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Limited-edition styling packages are a common practice among automakers. Most involve a special paint or color combination along with minor interior alterations. But some carry a bit more meaning, drawing inspiration from a model's storied past without overshadowing what makes the current car so special. That's the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Heritage Edition in a nutshell.
With the Heritage Edition Package, customers can get a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 or GT350R coated in an exclusive Wimbledon White paint with Guardsman Blue side and over-the-top racing stripes. The livery harks back to Carroll Shelby's 1965 GT350 fastback that was victorious in its race debut with driver Ken Miles behind the wheel. Is that a cool thing to base a limited edition on? Absolutely. Does the color combo happen to look wicked to boot? Oh yeah.
Outside of the paint and stripes, the Heritage Edition changes are minor. The front and rear outside GT350 badges are finished in Guardsman Blue, as well as the special dash badge inside. Those opting for the Heritage Edition Package on the GT350R get completely black seats instead of the standard ones with red bolsters.
So, why the special edition? Well, sorry to say, GT350 production is coming to an end. Ford confirmed in a statement, "With the 760-horsepower Shelby GT500 now in full stride, we will finish production of Shelby GT350 and GT350R this fall as planned. This makes the way for new additions to excite our passionate Mustang fans for the 2021 model year -- including the limited-edition Mach 1." Pour one out.
Knowing that the GT350 isn't long for the world makes driving the Heritage Edition bittersweet. The 5.2-liter, naturally aspirated, flat-plane-crank V8 is brilliant. Known internally at Ford as the Voodoo, it spits out 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque for strong, linear power delivery all the way up to the 8,250-rpm redline. Throw in the glorious, roaring soundtrack under wide-open throttle, and it'll surely make any driver's heartbeat quicken.
Connected to the 350's engine is a Tremec six-speed manual transmission offering precise action and a nicely weighted, easy-to-work clutch. Combine that with the engine's rapid throttle response and well-spaced pedals for heel-and-toe shifting, and it's super easy to drop a gear or two before turns. The only drivetrain element I'd change is installing a shifter with slightly shorter throws.
Tackling my go-to stretches of twisty roads in the Heritage Edition is an absolute riot. With some heat in the staggered, 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, the 3,800-pound coupe does everything you ask of it. Track mode firms up the dampers and steering, turn-in is immediate with great weight and high levels of feedback, and body motions are nicely controlled with huge amounts of grip. If you feel like making the rear end dance in a controlled manner, it's easily done with a liberal dab of throttle. The six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo clampers effortlessly slow matters down, providing the confidence to go deeper into braking zones if you wish.
The highlight of the GT350 remains its raw but approachable performance personality. It's forgiving to drive right up to the limit with a usable amount of power and a good ol' manual gearbox. In many ways it's a throwback sports car, free of new performance technologies in the best ways.
Just because there's so much to like about this Shelby Mustang's old-school makeup, however, doesn't mean there aren't some modern elements. Case in point: the adaptive dampers, adjustable steering and active exhaust. Engaging the Normal drive mode softens bump stiffness, lightens steering and yields a quieter exhaust note for more comfortable, lower-key motoring. This doesn't mean impacts from bigger bumps are erased, but they're smoothed out enough for a very tolerable ride around town.
The middle ground between Normal and Track drive modes is Sport, which is ideal for more enthusiastic daily driving while possessing enough damping properties to keep things from being jarring. Yes, it makes the Shelby marginally firmer, but completely livable with more cornering composure and a bit heftier steering.
The GT350 isn't the perfect daily driver, though. Remember those aggressive 295/35R19 front and 305/35R19 rear tires that are oh-so-good for handling? They are prone to tramlining on rutted roadways, making it hard to track straight. But the biggest strike against this Shelby is its less-than-stellar fuel economy, with EPA estimates of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg highway. Those numbers are low enough to cause the coupe to get hit with a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax. Then again, if you're really worried about fuel efficiency, a Shelby probably isn't for you.
Inside, the Heritage Edition is a typical Mustang. The door panels have suede inserts, and the standard Recaro front race seats are supremely comfy and supportive. Outside of that, the back seat is still tight and best used for small children, the build quality is good but not great, and there's serviceable cargo-carrying ability in the trunk, with 13.5 cubic feet of space.
On the tech front, the GT350 uses Ford's tried-and-true Sync 3 interface, housed on an 8-inch touchscreen. A nine-speaker audio system, satellite radio, Wi-Fi hotspot and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. Navigation with real-time traffic and a new 12-speaker B&O sound setup are optional. For safety, a rear-view camera is standard, while available features are limited to blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R are on sale in dealers now with a base price of $61,635 and $74,630, respectively. Both figures include $1,195 for destination and a $1,300 gas guzzler tax. The Heritage Edition Package tacks on an additional $1,965 to the bottom line of each.
I'd definitely put a check mark next to the Heritage Edition Package option on my GT350 build sheet, which says something, because I'm usually not one to get sucked into the limited-edition brouhaha. But the fact that it's an awesome-looking package steeped in history on the best driver's Mustang ever built has me sold. For anyone contemplating a Shelby GT350, you're officially on the clock. The end is near, but this is nevertheless a lovely sendoff.