by Roger Garbow

Good friends, a good car, and a good track. My pal Spencer Cox would have considered that the recipe for a perfect day. In Spencer’s case, the day would end with laughs and bullshitting over good wine and a thick steak.

This past fall, under threatening skies and chilly temps, nearly 100 folks descended on Monticello Motor Club to remember a man gone far too soon. Eleven months after his passing, we gathered, some traveling from as far as Florida, to celebrate and honor our late friend, Spencer. Eight months into the pandemic we were all glad to see some friendly faces, socially distanced of course.

It was a day of track driving and shared memories at a track that was practically a second home for the man who built Speedsport Tuning into one of the nation’s most respected and successful Porsche performance shops. While he a was a damn good wrench and could set up a car perfectly for any track, Spencer was also a truly gifted talent behind the wheel. He could, and would, drive anything at its limit. He loved to drive. From a go-kart at our local track to a purpose-built race car at a legendary road circuit, Spencer drove everything with the same passion and precision. And he was fast, setting track records up and down the East Coast in a wide range of Porsches; from his 600hp 944 Turbo, (named The Turkey for the warble of its blow-off valve) to a Speedsport Tuning-built Cayman, to a factory fresh GT3 Cup.

Spencer flying the Turkey through the esses at Watkins Glen.

In 2013, Spencer, Alex Roy, Mike Piera and I entered a car in the first (and sadly, only) 24 Hours of LeMons race at Monticello. Bringing the crappiest of cars to the nicest of tracks earned the perfect event name: “The Goes the Neighborhood.” Our entry was a junkyard rescue BMW E30, named the 328FU. The car was good enough through the corners but woefully underpowered on the straights. But for Spencer, that didn’t matter. Getting out of the car after his first stint, with the unbridled glee of a school kid, Spencer exclaimed, “Dude! I’ve never passed so many people in my life! This is everything you ever wanted to do on the L.I.E.! It’s like fucking playing Frogger!” 

Spencer Cox flogging the E30 through Monticello Motor Club’s turn 14.

Then he immediately switched back to super-competitive mode and yells at Mike to buckle up, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon! You’re going to give back all those spots I just gained.” When I was in the car, I felt like I was getting everything possible out of it and then Spencer would jump in and immediately knock at least two seconds off my best lap. Every fucking stint. 

He loved being at a track, especially when he was driving. While he had crewed the Rolex 24 multiple times, in 2012 he finally got to live out his dream of driving in the big race. As the hot shoe in a Porsche GT3 Cup with four friends who also happened to be clients, Spencer was beaming the entire week, both coaching his co-drivers and assisting with set-up. As the car took the checkered flag, we all cheered from the pits, with no one yelling louder than Spencer.

Spencer and his wife Denise after the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

As a track junkie, I was glad to have one more day on MMC’s 3.6 miles of flawless asphalt before winter hit. When I mentioned the event, the incredibly nice folks at Ford Motor Company offered me one of the last Shelby GT350Rs to roll off the assembly line. After a much too short five-year run, 2020 would be the end of the line for the GT350/GT350R. Having one last dance with the best Mustang ever was something I was going to cherish. 

A very special delivery.

The night before the event, a Reliable enclosed carrier arrived at my home to deliver the GT350R, wearing the beautiful limited edition Heritage throwback livery. Only available for the car’s final year, the Wimbledon White paint with Guardsmen Blue stripes is a fitting homage to Carroll Shelby’s classic 1965 fastback. The next morning before sunrise, I fired up the flat-plane crank V8, flipped the exhaust switch to the quieter setting to avoid waking all of the neighbors, and hit the road for the 90 mile drive to the track. 

A purposeful cockpit, designed for three pedal dances.

On the open road the GT350R is a wonderful cruiser, with a temperament so docile it belies the serious performance potential lurking underneath. Knowing I would be tracking the car, the techs in Dearborn kindly adjusted the camber plates all the way in for maximum front grip. Even fitted with super sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and the track alignment, the GT350R didn’t tramline or wander on the highway. This behavior is due in no small part to the 2020 GT350’s revised steering knuckle taken from the GT500. Speaking of suspension, the MagneRide dampers deliver the perfect balance of ride comfort and crisp response, isolating road harshness, but not compromising feedback. 

Grippy seats ready for lateral Gs.

Inside, ergonomics and outward visibility are superior to the Mustang’s pony car competitors. Deeply bolstered, Alcantara-clad Recaro seats hold you in place like Velcro, while the stubby shifter falls perfectly to hand. All the controls are clearly marked and simple to use. The Alcantara wrapped steering wheel has a stripe at top dead center like all serious track cars, behind which a large round tach and speedometer flank a configurable gauge cluster. In the roomy footwell, the pedals are optimized for heel and toe downshifts.

Facing down some serious German iron.

Rolling out of the pits with a slew of Porsches, we all took the first few laps cautiously. The temperature was barely pushing 40 and there were damp spots scattered around the track. As the tire temps climbed, the speeds increased. With 526 horsepower delivered through the perfectly notchy six-speed Tremec manual trans, the Mustang’s Voodoo V-8 pulls all the way up to its heady 8,250 rpm redline. And the sound. This is an engine I could listen to forever. The intoxicating roar on full throttle is a reminder that this car was built to scorch asphalt. Lifting off the gas emits delicious pops and snaps that make you want to keep rowing through the gears until the tank is dry. 

Mind if I play through?

The car is quick, delivering 0-60 in 3.8 seconds, which is even more impressive considering the manual transmission. But the GT350R is not just for stoplight drags. This car was designed to be flogged on a racetrack. I’m no Jerry Titus, but the GT350 makes even amateurs feel like seasoned pros. The car is controllable, has tons of grip and as a few Porsches discovered, this 3,700 pound muscle car has legit track chops. You can hang the tail out if you push hard enough, but in spite of its heft, the GT350R is precise and nimble.

Is this the best looking Mustang ever?

Ford promises the new Mach 1 will nicely fill the void left by the GT350/R, and at a much lower price point. Still, the GT350 will always hold a special place for me. Like Porsche’s 997 GT3 RS 4.0, the GT350/R achieved a level of perfection that we might never see again. A glorious high revving engine mated to the ideal chassis, wrapped in gorgeous bodywork. There are many cars that promise serious track capability in a daily driver, but few actually deliver. Most of my Porschephile friends might think I’m crazy, but the GT350/R deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the GT3/GT3RS. If he had driven it, I think Spencer would have agreed with me. It’s that good. 

Some day I hope to have a GT350 in my garage. Like good friends, this car is a keeper.