Only a handful of miles from my house, I might as well be in another state. Downtown Los Angeles is pavement, graffiti, and the dingy Los Angeles River. Now the lush, green valleys of Malibu and the crystal blue waters of the pacific greet me. I may be only a few zip codes over, but in California, the scenery and climate can change in short order; much like this GT350CR Mustang built by Classic Recreations. This Mustang isn’t far from its original state, but make no mistake, it’s in another zip code and the weather is calling for a storm of biblical proportions.
From fifteen feet away, you’d be forgiven for thinking this GT350 is the real deal. The white paint and blue stripes combine with the car’s natural old school lines and are pure, vintage Ford. At this distance, the only thing that hints at this car’s specialness are the American Racing forged alloy wheels shod with BFGoodrich Rival S tires that are quite a bit bigger than stock — 265/25R18 in the front, 315/30R18 in the rear. But then you walk a little closer, and the work done by Jason Engel, the owner of Classic Recreations and the company’s lead mad scientist, comes into full view.
A small, Oklahoma-based shop, Classic Recreations specializes in resto-mods; specifically, Shelby resto-mods officially licensed through Shelby American. With this agreement, Classic Recreations is able to build all-new GT350s and GT500s, like the GT350CR shown here. Yet, unlike their original numbers-matching brethren, Classic Recreations’ resto-mods neither trailer queens nor investment pieces. Engels wants these cars driven hard, put away wet, and used how Ford originally intended.
A wider track makes room in the Shelby GT350CR’s engine bay for a brand new Coyote V-8 sourced from Ford Performance. To get it to breathe better, Classic Recreations used the higher flowing intake manifold from the 5.2-liter Voodoo V-8 found in the Shelby GT350R, increasing output to about 500 horsepower, which is sent through a 5-speed Tremec manual gearbox to a 9-inch solid rear axle. All fairly common performance modifications to a classic Mustang, but that’s where ordinary stops.
The GT350CR features a reinforced chassis built by Detroit Speed meant to take a beating. It comes complete with an integrated Aluma-Frame front clip architecture, a Quadralink 4-bar rear setup, JRI shocks at all four corners, and a host of other “turn-better” pieces including a set of Detroit Speed’s anti-roll bars. Add 6-piston Wilwood Brakes at all four corners, the wider stance, and those sticky tires mentioned above and it’s a turn-key Porsche killer.
Inside, vintage Sparco seats keep you from swaying side-to-side and are finished in black leather. Both seats are very comfortable, but my 6’4” height caused my head to protrude through the roof like one of those Shriners at the parade. However, with some minor tailoring done by Classic Recreations to the seat height, this is something that could easily be fixed.
Between my fingertips is a Sparco steering wheel with the perfect diameter to wrestle the car to-and-fro around Malibu’s sinuous pavement. But besides the Sparco wheel and Shelby branded gauges, the interior’s focal point is undoubtedly the shift lever. Made from a lengthy-and-heavy-feeling single piece of billet aluminum, it’s topped with an old school white shift knob; compete with Shelby’s “snake-head” crest. It feels like this car’s cake topper, especially while running through the five-speed’s gears.
Classic Recreation’s GT350CR also has A/C, heating, and a Vintage Sounds audio system with integrated Apple CarPlay for all your rockin’ tunes. Yet, you won’t want to play a single Deep Purple track as you’ll either be stuck starring at the vintage race car good looks, or smoking every 911 and Corvette you come across as you rail the GT350CR everywhere you go.
We snaked our way through the lazy afternoon traffic of California’s picturesque Pacific Coast Highway heading towards the Malibu canyons where the winter’s rains has turned the normally dusty, beige outcroppings twenty-shades of green. There, slogging behind a few dozen hippie-driven Priuses, Tacomas packed with surfboards or mountain bikes, and the ever-present convertible V-6 Camaros and Mustangs operated by out-of-towners, the GT350CR’s clutch pickup becomes substantial, you won’t want to skip “leg day” at the gym the next time you go workout. Yet, the sounds emanating from under the car’s hood after you release the clutch are well-worth the sore left thigh the next day.
In a stock 2017 Ford Mustang, the Coyote V-8 sounds quite good. With a Voodoo intake and less restriction thanks to a custom MagnaFlow header-back exhaust exiting directly below your butt: Woof, does it bark! It doesn’t yowl like the 5.2-liter Voodoo, nor is it as high-pitched. And it definitely doesn’t have an 8,250 rpm redline. But this Coyote sings with an indolent rasp that will have you quivering for more. At every red light, you’ll find yourself stabbing the throttle just for laughs, shaking the minivans full of wide-eyed children hooting for more, their infuriated mothers fuming like characters in a 1960s chase scene.
With no more Prius drivers impeding our way, I gave the Mustang a bit more throttle and was quickly rewarded with near “license and registration please” speeds. While speed came quickly — as evidenced by the rate at which I was passing trees and surfers on the side of the road — the GT350CR’s engine doesn’t feel remarkably powerful. It lazily revs through each gear, relying more on torque, unlike the 911 or Corvette this car wants to compete with. The car is incredibly fast, but there’s a lack of connection to your actual ground speed. It just doesn’t accelerate quickly. Maybe this could be solved with a lighter flywheel to improve the car’s rev rate?
Trading the slow traffic and prying eyes of PCH, we turned onto one of the gnarliest roads in all of southern California: Deer Creek Road. How gnarly? Running from the Pacific Ocean up into the Malibu hills, it climbs 1,300 ft in 2.4 miles and nearly 36 turns, including a 180-degree left-hander with a near-45-degree climb, and two 90-degree turns with pavement that isn’t what you’d call pristine. It’s also noteworthy that rockslides are extremely common.
The Detroit Speed suspension setup minimizes the road’s imperfections while never missing a step. And with the GT350CR’s nearly perfect steering geometry, it can be placed on the road with almost scalpel-like proficiency — almost being that the steering is dead on-center. It doesn’t feel like a muscle car; it feels like a Trans-Am racer.
Yet, this execution comes at a cost. Ford’s new Shelby GT350 starts at an easy-to-swallow $57,045. Pay a little bit more, and you can get a 2017 GT350R for $64,545. Classic Recreations GT350CR, however, starts at an eye-watering $169,000. From there, you can option a good deal more for things like a twin-turbo kit that upgrades the horsepower to 1,000, larger wheels, the aforementioned 6-piston Wilwood brakes (4-piston Wilwoods are standard), along with adjustable shocks, and a host of other items. In total, you could easily spend $200,000 in customizing your GT350CR, evidenced by this specific GT350CR coming with a price tag of $195,000 – the price of a new Porsche 911 Turbo S.
This is a car that needs an emotional connection to purchase. Nothing about it is rational and spending nearly $200,000 on a Mustang is a hard pill to swallow. Engel says, “[While] we’ve been building Mustangs for a long time, this is easily one of the coolest cars we’ve ever built.”
And all we can say is that after spending the day with this GT350CR, we came away with massive smiles and, if we were the kind of people who had money to burn, we’d be tempted. While the GT350CR is still “just a Mustang,” like our short trip from Downtown LA to Malibu, we may have been in the same state, but everything sure felt different — and in this case, much better. Whether it’s $200,000 better is for you to decide.