Everyone's sharing their quarantine purchase stories, so I suppose it's only fair to add another to the list.
When it comes to taking chances, P.J. O'Rourke wrote, some people play poker or shoot dice; other parachute-jump, go rhino hunting, or climb ice floes, while still others engage in crime or marriage. The problem with engaging in marriage, it needs to be noted, is that not a lot of them are built for winter, and when they do fizzle out, the process is lengthy, expensive, and the stress of the proceedings makes some men resort to wholly irrational acts, such as buying lime-green cars.
But first, some background. I was two years into a three-year lease on a '17 MINI Cooper S, and was looking for a replacement. My friends, bless 'em, tolerated my flights of fancy that ran, in no particular order, from a Taycan Turbo to a Cayenne Hybrid to an RS 6 Avant to a Kia Telluride SX to a Rivian R1T to a Genesis GV80 to a Lincoln Aviator Black Label PHEV. I had completely forgotten that GT350s were even a thing, an oversight which is understandable when living on Seattle's east side. Tesla ownership constitutes the barrier to entry of some (admittedly preposterous) social circles here and the only time an American car sits in most people's driveways is when a handyman — one who can't afford a Metris or Sprinter — is fixing something.
The concept of the GT350 scratched the part of my mind that wanted something entirely impractical and just enough outside of the mainstream to avoid seeing them everywhere, so I started watching YouTube videos, and scouring dealerships. I decided I'd treat myself to one after the divorce was finalized, but then mediation moved into trial and trial moved into continuances, and seven months later when a settlement was finally reached we were deep in the throes of COVID-19 and production lines being shuttered and 'essential personnel' at dealerships being the only ones who could operate. MY2019 GT350s were disappearing and the few 2020s that were built (2000 units were planned, but virus issues have likely cut that short as once Flat Rock fires back up Ford is going to scramble to build more of the newer, hotter, more ADM-friendly GT500) were almost all equipped with the heated-and-cooled leather seats, which swapped out the GT350's standard high-back Recaros for the flat, shapeless seats of the standard Mustang GT.
2020 did bring with it a few changes, though. The 5.2L aluminum block and heads, as well as the oil pump, were beefed up for the supercharged GT500. Those pieces were carried back into use for the GT350, so MY2020 builds have overbuilt and under-stressed pieces versus every other model year. And, like an indulgent parent, Ford decided to offer Grabber Lime on Mustangs. Oh, please sir, may I have another.
And that's how it came to pass that I was sitting at a Ford dealership (that also sold Simplicity lawn tractors) in tiny Marble Hill, Missouri, in the middle of a pandemic, writing a check for a car that is — charitably — absolutely chucklef*cking insane. And to think it almost didn't happen, either, as United had canceled my regional connecting flight from Chicago to little Cape Girardeau (juh-RAWR-do; rhyming with 'Corrado'), MO. Never mind. Enterprise has offices in every little town in America and was all to happy to rent a GMC Acadia for a one-way trip. They were so very friendly and accommodating that I almost feel terrible about taking out a fully-grown male deer somewhere outside Carbondale and limping what was left of their formerly-pristine Acadia the remainder of the way to the hotel.
She's a squirrel-squashin', deer-smackin' driving machine!
After less than an hour at the dealership, I had four days to cover 2300 miles between eastern Missouri and Seattle. Just me, a flaming skittle-colored Mustang, and an engine that is known for either failing entirely in the first thousand miles, or not having any problems at all. I was not, as they say, holding my breath to find out what would happen. I eased out onto Route 34, careful not to honk on the 3.1-mile drivetrain too quickly, and was promptly passed by a Malibu Maxx that crossed over the double lines to get by.
There is a mechanical intensity to operating every control on the GT350 that never fails to impress with how it ever got out of a focus group and put into production. The Tremec TR-3160 has what Ford calls 'aggressive rail detents' and which you have likely correctly surmised means that this thing likes to be manhandled. It does not have these effortlessly rewarding precise motions that you'd expect from an early NSX or, well, the NV3500 that I had in my 1997 C3500 tow truck. It forces you to engage with it. The clutch — near as I can tell — doesn't have some ponce-y orifice restrictor in it to prevent engaging it too quickly. If you step off too fast, you're breaking the rear end free. The upshot of that is that the GT350 rewards blipping the throttle to rev-match downshifts in a way that makes even ham-handed me look and sound like a hero. The Voodoo will happily wind itself up with a flick of the throttle — no deadweight flywheels or annoying rev-hang there.
I would like to leave you with one word concerning the GT350's straight-line stability, and that word is tramlining. Like, seriously. I don't know how owners of the GT350R, which has 305/30-19s from and 315s rear, can handle it. As it stands, the 'normal' GT350's 295/35-19s front and 305s rear have one mission in life, and that's to reach an equilibrium with the road by seeking out the lowest spots. This manifests itself by sudden, unwanted, jerks of the wheel — which requires more force to keep pointed straight ahead than you may suspect. If you see a GT350 driver with both hands gripped firmly on the tiller, chances are that they're not playing boy-racer, so much as they're trying not to eat a curb.
There's a good amount of vibration isolation going on, because touching anything that's hard-mounted to the body shell at speed transmits a whir of drivetrain vibration up your arm, like you're in a dream where you look down and realize that you're not in a GT350, but you're actually riding a human-sized cellphone vibration motor that's going about its business vigorously. This is entirely due to its flat-plane V8, and one day twenty years from now I look forward to an oral history of how someone managed to shove an engine this big and with this much character through Ford product planning without getting fired.
At its heart, the Voodoo is just such a platypus of design that it shouldn't work at all, and yet, it does. The cylinders fire alternate banks on the same crankpin, 1-5, 4-8, 3-7, 2-6, setting up a lope that alternates left-right-left-right and front to back at the same time.
Doing so meant that the outboard counterweights on the crankshaft had to be massive relative to the size of the others. And the less said about the design session that resulted in the four-into-three-into-one tubular exhaust headers, the better. Let's not even get started on the mean piston speed of 25.6 meters per second (versus 25.2 m/s for the S2000's F20C). Or that the 5.2 doesn't have direct injection. Or the plastic oil pan that holds ten quarts of 5W-50 synthetic. Or that each engine is hand-built on what Ford calls its 'Niche Line' at its Romeo engine plant. There's a plaque on the passenger-side valve cover that has the builder's signature pressed into it, and so I would like to say thanks to James Williams for making the magic happen. By a staggering enough coincidence, I punched his name into Google and back came an article in 'Hot Rod' magazine about the Romeo Niche Line that shadowed him during a build, and, well, not only does James build a hell of an engine, he looks like someone that'd be fun to grab a beer with sometime.
In a way, the Shelby's high weirdness was its key attraction to me. Ford's Romeo engine plant that builds the 5.2 is slated for closure, and its product lines (5.0 and 6.2 V8s, and the 5.2 Voodoo and 5.2 Predator) sure don't seem long for this world. The prospect of a port-injected, temperamental, high-strung, naturally-aspirated V8 that requires a $1300 gas-guzzler tax is a dim one in a world where Rivian's 'tank turn' generates the more impressive mindshare. The likelihood of something this nuts being produced by a volume manufacturer ever again exists in the boundary between slim and nil. If this is gonna be the swan song of the ICE, it's a hell of a good tune to go out with.
The GT350 doesn't exactly have a good personality. It doesn't have a bad personality, either. What it does have is a lot of personality, and like people with a lot of personality it's hard to decide how to feel about that. It does have a back seat, which is important as I'll be driving my eight-year-old stepdaughter around, but to try to daily this car is just a bridge too far. It's too purposeful. It's too uncompromising to offer such niceties as ground clearance or mileage in the high teens. It has a button on the dashboard with a pictogram of exhaust tips on it, for Christ's sake, right next to the button that enables the launch control. It doesn't even have the good-neighbor mode to quiet up the exhaust that the 5.0-engined Mustangs do. The GT350 is a quiet car, for sure, until you turn it on.
Even gently using it strains the boundaries of reasonable. The standard GT350's front lip will gracelessly rub on everything. It rubs pulling into my driveway. It rubs backing out of my driveway. It rubs on the approach ramp to my office garage. It rubs on speed bumps that are slightly taller than normal. It rewards those who inch into parking lots from a main street and punishes those who don't. And this is the conservative option. The GT350R's front splitter sits lower and extends out even further. As it stands, I can't even creep the toes of my shoes under the standard 350's piece when trying to check the oil. Solution? New OEM pieces are $400 for the full set. I have two spares; one to replace the original when it get ratty, and one to put on before I sell it.
Use this car daily? Yeah, it's not going to happen.
And so that's how it further came to pass that four days after bringing the Shelby home, I brought it a companion in the form of a 2019 Honda Ridgeline Sport. The last of the six-speed automatics, the year before the shifter was swapped for that awful pushbutton thing all the nine-speed transmissions get, and the remaining few Ridgelines to get any kind of factory leasing support, as well as a $1000 owner-loyalty bonus. And for the half of the year in Seattle where driving a 526-horsepower car on Pilot Sport Cup 2s is just begging to be a statistic, the Ridgeline has tall, chunky tires, great sightlines, and AWD.
I think I'm gonna take a break from car shopping for a while. Now, who's in the Seattle area and wants to go for a drive?