ASKED TO add street cred, Carroll Shelby turned the pretty Ford Mustang into a racing thoroughbred.
Carroll Shelby enjoyed a 60-year career in the automotive spotlight until his death in 2012, aged 89. Along the way, Shelby was a fresh-faced Texan sports car racer, Le Mans-winning driver and team owner, father of the AC Cobra, production-car modifier, chilli-powder chef and louder-than-life character who might put his name to anything, for a fee.
The AC Cobra – a hybrid of British sports car and Detroit V8 – put Carroll Shelby on the map as a production-car creator and developer. But things took a significant step forward when, in August 1964, Ford approached him to bolster its new Mustang’s image with some true performance cred.
Shelby worked his magic on the fastback, unveiling the GT350 in January 1965. A homologation ‘R’ version had already been submitted for racing, where it would line up as a production two-seater against Corvettes and Jaguar E-Types. Only 36 ‘R’ cars were built, their modifications focused mainly on the engine.
Road-going GT350s were already significantly tweaked. The 4.7-litre (289ci) V8 copped better breathing and side-exit exhausts, all helping to raise power from 202kW to a claimed 228kW. A fibreglass bonnet was held down by racer-style pins.
Underneath, Shelby initiated a bunch of race-based suspension mods, including front- and rear-end geometry changes and stiffer suspension components, pretty much straight off the homologation racer.
Contemporary magazine tests had it that the $US4500 GT350 was unrelentingly hard and noisy for road use. Its aspirations were apparent in an options list (available separately, or as a $1500 pack) that included a blueprinted engine, straight-through exhausts, plastic windows, racing gauges, roll cage and alloy wheels. The dual blue ‘Le Mans’ stripes were a dealer-fit option.
The 1966 model GT350 gained some concessions to everyday use, adding rear seats and an optional automatic transmission.
Shelby built 562 GT350s in 1965, including the 36 ‘R’ cars and 11 drag cars and prototypes. The 1966 build tally of 2380 cars included a run of 1000 black and gold ‘H’ models, built for the Hertz car rental fleet. A further 3363 GT350 fastbacks were built from 1967 through to the 70s, by which time a big-block GT500 had been introduced, straying from the purity of the ’65 original.
SHELBY chose the 202kW High Performance K-code variant of the 289 Windsor V8. Alloy ‘Cobra’ rocker covers looked tough, but the real work lay in a high-rise inlet manifold topped by a four-barrel carb, exhaust extractors and a finned alloy sump. The four-speed T10 gearbox drove back to a Detroit Locker LSD.
MUSTANG was basically a humble Falcon underneath, with front coils/wishbones and a leaf-sprung live rear axle. Shelby’s GT350 copped a front suspension tower brace, getting the best from modifications that included quicker steering, Koni dampers and additional rear torque-control arms. Brakes were upgraded to 11-inch front discs and bigger rear drums behind 15x6-inch styled steel wheels.
THE GT350’s interior was mainly Mustang, with racy additions of a shallow-dished, wood-rimmed and Cobra-badged steering wheel, dash piggy-back tacho and oil gauge, bucket seats with broader lap belts and aviation-type buckles, and the four-speed floor shifter. Most notable thing inside is the absence of a rear seat, replaced with a fibreglass parcel shelf that accommodates the spare wheel.
Fast and Factual
1. Hertz so good
GT350 H was a legendary bad decision by Hertz; plenty were raced, thrashed and crashed – for 17 bucks a day.
2. Celluloid hero
‘Eleanor’ of Gone in 60 Seconds fame is a ’67 GT500. We prefer the ’66 GT350 H driven by James Garner (right) in Grand Prix.
3. Block party
The GT350 was in good company at its January ’65 launch at Riverside Raceway: Shelby’s big-block Cobra 427 was unveiled the same day.
4. Donor parts
Carroll Shelby was one of the US’s longest-living heart transplant recipients (22 years). He also had a kidney transplant in 1996.
5. V8 or bust
Shelby was busy in late ’64. Along with racing, his road projects included GT350, Cobra 289 and 427, and Sunbeam Tiger.
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