Eventually you reach a junction, which offers you the choice of the Mines road or the Del Puerto Canyon Road. We take the latter, which is lined with reddish rock and is much rougher, exercising the GT350’s MagneRide suspension. Three damper settings are available: Normal, Sport and Track. Perhaps predictably it is the middle setting that offers the best compromise, but the Shelby feels pretty ruthlessly tied-down and short of travel. You’re certainly kept informed of any imperfections in the road surface, and over the bigger bumps I’m sure that individual wheels are getting airborne at times.
Free of the canyons, the road spits us out into a final fast flourish through lush green rolling hills, just before we reach the West Side Freeway, or Interstate 5. We stop to refuel on unleaded (still amazes me how cheap it is – about $40 for a full tank) and some vitamin water the shade of Calpol. It has been a long drive across the Diablo mountains and now we’ve done our recce the only thing to do is head back the other way, stopping to take some photos at the points we noted on the way over. Typically, of course, the weather has been chasing us and the light is not what it was – ‘unusable’ is the word Aston plucks from the photographer’s lexicon of exaggeration – meaning we stop less often than intended and I get more time to get to know the 350. Fine by me.
By the time we regain the Summit of Mt Hamilton, however, I am slightly puzzled.It sounds glorious and it is capable of monstrous straight-line speed, but I can’t escape the feeling that in the corners the Mustang is an awful lot of effort for not a lot of dynamic reward. I’ve been driving quickly, although not flat-out, and it feels heavy and hard work, particularly in the first stage of any corner. A big part of the problem is that the steering isn’t giving me enough information, so I can’t judge the grip level. And then there’s the tyres, or more specifically their size. The 305-section rears are big and sticky, but of greater significance is the fact that the 295 section fronts are nearly as broad and tacky, giving the Shelby a pretty square balance.
At seven-tenths you know the front is sticking, but it just feels slightly cumbersome and aloof. As a result you seem to spend a lot of time steering the big nose through a large part of each bend before you feel confident to get on the throttle and fire it down the next straight. What I want to do is turn in and with that first application of lock instantly feel how much the tyres are or aren’t keying into the surface of the road. That would then give me confidence to get on the power early and start working the car through the majority of the corner with the throttle as well as the steering.
The only thing to do is trust in the tyres’ tenacity. Launching the Mustang into bends with much more aggression as we plummet down from the summit of Mt Hamilton, the 350 begins to feel more alive and enjoyable. It’s certainly hard work, and it doesn’t exactly feel light on its feet, but it’s much more like the car I had hoped it would be. The six-piston Brembo brakes also prove to be superb allies on the long descent, the middle pedal remaining firm and reassuring from the top of its travel despite the constant abuse. It feels like a slightly frantic drive, but it’s invigorating and I’m certainly buzzing by the end.