2020 Fights 1965 in Mustang Shelby GT350R vs. Shelby GT350

While the new Mustang Mach 1 is no slouch on the racetrack, Ford fans will likely be missing the Shelby GT350 and GT350R it replaced for some time. And not just because these were the modern successors to the original Shelby Mustang, the GT350. But therein lies an intriguing question: just how close did the Shelby GT350R come to the OG Shelby Mustang? To answer, the YouTube team The Straight Pipes lined them both up and let their engines roar.

The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R sings its song of speed in a different key than the 1965 Shelby GT350

A white-with-blue-stripes 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R Heritage Edition on a forest mountain road
2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R Heritage Edition | Ford
Spec2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
Engine5.2-liter fuel-injected V84.7-liter four-barrel V8
Power526 hp305 hp (SAE gross, base)
350 hp (SAE gross, GT350-R/Competition)
Torque429 lb-ft329 lb-ft (SAE gross, base)
350 lb-ft (SAE gross, GT350-R/Competition)
TransmissionSix-speed manualFour-speed manual
Curb weight3717 lbs (Car and Driver)2850 lbs (Car and Driver)
0-60 mph time3.8 seconds (Car and Driver)6.8 seconds (Road & Track)

Externally, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R is a clear descendant of the original 1965 Shelby GT350. The white-with-blue-stripes paint job undoubtedly helps with that. And on a basic level, the two track-ready muscle cars follow the same formula: manual transmission, rear-wheel-drive, front-mounted V8. However, the 2020 GT350R takes that formula in a noticeably different direction than its ancestor.

Some of these differences are down to technology, which we’ll get to shortly. But the biggest difference is in the sound.

While both the new and classic Shelby GT350 have V8s, the GT350R has a Ferrari-like flat-plane-crank V8. So, while the 1965 Shelby GT350 burbles before it roars, the GT350R shrieks and howls first. And this jewel of an engine redlines at 8250 RPM, about 2000 RPM more than the 1965 car.

That’s not to say the old car sounds any worse than the new, The Straight Pipes note. But it’s just one of the most obvious ways that Ford applied new engineering thinking to the Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R formula. And it’s arguably the main reason why these two ‘Stangs will be missed so much.

Time marches on in the Shelby GT350 world—and with it comes new tech for the 2020 GT350R

A blue-with-white-stripes 1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 spitting flames while racing at the 2017 Goodwood Member's Meeting
1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 at the 2017 Goodwood Member’s Meeting | Michael Cole/Corbis via Getty Images

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Besides the different sounds, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R naturally has more tech than the classic car. And yet, in some ways, it’s like the original.

True, the 1965 Shelby GT350 has more power and torque, bigger brakes, and better pads than the contemporary Mustang. Shelby also swapped the Mustang’s standard four-speed transmission for one with closer gear ratios and lowered the front suspension for better geometry. The original Shelby GT350 also has a limited-slip rear differential, adjustable Koni shocks, and a larger front sway bar. Plus, grippier tires, lighter optional aluminum wheels, side-exit exhausts, and a fiberglass hood, Hagerty notes. Its steering is also quicker than the standard Mustang’s box.

But for all that, it still has rear drum brakes and a carburetor. And while Shelby installed a new oil pan to prevent oil starvation in the corners, the GT350 doesn’t have a hood latch. Plus, while the 2020 car has Recaro seats, the 1965 one doesn’t have headrests or even a roll bar.

The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R mirrors some of these tweaks in spirit, if not in form. Its shocks are adjustable, but because they’re magnetorheological, they adjust electronically and automatically. Its wheels are lighter than stock, but rather than metal, they’re made from carbon fiber. And in addition to stiffer springs and anti-roll bars, the Mustang Shelby GT350R has a functional rear wing and front splitter, as well as dedicated transmission, differential, and engine oil coolers.

Plus, not only does it have four-wheel disc brakes, but it also has ABS and modern electronic safety features. And while the 2020 model’s brakes aren’t cross-drilled, they’re more durable and less expensive, Car and Driver says. Also, Ford added some steering components from the GT500 to improve precision and stability.

The 2020 Mustang Shelby GT350R “sounds like straight-up insanity,” The Straight Pipes say, while the 1965 Shelby GT350 is straight-up insane

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In sound alone, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R is right up there with the 911 GT3 in terms of the “level of enjoyment,” The Straight Pipes note. However, the 1965 Shelby GT350’s “muscle-y, deep tone” is genuinely emotionally stimulating. One of the hosts genuinely teared up when he drove it for the first time. It’s just that while the classic car blasts jackhammer bursts of noise, the modern one shrieks like a demonic chainsaw.

But arguably even more impressive than the exhaust note is how well the 1965 Shelby GT350 drives. True, it’s not as sharp as the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT350R, though to be fair, not many sports cars are. Keep in mind, the GT350R managed to beat the Supra, 718 Cayman, and M2 Competition in a Car and Driver comparison. And none of those cars are slouches in the handling department.

Also, while the 1965 Shelby GT350 is faster—or at least feels faster—than its specs suggest, it’s not as quick as the 2020 car. And while its gear ratios are shorter than stock, they’re still noticeably longer than what the GT350R has. Plus, it doesn’t brake nearly as well as the modern Shelby.

And yet, despite being 55 years older, the classic GT350 can reasonably keep up with the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT350R in modern traffic, The Straight Pipes say. Its stripped-down simplicity also makes it a more visceral experience. The downside, though, is that while it rides surprisingly well, it’s too loud to be daily-drivable. The 2020 GT350R, however, is both comfortable and quiet enough—in its less aggressive modes—that could it be a commuter car. And it’s worth noting that starting in 1966, Shelby toned the GT350 down to make it more livable. Turns out, while a road-legal race car is special, it’s not always what people really want.

The modern car lives up to the original’s legend—and for significantly less money

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Although it’s not quite as raw as the 1965 Shelby GT350, the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT350R captures much of the original’s special sauce. Or rather, ‘captured,’ because it’s no longer in production. But the good news is that used models are available and for significantly less than the original.

While the original Shelby GT350 ran from 1965-1970, only the 1965-1968 cars were made by Shelby American. And of those cars, the first two model years are the purest—and are therefore the most valuable. In Competition form, a 1965 GT350 costs $473K, and that’s a fair-condition example, Hagerty says. A pristine one can easily go for over $800,00. And Ken Miles’ GT350R prototype recently sold for $3.85 million, becoming the most expensive Mustang ever.

In contrast, you can pick up a used Mustang Shelby GT350R for as little as $50,000. Admittedly, low-mileage, late-model-year examples can get pricey. For example, the 2020 model The Straight Pipes drove is currently listed for the equivalent of $126,000. So, while it can’t quite win on sheer spectacle, the 2020 GT350 is at least easier to experience.

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