Route One – Shelby Mustang GT350R

I got out of my chequered yellow cab and pushed my way past the airport bus queue, headed for the hotel’s reception. After three days sampling New York’s finest destinations, I was ready to leave the Big Apple, get behind the wheel and onto the road. The journey had seemed endless out to JFK airport, as I knew waiting for me was a car not officially available in the UK. I had already christened it out of homage to its predecessor, the feature car in the film ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’, Eleanor.

Having collected the keys from the front desk, I returned to the parking lot, but was unable to locate my steed. Revisiting reception, I was told that the car was encircled by the people and they were not in fact the bus queue. I planned my getaway no less carefully than Cage in the film: I remote popped the trunk and moved towards the car. There wasn’t quite an audible sigh as they collectively looked to see who the driver would be, but clearly, I was less than what they’d hoped for. Having stowed my bags, I made amends by letting numerous children sit in, while selecting the sport button on the exhaust for a suitably crackling departure. I thank the god of automobiles that I didn’t stall and was soon holed up in a dead-end, adding my iPhone to Apple carplay and installing those important driving aids of sunglasses, water and list of satnav destinations. After a little seat adjustment, I smiled at the reaction the car had got and, after two left turns, joined the highway heading north.

My initial appraisal of the very purposeful cockpit was interrupted by the blip of a patrol car and a signal to wind my window down. I was sure I was at legal speed and did as asked, to be met with a cry of “GO SHELBY!” Inciting me to accelerate and make some noise were none other than New York’s finest, and I felt obliged to comply. Dropping three gears and reapplying the sports exhaust, I respectfully accelerated – hard – and then dropped back to the national limit to receive the flashing of lights, waves and a siren blip as my mentors passed. Two strange encounters in under an hour? Was this going to be one of those road trips?

Eleanor and I bonded for the first two hours as we headed north on Interstate Ninety Five. Resplendent in Ford Grabber Blue with white Cunningham stripes running nose to tail, she was easy on the eye. Quad tip stainless exhausts, large rear spoiler, 19-inch alloy wheels and a deep chin spoiler accented the grille with its famous Cobra badge of the Shelby dynasty flashing in the sunlight. This was the new GT350R, Eleanor’s latest reincarnation, and I really hoped she wouldn’t bite me like her namesake in the film.

But bite me she did. After five hours of driving, I stopped to refuel just outside my first destination of Portland, Maine, and I realised my hip was in agony. After a respectable three hundred miles from the sixteen-gallon tank, I had become unaware the hard edging of the bucket seat had been digging into my hip joint. I am used to most racing seats, but couldn’t work out why this had happened. Also, given the American target market for the car, I am not largest person it is ever likely to carry. With just 20 miles to go, I decided to perch one buttock on top of the seat and one in it to reach my destination.

Portland is the lobster capital of northern U.S. I was told there was some superb driving to be had, in addition to some great seafood. The town is relatively small with the population flatlining at around 66,000 people. It is typically New England, in that it has leafy suburbs, clapperboard houses and a plethora of inlets and channels.

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I walked into the hotel to be greeted by an excited member of reception staff who asked incredulously “is that a Shelby?” I replied affirmatively, threw him the keys and asked him to park it. I needed to soak my hip to release the discomfort.

The small northern seaport did not disappoint, nor did the number of crustaceans that bit the dust over the next three days. I made good on my desire, for once in my life to eat lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This may sound ostentatious, but there were times when so many washed up on the beach that they were considered a food for the less well off. At $8 for a famous lobster roll, dripping in melted butter and sporting a brioche-style hot dog roll, there would be plenty of greenbacks left for gasoline.

In succession, I visited great seafood haunts like Eventide, Bite into Maine and Scales. Wherever I went and ordered a glass, I was asked whether I was “the Brit with the Shelby”. Notoriety is easy in a small town, and word travels fast. It seems Eleanor’s arrival had been spotted, and the fact the car was in town had appeared on most social media feeds within hours. Now I’m not saying that I didn’t benefit at the bar, or in Oasis, the excellent local nightspot from my little piece of fame, but after three days, lobstered out, it was time to move on.

I spent an unfathomable amount of time adjusting the seat; I rocked and wiggled, and suddenly all felt comfortable. Having sat much further back and pushed my lumbar home, I felt I was getting somewhere with the beautifully appointed suede and alcantara. My buttocks and hips were supportively contained within the seat edges and I felt very different than I did on the journey north. I pressed the start button and the GT350R’s 5.2 litres roared into life, selecting sport on the exhaust once again induces a low rumble that mildly vibrates the car. After all, it was time to let Portland know we are leaving, and that 526bhp is heading southbound along the coast.

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The road of the Atlantic, route one, is the antithesis of its Californian Pacific Highway cousin. It lacks the gaudiness, the volume of traffic, and yet the weather is as kind as the orange state for the whole of our trip. Familiar names flash by, like Bideford, Wells and Arundel. The picture box perfect town of Ogunquit with its alternative lifestyles becomes a mere blur, superceded by large seascapes and the impressive lighthouses for which New England is famous.

A brief overnight stop in Portsmouth brings more catcalls and attention for the Shelby in the car park. Unlike its namesake, this is a brewery town, and the plethora of beer’s available rival the number of Ford Motor Company’s available models. The specialist sour beers are somewhat like our transport: to some, they will be to taste; others not. Before departure, I realise the car is starting to grow on me. There is a real ownership experience and a sense of pride for the car and its creator here in the states. I was lucky enough to meet Carroll Shelby, and found a humble man driven by performance and find it a fitting reaction to my all-American mount that this man’s legacy is so revered.

Once more heading south, I start to evaluate the cabin. The black alcantara works well and gives just the right level of comfort for what is really a supercar. The dashboard layout is logical and uncluttered and everything is within easy reach. The steering wheel boss and dashboard scream Shelby, although the suede covered wheel itself gives great grip. The seats, now I am correctly positioned, are comfortable, but to ride in the plus two seats in the rear, you would not want to be over five foot four.

Salisbury and Ipswich pass quickly and give way to Salem. With teen memories of the books of Stephen King, this being his home county, there is a spike in consumption and speed in a bid not to get caught there after dark. Though I needn’t have worried, as the HID projector headlamps are so good they could have blinded any potential vampires. Passing beneath Boston on its miles of subterranean tunnels is pure acoustic pleasure, as a wall of sound is above, below and around me from the tuned V8.

This is a car that benefits massively from the handling tweaks it has received, meaning ground can be covered very quickly when required. A torsion differential helps lay down the power and perfectly complements the Magneride damping system, which can cope with virtually any road surface you throw at it.

The real trickery comes thanks to Integrated Driver Control, which has five modes. These modes have predefined defaults that work together, optimised by Ford. These provide adaptions for engine, brakes, steering effort, exhaust mode, dampers and launch control. Normal mode is for every day driving – however, I favoured sport, as this tunes the vehicle’s responses perfectly for on road performance. There are additional settings for lower traction wet conditions, track and drag strip use. These remind you this is a car meant to be used and enjoyed.

The ability to cover ground meant I found myself slightly off route. Entering Sandwich, I had spotted a sign for Cape Cod and had calculated I had time to head for Marconi Beach. Nothing prepares you for the white sands with huge Atlantic rollers firing surf into the dunes. As the most Easterly point this became the obvious choice for Marconi’s first wireless telegraph station where, on January 19, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt sent Edward VII the first transatlantic telegraph. Quite what Marconi would think of the Shelby’s entertainment package now is uncertain. He would be impressed as I was, I’m sure, with the audio refinement. The electronic package fitted to our car added voice activated, touch screen sat nav which was faultless in operation. Apple Play and Android support meant that integration of iPhone functions was instant with a selection of familiar apps accessible from the screen. The audio on the vehicle is beefed up over standard Mustangs, thanks to a Kicker amplifier and six additional speakers giving full immersion in your favourite sounds.

There was much interest at the local serviced fuel station as the pump attendant showed genuine excitement at not having fuelled a Shelby before. That was nothing compared to the interest shown by the sheriff of Woods Hole, after my spirited return West from Cape Cod. As he approached me in the queue waiting for the Martha’s Vineyard ferry, I feared the worst. Once again, though, Eleanor prevailed, and he asked if he could ride in the car in exchange for keeping my place in the queue. Now, in my experience, it is never wise to say no to the law – or miss an opportunity to placate those within. A pleasant drive spent in conversation was much better than being sat on the dock. Subsequently, I found myself reversing onto a ferry. When the boat’s entrance ramp is just as wide as your car, and you are driving from what is normally your passenger seat, it is never easy. The reversing camera certainly helped, the sheriff more so, but the experience reminded me this is a big car at nearly five-metres long and two-metres wide.

Driving off the ferry at Vineyard Haven drew more admiring glances and, at the hotel, use of a designated space and a room upgrade. The pride in the Shelby name shone through once more. I then spent a day ‘sharking’ the island. Forgive the pun, but Spielberg chose Martha’s Vineyard as the home for Jaws and changed very little. In fact, all locations exist, with the exception of Quint’s shack, which was constructed for the film. Edgartown itself doubled for Amity and in town on the docks, in sight of the Chappie Ferry, you will find a sign advising you to ‘beware of sharks’. These smaller roads proved a great test of the car’s maneuverability, and also to see whether its dimensions are practical – and indeed they were. My only negative comment being the lack of over bonnet vision on particularly angled raised crests.

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After breakfast at the famous Black Dog, the return to the mainland brought no dramas. One hundred and thirty-five miles later, I was sat at New London at another dock, waiting to pick up the ferry to Long Island. The loadmaster for our open decked inshore ship plucked me from the queue and told me I would be loaded first. Driving on forwards was a breeze, and I was positioned on the exit ramps with chocks under my wheels. Eleanor had worked her charms again. The loadmaster was a big Shelby fan, had a classic example and wanted to examine the car in microscopic detail. The time passed easily, as often it does when talking cars, and I was soon driving towards the Hamptons with all its glamour. Would this be where the Shelby would be out of it’s depth amongst one of America’s wealthiest and fashion sensitive areas?

Not a bit of it, as I engaged line lock and launch control in drag strip mode. This locks the differential and allows optimum traction at low speeds whilst automatically making the transition to enhanced stability at high speeds. The north of Long Island around Montauk had presented me with the ideal opportunity to indulge in appraising the cars gadgetry being brought together. With good tarmac, no real camber and a straight piece of road this was the ideal location to test the 0-60mph capability of the vehicle. I can confirm, on three runs, I measured that the average was a very respectable 4.1 seconds for a car weighing 1697kg!

In celebration, I headed for Wollfer Estate Vineyard, just off the Montauk Highway, or proving ground as I now think of it. The estate is famous for its wines; even the fictional Bobby Axelrod in Billions (another Shelby driver) has been heard to request the last bottle of Wollfer from the fridge. The shiny stainless steel tanks in the winery are in great contrast to the American Classic cars that reside here. Not so to my own Pony car with all its gadgets and gizmos that also strive for perfection. Whilst selecting a bottle of their highly floral Summer in a Bottle for later consumption, I head to the high street in Southampton for my final test.

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Parked amongst the high-end boutiques of designers, who coincidentally also have homes here, the Shelby still gets admiring glances. With its rather obvious white stripes and rear spoiler it could be deemed a little gauche. The respect seems to come from the fact that, because it wears Carroll’s name, it is the acceptable face of performance. It is also undoubtedly due to the numbers of Mustangs produced, and that many of the shoppers have no doubt had one in their ownership and fond memories prevail.

I sat in my hotel room looking down on the parking lot at JFK, the keys to the Shelby were already safely deposited in an envelope addressed to their manufacturer. As I swirled the salty Wolffer rosé around my mouth, I reminisced on the trip. Wherever I went the car was received with real respect and provoked unusual positive responses from people. The dimensions had proved challenging. I had been bitten initially by the seating but then been re-wooed by Eleanor, thanks to all that I found.

If you look at the specialist modifications included on this car, ownership experience, performance, styling, and the fact you are buying a true racing pedigree, the car really starts to stack up. This really make sense when you start to price up, or find a European manufactured car capable of a 0-60mph time of 4.1 seconds with similar additional features. The Shelby GT350R is not perfect, and not for everyone. But for an on-the-road price of $60,000, it is one hell of a package – and I for one love it.

Rob Bellinger

RB, Bon Vivant, Man About Town and modern day Hemingway. The Review's Lifestyle Editor has been pontificating on the finer things in life since the dawn of time. Always armed with a Magnum of Champagne, an international race license and an arsenal of cars; he's the life, soul and ambience of the soirée.

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