 hp/512 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 3.9 sec (est)
Top Speed: 155 mph*
Curb Weight: 3926 lb
Base Price: $73,805
As Tested: $92,468
On Sale: Now
*electronically limited

+ WR Video: 2012 Shelby GT350 Convertible 624HP