Ford's 2016 Shelby GT350 Mustang a tribute to designer

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Gardena, Calif. — Consider the 2016 Shelby GT350 Mustang a tribute from Ford Motor Co. to the late, great racer and car designer Carroll Shelby, a name synonymous with performance.

The spirit of Shelby, who died in May 2012, was prominent as the all-new GT350 was unveiled at the future home of an automotive museum named in his honor in Gardena, California.

"We really wanted to pay homage to Carroll Shelby," Joe Hinrichs, Ford executive vice president and president of The Americas, told reporters following the unveiling Monday. "This was a great opportunity to do it."

Shelby, in a video, even helped introduce the new performance car, which is set to go on sale in limited quantities in the second half of 2015.

"There's a lot of designing, testing and trial runs behind every new innovation or new performance record. How do I know? My name's Carroll Shelby and performance is my business," said Shelby before the sound of the new Mustang could be heard driving out under the screen.

Officials said Shelby was aware that the Dearborn automaker was planning to make a Shelby GT350 model, which comes 50 years after Shelby pumped horsepower into the first-generation pony car.

The new vehicle is powered by a flat-plane crankshaft 5.2-liter V8 engine that will produce more than 500 horsepower. It's Ford's most powerful naturally aspirated production engine ever, officials said.

Jim Farley, executive vice president of Global Marketing, Sales & Service, said few cars combine a naturally aspirated, high-torque engine with the braking and chassis dynamics of the new Shelby GT350. He called the combination "magical."

"We're really excited about the launch of the product," he said. "This is a very special car for all of us at Ford."

Ford said the new performance pony car is more "balanced, nimble and exhilarating" than past versions and is designed as a street-legal track car that can tackle the most challenging roads.

Exact performance specifications, production numbers and pricing were not announced.

The flat-plane crankshaft V8 is typically used on European sports cars and racing vehicles. Unlike a traditional V8, where the connecting rods are attached to the crankshaft at 90-degree intervals, this design evenly spaces all crank pins at 180-degree intervals, allowing for better performance.

The GT350 looks slightly different than the base Mustang that went on sale earlier this year. The aluminum hood has been lowered and sloped and is tightly wrapped around the engine for better aerodynamics. The aluminum fenders have been re-contoured to accommodate the wider front track and wider wheel arches.

Moray Callum, Ford vice president of design, called the GT350 a "true track car."

"That's why we went with the wider front track, the lower hood, and the better aero," he said. "It was much more of a valid track car more than some of the previous Shelbys have been."

The interior is designed with Recaro sports seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel that makes it easier to get in and out.

The original Mustang Shelby GT350 was introduced in 1965, and the oldest grandchild of Carroll Shelby thinks the new car is a fitting tribute to his grandfather.

"I think this keeps his idea alive," said Aaron Shelby, a Carroll Shelby Foundation board member. "He would have really liked this."

The car is the latest in an all-new line of Mustang fastback and convertible models, including the specially designed 50th Anniversary Edition Mustang. It will be on display to the public for the first time later this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Detroit News Staff Writer Michael Martinez contributed.