My first job out of graduate school in 1969 was with Ford Motor Co. in Michigan as a product planner. One of the perks was that we often got to drive one of the new Fords home for the night, provided we wrote a critique of it the next morning.
I can’t forget the night I had the keys to one of the last of the Mustangs designed to Carroll Shelby’s specifications. These Shelby GT350s were the hottest product in Detroit at the time. In Maryland at about the same time, Genie was driving a mild version of one of the competitor muscle cars, which she still remembers with affection.
Two weeks ago, we took a trip back to that time when a 2018 Shelby GT350 was delivered to our house. The next week we received a 2018 Mustang GT to review. Based on our test-drives, we can assure a Mustang enthusiast of any age that Ford hasn’t lost the thread of the concept invented by Lee Iaccoca and my bosses at Ford all those years ago.
Externally, with the gorgeous ruby-red metallic paint and black racing stripe and wheels of the Shelby, or the even more arresting Orange Fury paint job of the Mustang GT, they definitely were noticed around town.
We parked them next to a friend’s 1969 Mach II Mustang one Saturday. We were astonished that cars that look as contemporary as these two models can be such close twins in size, shape and styling cues to the car that started the trend five decades ago. Most fashions in automotive design have radically changed, but this one was right when it was introduced – and it’s right now.
There are lots of changes on the interiors, of course. We can’t even guess what anyone of that period would make of a flat display screen in front of the driver that emulates the two circular gauges of the 1960s, much less the second display screen in the center of the dashboard with a navigation map displayed on it. We also have to say that the interiors of these two cars – leather in the GT and Alcantara in the Shelby, both with seam-stitched accents – are a considerable improvement to the interiors being installed on the originals.
The engine-start button enabled by the remote key fob would have seemed incredibly futuristic to my younger self, but the sound produced when I pushed it was 1960s all over again. There’s nothing to compare with eight cylinders pushing exhaust gases out of two tailpipes through the optional Active Valve Performance Exhaust. The sounds on both of these cars are just right, revving the heart rate of any true hot-rodder who fondly remembers the old days or is hearing that sound for the first time. We can’t say for sure if our neighbors were quite so appreciative; if one of these cars were ours, we’d have to be light on the throttle going in and out of the driveway.
So looks, feeling and sounds are equal to the best of our memories from our younger years. Performance, on the other hand, has clearly kept pace with the best of today’s automotive developments. The first Shelby Mustangs could blow the doors off anything else in the day by getting to 60 mph from a stoplight in 6.5 seconds.
With the 5-liter turbocharged V-8 of the GT producing 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, or the 5.2-liter naturally aspirated engine of the GT350 producing 526 horsepower, either of these cars can hit that speed two seconds quicker. The six-speed transmission with a modern clutch was also an improvement on the originals. Unfortunately, with miles per gallon under 20 in both cars, it would have been nice to be paying something closer to the gas prices of the old days.
If you were drag racing one of the muscle cars of the 1960s, Mustangs included, you also had to remember that they got a little squirrely in anything except a straight line. These two new Fords, on the other hand, have the newest optional MagneRide shock absorbers (they use magnet-controlled metal particles to adjust to changing driving conditions) plus modern suspension configurations and tire technology. They are as good on a curving road or track as they are on a quarter-mile drag strip and can hold their own with European sports cars costing much more than the $50,000 of the Mustang GT or $60,000 of the Shelby GT350.
Of course, there are some limitations to the utility of either of these two pony cars. Just like their great-grandparents, those long-hood, short rear-end proportions and two doors meant that the rear seats really aren’t useful for anyone over the age of 10.
However, some of our enthusiastic young neighbors of that age who waved whenever we roared by probably would have been thrilled to squeeze behind the front seats for a ride. The rear seats do fold forward to increase cargo space, but the trunk is just high enough for grocery bags to sit upright, so they wouldn’t be first choice for a big-box provisioning run.
That’s where Genie and I had to agree to disagree on whether one of these cars would ever be a candidate for our garage. Being the more practical of the two of us, Genie would probably count it out, even though she had fun driving it.
My inner self, on the other hand, who hasn’t aged much since he was helping design cars at Ford, would have one in an instant. I might pause briefly to consider whether the potential for track use would justify the additional $10,000 of speed goodies, such as the Torsen limited-slip differential and Recaro racing seats on the Shelby, but I would be perfectly happy with the new GT – at least until the next-generation Shelby is introduced next year.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.