Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
December 22, 2015
Contributers: Evan J. Smith Photos By: Evan J. Smith

In the quest for performance and personalization, Mustang enthusiasts have many options. Some like to plan their own mods by picking the perfect set of wheels, lowering springs, and horsepower upgrades. Others like to purchase complete package from known experts and instantly reap the benefits of better braking, tighter handling, and harder acceleration.

Shelby American, Carroll Shelby’s company, has been enhancing Mustang performance since 1965, and today the team is just as excited as it was 50 years ago. SA offers a variety of Mustangs and options, plus a new F-150 with wicked power upgrades. Cobra fans can still purchase a small-block or big-block roadster. If you’re feeling really historic you can have SA build a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.

Much like it did with the original 1965 GT350, SA dives into a factory-fresh Mustang and refines the suspension, brakes, engine, and body. The end result is a performance sports car that is serialized and instantly recognizable as a Shelby. But unlike in 1965, today there are many more options and models to choose from, including the 627- and 670hp Shelby GT, the new 330hp Shelby GT EcoBoost, and the top-of-the-line Super Snake making over 750 hp. And every Shelby can be had with a manual or automatic transmission.

Recently MM&FF got behind the wheel of all three versions at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada. We cut and sliced on track, pushing those ponies to the limit. What did we learn? Shelby Mustangs are fast, and each model is designed to suit different driving styles and performance needs.

Shelby GT

The first Mustang we drove was the 627hp Shelby GT with a Ford Performance supercharger. Our Shelby GT was unmistakable, flashing its goodness with Yellow paint, special Weld wheels, a full complement of carbon fiber, and those famous Le Mans stripes.

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On track the Mustang was nimble thanks to the Ford Performance Handling Pack and the massive six-piston Wilwood brakes, which gave us plenty of stopping power on the tight track. Balance is key with this Mustang; the folks at Shelby have tweaked the S550 chassis to give it better-than-stock performance. We found the GT to be nimble and easily controllable at the limit, even on the tight configuration of the Spring Mountain course. The Shelby simply ate it up. The enhancements in braking, handling, and power give you extra confidence over S197 and even stock S550 Stangs. The biggest asset is the higher grip in the rear, which gives you the ability to roll power on very early during corner exit. In the old days you would first get your Mustang pointed straight, but the Shelby GT dug in and maintained grip so early that you gain lots of speed at the end of each straight. While we didn’t back-to-back the Shelby against a stock Mustang, we’ve had enough seat time in a factory S550 to feel the improvements.

Some folks will never push hard on track; instead, they’ll be after the style and design of the Shelby GT. And the look is anything but subdued, especially when splashed in Yellow. The GT is enhanced with a sleek carbon hood, a front splitter, a rear spoiler, and Le Mans and side stripes. Weld 20-inchers complement the Mustang and add to that racer look. Another distinct feature is the machined grille with a trapezoidal design and unique “GT” logo. This is a huge departure from the standard Mustang grille and is one of those “love it or hate it” items.

The blower, suspension, and brakes make up the foundation for the supreme performer, but Shelby lets you go crazy with options to achieve a seriously personalized pony. Some of the other options include (but are not limited to): carbon fiber hood extensions, mirror caps, taillight panel, Katzkin interior, rollcage, race seats with harness, gauge pod plus Ford Performance driveline upgrades, Wilwood brakes, and 3.73 gears. The Shelby GT is available in manual or automatic. Packages start at $23,995, and of course every Shelby gets unique badging and is serialized.

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Shelby GT Ecoboost

“The Shelby GT EcoBoost combines all the aesthetic elements people come to expect from Shelby,” says Gary Schechner of Shelby American. “No other brand has as rich or long of a history as Shelby American, and now we’re bringing that to the 2015-2016 EcoBoost with the Shelby GT package.”

Like the V-8 version, the Shelby GT EcoBoost is packed with options that enhance performance and styling. Horsepower is bumped to 330, and both stick and automatic transmissions are offered. We drove the auto version on the street and on track and we came away impressed.

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The 2.3L turbo engine gets the Ford Mustang zipping along. Shelby has worked on the tune and has added a Ford Performance exhaust to give it a louder growl. Shelby also tapped Ford Performance for the suspension, which lowers the Stang and gives it snappier cornering. Being lighter than the V-8 GT, the EcoBoost Mustang lets drivers get very aggressive when carving corners. And with optional Wilwood brakes (six-piston in front and four in the rear) you can attack corners, brake extremely late, and snap the car towards the apex.

On track we used all 330 hp. Unfortunately the auto prevented us from keeping the engine in the sweet spot during corner exit. Of course, we manipulated the trans and used the paddle shifts but never felt 100 percent comfortable and could never get the engine in the perfect range. With a manual, we’d be able to up- or downshift to accelerate harder off the corners. Still, the peppy four-cylinder turbo gave us enough power to get good lap times and it pulled to redline nicely. It’s no match for high-horsepower V-8s, but in the right hands this Mustang will haul the mail.

The Shelby GT EcoBoost is truly a package made for a tight road course or a twisty canyon road. The nose felt ultralight, and steering response was excellent. Combine this with the enhanced S550 rear suspension, which complements the front, and you get an overall feel that is neutral and responds to your inputs. This Mustang never oversteered or understeered the entire time on track.

Not surprisingly, Ford’s EcoBoost Mustang is making its mark with enthusiasts everywhere. And it’s really cool to see Shelby recognize four-cylinder turbo performance. We joked about wanting one with 350 hp, and the Shelby brass was all smiles.

Ultimately we found the Shelby four-banger to be comfortable on the street, too. It was nice to select “Drive” and go. The Shelby GT EcoBoost is a fun, sporty package that adds a high level of performance to the base EcoBoost Stang. Plus, it is economical on gasoline and you won’t break the bank on insurance. Like all Shelby products, the option list is a mile long, so you can accessorize and personalize your Shelby to fit your style and desired performance level. You can even add options like race seats, a rollcage, and a harness should you want to spend time on the track.

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Shelby Super Snake

Shelby says the Super Snake is the “supercharged muscle car by which all others are measured.” It features modifications designed to enhance every aspect of performance, including power, sound, handling, and braking, and it takes the body from basic to trail blazer. The 670hp package utilizes a Ford Performance supercharger, Shelby-specific engine calibration, and performance exhaust. It also includes a cooling package that allows extended track sessions.

Stepping up to the 750-plus horsepower package gives you a couple of options, including the Kenne Bell intercooled supercharger kit and upgraded cooling, plus a transmission and rearend cooler. Improved braking comes by way of Wilwood brakes with cooling ducts and a one-piece driveshaft lightens rotating mass. You can enhance performance by adding the optional roll bar, race seats, and harness setup, plus a host of carbon fiber components and a Katzkin interior.

With the amazing stance, bold stripe, and Weld one-piece forged 20-inch wheels, the Super Snake gives you that “king of the road” feeling. Strap in, fire the engine, and all you can think about is rolling on the power and melting tires.

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We climbed aboard the auto-equipped SS and hit the track at Spring Mountain. This was our first experience in a 2015 automatic Mustang on track, and it was way more fun than we expected. We used the steering wheel paddles to shift the trans but found the Super Snake had so much torque that we could simply leave the transmission in Fourth gear on the short, technical configuration.

Leaving the auto in one gear allowed us to focus on the line and our braking points, without the distractions of finding the right gear for each corner. Horsepower is not a problem either with the Super Snake, as this Mustang makes big boost and a wonderful sound as the rpm climbs.

The auto-equipped Super Snake was more of a beastly highway cruiser than an all-out track car. While it handled nicely, it also heat-soaked and we noticed the trans temperature climb into the red after a few laps. Even so, we were able to do four to five circuits.

Rather than slicing corners, we’d rather try drag radials and boost this baby at the dragstrip. The tight, technical circuit was not the best place to exercise the full potential of the auto Super Snake. It’s important to note that we’d driven a manual-equipped Super Snake months ago at Sonoma Raceway and could hardly contain ourselves as the fun meter was pegged.

Considering that the Corvette and the Hellcat can be equipped with an automatic, it’s nice to see Shelby offering customers the chance to simply mash the gas and go. If you deal with traffic, or just want less to do behind the wheel, the auto is a great to enjoy Earth-rotating power with two-pedal operation.

With the track day and the photo session complete, we hit the highway back to Vegas. The Super Snake was in its element on the open road, and we were not shy about applying boost. The boosted 5.0L had amazing power at any rpm, but when kicked down we rocketed from 60 to triple digits in no time flat. This got us heading towards our hotel in quick fashion. Unlike many high-powered automatic cars, there was no drone at highway speeds and the ride quality was spot on. Our travel partner, Mustang Monthly Technical Editor Mark Houlahan, figured Las Vegas was roughly 2,800 miles from our home in Tampa, Florida, and for a moment we considered taking a road trip. But Shelby might have wondered why we didn’t show up for dinner.

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