Shelby American VP of operations...
Shelby American VP of operations Gary Patterson checks out the new three-valve intake from Ford Racing.
The final test drive yielded a real thrill at high rpm, with the cams kicking in at 4,000 rpm and the new manifold making the engine pull that much more urgently. The Bassani exhaust was quiet under normal throttle, only to sing a raspy growl when one's foot was seriously in it. The Watts link had the front and rear working in perfect concert during hard cornering, regardless of road surface. The Pro Plus brakes gave the pedal proper feel, shorter travel, and a distinct lack of fade. And having lived with the six-speed for a number of months, I couldn't imagine the car without it.
One question remained: Had I hit my mark? Had I truly built a street spiritual successor to the GT350 R? I had never driven one, so I honestly didn't know.
In one phone call I found the perfect arbitrator: Alan Bolte, who has owned 5R101 since the late 1970s. In the past three-plus decades, he has likely put more miles on a GT350 R than just about anyone.
The comparison would be more meaningful by the fact that 5R101 has real history. The car was originally ordered by Tasca Ford but ended up at Harr Motor Company, where former Tasca sales manager Dean Gregson raced it in the northeast's national SCCA events, winning nine out of 10 times. The Shelby also won the NHRA B/Sports and top Eliminator Trophy in Maine.
On the DynoJet at Shelby American...
On the DynoJet at Shelby American Motorsports, our Shelby GT made 345 rear-wheel horsepower. By the time Gil and the crew added their modifications and tune, it was up to 363.
The car was sold in 1966 and, over the next eight years, had multiple owners who continued to race it at a high level. Bolte bought the car in 1979, drawn to its lengthy competition history. After an accident during the 1986 Monterey Historic races, Bolte performed what he calls "a sympathetic restoration to '65 specifications" using original GT350 R parts he had accumulated over the years.
Bolte warmed up to the modern Shelby during our first drive. "This thing excels in the 40-100 mph runs," he said. "It has tons of grunt, and a perfect engine pitch and exhaust tone when you are on it. It accelerates like a production race car but has comfort credentials that make it a GT. It really makes the older car seem a bit crude."
Bolte's next comments reflect on how far the automotive world has come in four-plus decades: "I like the way the seats are cushioned. The ergonomics are so much better, where the steering wheel and pedals are placed, where the gearshift is. And the visibility is so much better to the rear.
"Yet there is a beast in this car," he concluded. "It is like I am revisiting that visceral feeling the R-model gives me but 45 years later. This car is a digitally re-mastered R-model Mustang. You could go out and race the thing!"
No sooner was I smiling at his declaration than Bolte burst my celebratory bubble. "Maybe we should get another opinion," he said. "Let's have Paul drive it."
"Paul" happened to be Paul Brown, an accomplished SCCA Pro World Challenge GT racer. He's also a Ford Tier 3 test driver and he holds numerous track records at places such as Mid Ohio, Road Atlanta, and Buttonwillow. And he's currently Bolte's hot shoe in the GT350 R.
Brown assisted when we photographed the two cars in Pomona on the old Examiner Grand Prix Race circuit. When the shoot was done and the GT350 R was put away, I threw Brown the keys. He went roaring off, pedal to the metal on the streets around his Tiger Racing facility.
He returned grinning like a kid. "When a car is fun," he beamed, "it is fun! This Shelby has a really nice balance with a very neutral feel. It gives good input so you make minor adjustments. It doesn't do anything it isn't supposed to do."