MONTEREY, Calif. -- Heat waves ripple off black asphalt in pit lane at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the closed-circuit race track cast across golden hills of California near Monterey, as we slip into a big-bolstered Recaro bucket seat and get a firm grip on the flat-bottom steering wheel of the 2016 Shelby GT350 coupe that packs beneath a stretched aluminum hood the most powerful naturally aspirated production Ford engine ever made.
The 2016 Shelby GT350 amounts to a super-powered rendition of Ford's classic pony car -- Mustang. Performance models bear the name of Shelby Mustangs, after racing legend Carroll Shelby whose original Shelby Mustang rolled out in 1965 badged as the GT350 and wearing paint called Wimbledon White with blue rocker panel stripes outlining the GT350 name. It carried a 289-ci V8 with Cobra valve covers and Holley carburetor to boost output to 325 hp.
By contrast, the 2016 GT350 scores a high-revving (8200 rpm redline) naturally aspirated 5.2-liter aluminum-block V8 engine outfitted with a flat-plane crankshaft and dual overhead cams.
It delivers a sizzling 526 hp at 7500 rpm and 429 lb-ft of torque at 4750 rpm.
All of that torque is channeled to the 19-inch rear wheels through the six forward gears of a heavy-duty Tremec TR3160 6-speed manual gearbox and dual-disc clutch in conjunction with a Ford-tuned Torsen limited-slip differential.
Blap-a-de-blap-blap, goes the throaty howl sound spewing from GT350's four big chrome-tipped tail pipes.
Stomping the go-pedal launches this Shelby beast in a blur of painted metal. It's able to zip from zero to 60 in a sub-4-second count before climbing to triple-digit territory faster than you might say, "Hello, Officer."
This latest version of the Shelby Mustang, based on the 2015 sixth-generation pony car re-make, still looks unmistakably like a Mustang with that stretched hood and stubby tail, muscular body bulges and way-big wheels.
The design of the front fascia and hood directs air flow around this racy machine. The new aluminum hood has been lowered and sloped and tightly wrapped around the engine to reduce the aerodynamic signature. The fascia has been revised to provide the aggressive lower front splitter with maximum pressure while a ducted belly pan delivers significant downforce. Contoured aluminum front fenders with fender vents accommodate the vehicle's wider front track and wider wheel arches.
At the rear a low-drag tail spoiler adds downforce air pressure to keep the rear wheels pinned on the pavement at high speed.
The GT350 platform is the strongest ever, with front stiffness further improved by the carbon-fiber composite grille opening and lightweight tower-to-tower brace. The front track was increased with spring rates and bushings recalibrated as the ride height was pared from Mustang GT.
Independent suspension elements include a front double-ball-joint MacPherson strut with tubular stabilizer bar and a rear integral-link arrangement with coil springs and tubular stabilizer bar. Continuously controlled MagneRide dampers are optional.
The Brembo-brand brake package is as serious as the powertrain package. Brakes consist of 2-piece cross-drilled iron brake discs mounted to aluminum hats. Up front the massive 394-mm rotors are clamped by Brembo 6-piston fixed calipers while the rear 380-mm rotors get 4-piston calipers.
GT350 rolls on extra-stiff 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels measuring 10.5 inches wide in front and 11.0 inches wide in back. Wheels are capped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires -- 295/35ZR19 front and 305/35ZR19 rear.
In the cockpit, the GT350 houses Recaro sport seats, the flat-bottom steering wheel and upgraded gauges.
A new driver control system allows the driver to choose among five drive modes. The electronic controls coordinate the anti-lock brake system, stability control, traction control, steering effort, throttle mapping, MagneRide tuning and exhaust settings.
And the optional Tech Pack adds equipment including leather-trimmed seats with power controls, dual zone electronic temperature controls, Shaker Pro audio kit and Ford's Sync 3 system with 8-inch LCD touch screen.
We estimate the bottom line for the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 tallies to $49,995 -- with a $900 delivery fee and $1,300 gas guzzler tax included.