HENRY PAYNE

Payne: Roush and Shelby Mega-Mustangs pack a punch

Henry Payne, The Detroit News

I knew a tennis player once upon a time who showed up at the courts dressed like Bjorn Borg. Headband, bright sweatbands on both wrists, multiple tennis rackets, and carrying an expensive tennis bag so big it needed a caddy. Then he walked out on court and hit 10 mph fluff balls. Why the big show if you have no game to back it up? It reminds me of folks who dress up production sedans with wings ’n’ things without changing a thing under the skin.

I got held up by one such dashing muggle recently while driving a fire-engine red 2016 Roush Stage 3 Mustang on the twisty two lanes of Detroit’s outskirts. The other guy had a neon-blue Honda Civic with a giant rear wing and exhaust the size of the Alaskan Pipeline, yet it labored along with nothing more than a stock four-banger under his hood.

Buyers of the wicked-looking, track-trained Roush or Shelby GT350 Mustangs are not that guy.

When Ford introduced its all-new coupe for 2015, Mustang nation swooned over its sleek styling and crouched stance. The pony car galloped out of showrooms. We motorheads, meanwhile, quietly salivated over the potential of the car’s new DNA. What would Ford’s legendary performance shops — Roush and Shelby — do when they got their hands on this beast? After all, this was the first Mustang equipped with independent front and rear suspension, chassis dynamics to finally harness its V-8 power.

Those mad geniuses didn’t disappoint. With Stage 3 and GT350, the fusion of a lineman’s muscle and tailback’s athleticism has been realized in two striking, similarly priced — yet very different — V-8 packages.

Indeed, I should probably be thankful that my Honda friend held me up. I might have had a trail of Smokeys behind the Roush longer than what chased the bandit. With the suspension wrapped in the sinew of available, three-way coil-over springs channeling a Hellcat-like 670 supercharged horsepower and 545 pound-feet of torque, it’s hard to behave in this land rocket.

How to exercise it? I might bolt on rally lights and go out after midnight when no one’s about. When I lived in Washington, D.C., in the ’80s, petrolheads would go out at 4 in the morning to set the fastest “lap” around the 64-mile D.C. Beltway. A Ferrari reportedly held the record at a half-hour — that’s an average speed of over 125 mph. Gives ya chills, doesn’t it? It’s a record sure to stand forever as I-95 has become busy 24/7.

Ditto, Detroit’s highways. So to thoroughly enjoy this meaty Mustang you’ll want to book a regular table at local tracks like Waterford or M1 Concourse. In fact, just move out of the house right now and buy a condo at M1, because you’ll want to track it every night. Some come home and unwind with a glass of Scotch. You’ll prefer hot laps around M1’s 1.5-mile track.

When you buy the condo, make sure the garage has room for two so you can put a Shelby next to the Roush.

Ooooh, the Shelby GT350. Grown men swoon at the sound of its 526-horse flat-plane crank V-8, the only such engine this side of Ferrari. The great Carroll Shelby has passed to that great racetrack in the sky, and his Cobra badge now belongs to Ford. But his spirit lives on in this monster.

I first tested the twin-striped snake — the track-goosed, $66,970 GT350R — over the rolling hills of Monterey and Laguna Seca, California a year ago. The $57,970 GT350 in my driveway is no less intense. Lope along in SPORT mode, and the flat-plane, 5.2-liter V-8 gurgles like a T-rex stalking its prey. Nail the throttle and rex takes off in a bellowing sprint to 8,000 rpm. The ground shakes. Birds flee from the trees. Fire hydrants explode.

There’s plenty of torque at low revs, but the piercing wail of a V-8 at 8-grand is other worldly. You NASCAR fans know what I mean. It oughta be a phone ring tone.

The Roush motor is different. Or rather, the same, core 5.0-liter eight you’ll find in the 435-horse Mustang GT. Unlike other hot rod shops that have to buy their cars and modify them, Roush gets exclusive access to Mustangs right out of Flat Rock Assembly so customers can accessorize them through dealers and have them delivered in full Roush attire. Get a Roush and you’re accessing performance engineering that has won 32 racing titles and 400-plus races.

Roush herds its pony recruits through their Plymouth plant where they are given a nose job, tattooed and generally hardened into track-ready stallions. Roush works its magic on Mustang’s V-6 (RS package), turbo-4 (Stage 1), and V-8 (Stage 2 and 3). But Ford holds back the 8,000-rpm screamer for Shelby only. It’s Ford’s signature engine.

Roush’s signature is supercharging: An Eaton TVS supercharger spins atop the V-8 boosting horsepower by a mind-blowing 235 horsepower. I tuned the ACTIVE EXHAUST mode to TRACK, buried my right foot out of a Telegraph stoplight and was sure I was going to the moon. With a chirp, the 20-inch tires channeled a wave of horsepower arcing to the 6,800 rpm redline. Unlike the old, solid-axle, 662-horse GT500, this animal (priced from $56,410-$72,080) never feels unstable. It never threatens to throw its rider.

This nimbleness translates to the track where Shelby and Roush record sports-car like, 1-plus G cornering numbers. Indeed, at this year’s Car and Driver Lightning Lap, the $66,000 magnetic shock-equipped GT350 lapped faster than a $105K Porsche Cayman GT4. Cradled in heavily-bolstered Recaros, drivers can enjoy the performance in leather-wrapped comfort.

What sports cars don’t have, however, is The Look — that intimidating visage that appears in slower vehicles’ rear-view mirrors causing them to reflexively pull over (neon blue Civics exempted, apparently). The Roush machine breathes down your back with a unique front clip, but what catches your eye is the “ROUSHCHARGER” hood scoop.

The Shelby’s hood scoop is more aerodynamic and therefore less obvious. Not that you’d notice because the twin stripes and massive “flying buttress” front splitter scream “Snaaaaaake!” My front splitters were jet black, yet still glinted in the sun like two machetes.

Shelby GT350 and Roush Stage 3: Twin-stripes or gaping hood scoop. High-revving snake or supercharged demon. These stallions perform as good as they look.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2016 Roush Stage 3 Mustang

specifications

Vehicle type

Front-engine, rear-wheel drive four-passenger sports coupe

Power plant

5.0-liter, supercharged “Coyote” V-8

Transmission

6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic

Weight

3,892 pounds

Price

$56,410 base ($72,080 as tested)

Power

670 horsepower, 525 pound-feet torque

Performance

Quarter mile: NA; top speed: 155 mph

Fuel economy

EPA 14 mpg city/23 mpg highway

/17 mpg combined (automatic as tested)

report card

Highs

Rocket-like power; distinctive looks

Lows

Cop magnet; tight backseat for family burnouts

Overall:★★★★

Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★ Fair

Poor ★

2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350

specifications

Vehicle type

Front-engine, rear-wheel drive four-passenger sports coupe

Power plant

5.2-liter “Voodoo” V-8

Transmission

6-speed manual

Weight

3,791 pounds

Price

$49,995 base ($57,970 GT350/$66,495 GT350 R as tested)

Power

526 horsepower, 429 pound-feet torque

Performance

Quarter mile: 12.3 seconds est. (Car and Driver); top speed: 155 mph

Fuel economy

EPA 14 mpg city/21 mpg highway

/17 mpg combined

report card

Highs

Engine of the gods; ferocious visage

Lows

Ticket bait; tight backseat for thrill ride-sharing

Overall:★★★★

Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★ Fair

Poor ★