Ford and Ferrari aren’t usually mentioned in the same breath – unless you’re talking about the brief period in the ’60s when Ford beat the tar out of Ferrari on the track. But that was a long time ago, and it doesn’t seem like the Blue Oval has stolen much from the Prancing Horse in the decades since. That may have all changed this year, however, when Ford’s Shelby GT350 Mustang was released to vanquish the track-day special Chevy Camaro Z/28 once and for all, and become the king of the hill when it comes to the racetrack.
On paper, the GT350 is incredible. On top of the naturally aspirated 5.2 liter V8 that churns out 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque is the six-speed manual transmission. In the even more track-focused GT350R, you dispense with niceties like a radio, air conditioning, back seat, and sound deadening, while gaining the first carbon fiber wheels offered by a major automaker, plus a wing and revised suspension geometry. Top speed for the cars is somewhere in the high 180s, and zero to 60 comes after about four seconds.
Those last specs are vague because, for now, the Shelbys enjoy an almost mythical status. Ford built only 137 of them for 2015 (with only 37 of them being the hotter R model), and the closest most gearheads have come to the cars so far is through official Ford videos, like the one of the red model that was such a handful that its driver called it insane at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.
While the new Mustang is a leap forward for the venerable nameplate in virtually every way, the GT350/R’s secret weapon truly is its 5.2 liter mill. And while it rasps, growls, and pops up Goodwood Hill while the driver struggles to keep its tail in check, you may notice that it doesn’t sound quite like any V8 that’s ever come in a Mustang before. That’s because it isn’t like any other high-displacement V8 that’s been in a Mustang ever before. It’s a flat-plane crank V8, inspired by Ferrari’s V8s, specifically the 4.3 liter mill used in the last-generation California. It’s a bold move for a mass-market automaker to crib an idea from a supercarmaker, and the result could be the greatest muscle car coup pulled on the Italians since John DeLorean and Pontiac stole the GTO name back in 1964.
There isn’t much old-fashioned about the Shelby, or its mill, known internally as the Voodoo V8. But the Voodoo itself is a throwback to the days when automakers had several big V8s at their disposal. While it’s only available in the Shelbys, the Voodoo is interesting because its solutions may point the way for the future of naturally-displaced engines as most engines become turbocharged for the sake of mileage and economy. Its 102 horsepower-per-liter make the Voodoo the most powerful naturally-aspirated engine Ford has ever built, and its flat-plane crankshaft design lets the car rev as high as 8,250 revolutions per minute – a figure virtually unheard of in American cars.
Unlike the Coyote V8s you’d find in a standard GT ‘Stang, with its cylinders attached to the crankshaft at 90 degrees, the Voodoo’s connecting rods attach to the crank at 180 degree angles, separating the exhaust pulses of cylinder bank, and allowing the engine to breathe easier. It’s also helped by its 4-into-2-into-1 headers, which allowed Ford to keep back pressure low, and move the catalysts closer to the engine. Thanks to the lighter crank, counterweights, aluminum block and pistons, the Voodoo is actually lighter than the 5.0 liter Coyote powerplant, and in some ways, more efficient.
But there’s a reason why the Voodoo isn’t going to replace the Coyote anytime soon. For one, the mills are hand-built at Ford’s Romeo, Michigan plant, and while $49,995 is an outright steal for a car as ferocious as the GT350R, very few people would pay that kind of premium for an engine, especially when $32,300 can get them the 435 horsepower GT, which has more than enough juice for street-legal activity. And with the GT350’s combined fuel economy at around 17 miles per gallon, the GT’s combined 25 miles per gallon suddenly makes it look like a Prius.
But in the end, none of that really matters, because the GT350 and R are special cars, and weren’t made for mass consumption anyway. Special as they are, they deserved a special engine, and luckily Ford had the presence of mind to give it one. The lightweight, free-revving Voodoo is the most interesting engine to come out of the U.S. in a very long time, and on top of proving that natural aspiration still has its place in this increasingly turbocharged world, it’s the perfect powerplant for cars ferocious as the Shelbys. If you plan on racing against a new Shelby, get used to the sound of the Voodoo, you’ll be hearing it blow by you on the track a lot in the next few months.
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