In this edition of Crown Classic Cars we are going to look back to the mid 60's when a famous race car driver and builder took a regular Ford Mustang and created a beast built to be driven. We are talking today about the GT350. A collector and icon any auto enthusiast would love to have their hands wrapped around the steering wheel.
The Shelby GT350 starts life as a Mustang GT fastback and then it’s transported to Shelby American for a complete overhaul and a good dose of Carroll Shelby magic. You could get the GT350 in any color you wanted as long as it was Wimbledon White with blue rocker panel striping.
The 1965–1966 cars were the smallest and lightest of the GT 350 models. These cars are often called "Cobras", which was the Ford-powered AC-based two-seat sports car also produced by Shelby American during the same period. Both models use the Cobra emblem, similar paint scheme, and the optional "Cobra" valve covers on many GT350s that were part of a marketing tie-in by Shelby, as well as one of his iconic symbols. All 1965–66 cars featured the K-Code 271 hp (202 kW; 275 PS) 289 cu in (4.7 L), modified to produce 306 hp (228 kW; 310 PS). Marketing literature referred to this engine as the "Cobra hi-riser" due to its high-riser intake manifold. Beginning as a stock Mustang with a 4-speed manual and 9" live rear axle, the cars were shipped to Shelby American, where they received the high-riser manifolds, Tri-Y headers, and were given larger Ford Galaxie rear drum brakes with metallic-linings and Kelsey-Hayes front disc brakes.
Motor Trend magazine took a liking to the Shelby GT350 in their May 1965 issue. They complimented its handling abilities over the stock Mustang GT claiming that at near maximum cornering conditions, the blue dot tires grip well and don’t roll under as badly as stock tires. They also admired the car’s braking ability, stating they could hardly be better and bring the car to a stop in a short amount of distance without any wheel lock. With that in mind, they were able to push the GT350 from 0 to 60 in 7 seconds and sprint the quarter mile in 15.7 seconds running 90 mph. (Source MT May 1965)
Enthusiasts that wanted more performance over that of the “regular” GT350 got their wish with the GT350R. These were designed for competition in SCCA B-Production racing and came equipped with modifications such as plexiglas side windows with aluminum frames, roll bar, and fiberglass front apron. Engine modifications included tri-y headers, modified heads, and engine oil cooler. These modifications, along with others, helped boost the engine’s power up to 350 horsepower. Only 36 of these specialized GT350Rs were ever built.
The 1965 GT350 was not built for comfort or ease of driving. There were 34 "GT350R" race-spec cars built specifically for competition use under SCCA rules, and the model was the B-Production champion for three straight years. The 1966 GT350 had featured more comfort of casual drivers that included rear seats, optional colors, and an optional automatic transmission. This trend for additional features continued in following years, with the cars becoming progressively larger, heavier, and more comfortable, while losing much of their competitiveness in the process.
The 1965 and 1966 GT350s were delivered from Ford's San Jose assembly plant in body in white form for modification by Carroll Shelby's operation, originally in Venice Beach and later at Los Angeles International Airport. San Jose cars carried an "R" in the Ford VIN denoting that facility.
Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue rocker stripes was your paint option. The only color you were offered for this special Shelby creation. Very few GT350s were delivered to the dealer with the optional "Le Mans" (or "LeMans") top stripes, which run the length of the entire car. Approximately 28% of the 562 1965 cars built had Le Mans stripes. Dealers often added the stripes, probably at the customer's request. Today, it is difficult to find a GT350 not so equipped.
Many ERT 1965 cars had the battery relocated to the trunk, which was changed mid-year from complaints of fumes, and featured over-rider traction bars, relocated A-arms, as well as other modifications. Over-rider traction bars are named so because of their design being on top of the leaf spring as opposed to underneath them. There was only one transmission available, a 4-speed Borg-Warner T-10 manual. The exhaust system in the 1965 GT350 was a side-exit dual exhaust with glass-pack mufflers. For this one year, the GT350 also featured special 130 mph-rated Goodyear "Blue Dot" tires, named for the prominent blue dot on each sidewall. The 1965 GT350 had a full size spare tire mounted in place of rear seats, making it a 2-seat-only vehicle (to be allowed to race under SCCA regulations as a "sports car"), and rode on either silver-painted steel wheels or special cast-magnesium center "Cragar Shelby" 15" rims with chromed center caps marked with a stylized "CS". Total 1965 model year production was 562 units.
The differences between the regular Mustang and the GT350 extended to the interior of the car, where Shelby’s team decided to remove the rear passenger seats in favor of a sloping piece of lightweight fiberglass — leaving room for a spare tire.
This Shelby didn’t just bear a passing resemblance to a race-car: it was approved by the Sports Car Club of America for class B Production racing. It became the first mass-produced car that was officially ready for the racetrack. This wasn’t just a gimmick either, as the 1966 Shelby Mustang won the B-Production championship three years in a row.
The original Shelby sold for $4,547, which wasn’t cheap at the time. But it would have been a smart investment, since only 513 ’65 Shelby Mustangs were sold. They can now sell for over ten times their original sticker price.
1966 brought about several changes to the Shelby GT350. Windows now took the place of the iconic louvered sides. Rear brake air scoops were also added. The side exhaust pipes from 1965 were replaced with dual exhausts coming from the rear. Drivers now had a choice between a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission. A Paxton supercharger also made the options list this year. At $670, it was pricey and only 11 cars, including one prototype, were built with the supercharger. The normal factory fold-down rear seat was optiona and a Tah was mounted to the column. While early 1965 cars had black engine blocks, 1966 and later cars had their engines painted the regular factory Ford dark blue
Total production for 1966 was 1,373 fastbacks, including two prototypes and four drag cars, and the 252 early production models with Ford Mustang 1965 bodies. In order to help Shelby sales, Ford, the major shareholder of Hertz, persuaded the rental car giant to purchase 1,003 fastbacks, including two prototypes. Four "experimental" GT350 convertibles were also built for test purposes making a total production of 2,378 units for 1966. A small number of the 1966 models were fitted from the factory with Paxton superchargers, but not the No-Spin limited slip differential; with an option price of $670, the engine was rated at 440 hp.
The 1966 Shelby had a unique variation: the GT350H. The H stands for Hertz, the car rental company. Shelby recognized that many people chose not to buy the ’65 because of the fact that owning a racecar isn’t exactly practical for everybody. The company made 1,001 special models just for Hertz, which were rented out in locations all across the company.
The cars weren’t any different than the regular GT350, except for their distinctive standard paint scheme: black with gold stripes. Most came with the automatic transmission, but a limited number were available with the manual transmission for purists. Anyone who wanted to rent a manual had to join the Hertz Sports Car Club, which only granted membership to those who could demonstrate their ability to properly work a stick shift.
Though the GT350Hs came with the optional back seats for family and friends, they were still advertised as “Rent-a-Racer” cars. Some renters raced their GT350Hs in production class car competitions.
The GT350 was a pint-sized racer that was ready to take on the Chevrolet Corvette in SCCA B-Production racing. It’s one of our favorite Mustangs and one all whip our camera's out and take photos with whenever we get a chance to see one in public. We also love it when our customers who send in items for rebuilding for theri Gt350's send us pics of their completed restorations or out on the track. Thank you Carrol Shelby for giving us one heck of a ride.
Be sure to check out all of our blogs on classic American Muscle Cars, European Performance and exotics daily at www.CrownClassicAutoParts.com. If your in the market for performance parts visit our site www.Crownautoperformance.com or replacement parts at www.Crownauto.parts. Until next time.