1965 SHELBY MUS­TANG GT-350

One of the most faked cars in the 50 year his­tory of the Mus­tang is the Shelby GT-350. We have man­aged to track down the only gen­uine ex­am­ple in New Zealand

Classic Driver - - FEATURES - By Tony Hay­cock

years ago, Ford’s great­est mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise of all time hit the road. At the time, Lee Ia­cocca was the up-and com­ing man with Ford and he saw a gap in the mar­ket for a cheap, sporty look­ing car to ap­peal to the af­flu­ent youth, a new de­mo­graphic which had ap­peared less than 20 years since the end of the war. He took a small group of de­sign­ers and en­gi­neers and raided the cor­po­rate parts­bin. The end re­sult was a 2+2 coupe body on a Fal­con floor pan; it was cheap, and even though the looks were writ­ing cheques, the brakes and han­dling couldn’t cash (un­less you had a 6 cylin­der one, which re­ally wasn’t fast enough to get you into trou­ble any­way), but the look was what mat­tered and they flew out of the show­rooms as fast as Ford could build them. The fore­cast was 100,000 cars in the first year. The re­al­ity was it only took three months for this to hap­pen. Ia­cocca’s men had hit the jack­pot!

It could be said that in the mid-60s, the Amer­i­can mo­tor in­dus­try was a lit­tle more for­ward think­ing and per­cep­tive than the lum­ber­ing, my­opic monster it de­vel­oped into which caused its near demise and Govern­ment bail-out in the last few years. Ford knew they had a win­ner, but they also knew that Bar­racu­das, Ca­maros and Thun­der­birds were all lin­ing up to leap into the new mar­ket Ford had just tapped so suc­cess­fully. So they needed a way to keep the Mus­tang at the top of the heap and the an­swer? Per­for­mance; in short, the old adage, what wins on Sun­day sells on Mon­day.

So what was needed to turn My Lit­tle Pony into a rag­ing stal­lion? One man, who just hap­pened to al­ready be work­ing along­side Ford, putting the 289 V8 into a light­weight road­ster and win­ning on the race track and in the show­room; for­mer Texas chicken wran­gler Car­roll Shelby. He had proved he knew his snakes when it came to the Cobra and he was also deeply in­volved in the Ford GT project with the ul­ti­mate aim be­ing to beat Fer­rari at their own game and win at Le Mans, some­thing achieved with some con­sid­er­able Kiwi in­put. But could he turn a col­lege kid’s grad­u­a­tion present into a se­ri­ous per­for­mance car?

Ford sent Shelby some stan­dard cars to eval­u­ate and he sent Ken Miles and Bob Bondurant to the Wil­low Springs Race­way with the cars to see what would need to be done. The re­port back to Shelby was not pos­i­tive. Brakes (even on the dis­cbraked test car) suf­fered from ter­ri­ble fade. 210hp from the en­gine was to­tally in­suf­fi­cient and they suf­fered from dread­ful fuel star­va­tion ex­it­ing cor­ners. The steer­ing, per­fect for ma­noeu­vring in shop­ping cen­tres, was not cut out for rapid changes of di­rec­tion on the track. In short, the task would seem to be huge.

Yet the Texan in charge of the oper­a­tion was not dis­cour­aged at all. While the driv­ers were grap­pling with the cars on the track, he was qui­etly ri­fling through ev­ery bit of in­for­ma­tion he could find on ex­actly what good­ies Ford had in stock for mak­ing slow cars go fast.

No mat­ter if it was for a po­lice car or des­tined for NASCAR, Shelby was de­vel­op­ing a very good un­der­stand­ing of what al­ready ex­isted to do the job he had been tasked with, at min­i­mal cost. He was sat­is­fied that for un­der $1000 per car, he could pro­duce the road-racer he was look­ing to ho­molo­gate for SCCA pro­duc­tion rac­ing.

Along the way there were some in­ter­est­ing dis­cov­er­ies. In­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion was be­ing se­ri­ously con­sid­ered for the pro­duc­tion Mus­tang, adapted from that of the Mus­tang I con­cept car, which was de­vel­oped into the GT40. One of the cars sup­plied to Shelby for eval­u­a­tion had a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the IRS sys­tem fit­ted.

The the­ory was this would al­low a con­sid­er­ably lower rear roll cen­tre and by in­creas­ing the front roll cen­tre by an inch, body roll on the track would be greatly re­duced.

It was also thought that the in­de­pen­dent rear end would cure an­other Mus­tang bug-bear, se­vere axle tramp when both brak­ing and ac­cel­er­at­ing. Ford was not 100% con­vinced it wanted to go to the ex­pense of the IRS sys­tem; they were al­ready spend­ing mil­lions on de­vel­op­ing the 427 Cobra and the GT40 race pro­gramme and it was Shelby who put them out of their mis­ery.

Along­side one of the Mus­tangs up­graded to what would be­come GT-350 spec, he fit­ted an IRS Mus­tang with the same parts to en­able a true back-to-back test and sev­eral driv­ers swapped be­tween the IRS and solid axle cars. The sur­pris­ing end re­sult? No mat­ter who was driv­ing, the IRS car was no faster on the track than the con­ven­tional car.

Ford was de­lighted; it had just saved mil­lions on a com­pli­cated rear end and some­one else had done the work.

With the de­vel­op­ment work sorted, Shelby needed some­where to ac­tu­ally build the cars and Pey­ton Cre­mer, Gen­eral Man­ager of Shelby Amer­i­can as well as Car­roll Shelby’s busi­ness part­ner in Hi-Per­for­mance Mo­tors, had found 12 and a half acres with two gi­ant air­craft hang­ers avail­able for lease at Los Angeles In­ter­na­tional Air­port. One hanger was pressed into ser­vice as the race team prepa­ra­tion work­shop, while the other was the as­sem­bly shop for the GT-350.

The big­gest ques­tion about the GT-350 is the ori­gin of the name. GT – Gran Turismo, we can un­der­stand but 350? It isn’t en­gine size as that is 289 ci. Horse­power? 308hp at 6000 rpm so that isn’t it.

The de­fin­i­tive an­swer seems to have been lost in the depths of time, but the ac­cepted story is that at the end of a long and fruit­less meet­ing over what moniker the lat­est prod­uct from the Shelby works was go­ing to wear, Shelby asked chief en­gi­neer Phil Rem­ing­ton how far it was from the meet­ing room to the work­shop. Rem­ing­ton replied, “About 350 feet”. Car­roll Shelby made an in­stant de­ci­sion. “OK, let’s call it the GT350. If it’s good, the name won’t mat­ter, if it’s no good, the name won’t mat­ter.”

Rather than hav­ing to dis­man­tle com­plete cars be­fore the GT-350 con­ver­sion took place, Shelby came up with a much more prac­ti­cal (and cost-ef­fec­tive) so­lu­tion.

For two days, the Ford plant at San Jose was set up to solely pro­duce Mus­tang Fast­backs fit­ted with high­per­for­mance 289 en­gines, four-speed trans­mis­sions and all-black in­te­ri­ors, with all the dele­tions nec­es­sary to avoid dou­ble-han­dling. For a week, car trans­porters car­ried par­tially com­pleted white Mus­tangs back to Los Angeles where they filled the huge park­ing area at the air­port fa­cil­ity.

So, what ex­actly did Shelby do to the base car to cre­ate a ve­hi­cle suit­able for the track? The en­gine didn’t need too much in­ter­nal mod­i­fi­ca­tion as it was the vari­ant al­ready beefed up and well tested in the Cobra. To this, Shelby added a cast-al­loy high-riser inlet man­i­fold and a four-bar­rel Hol­ley car­bu­ret­tor with a re­vised float to avoid it stick­ing un­der hard cor­ner­ing and caus­ing the fuel star­va­tion is­sues which plagued the test cars at Wil­low Park. The stock cast-iron ex­haust man­i­folds were re­placed with steel tube head­ers and short ex­haust pipes ex­ited just be­hind the doors.

Both Shelby and Ia­cocca were, for want of a bet­ter term, show­men, and they knew that some­times it was shiny bits, which made no con­tri­bu­tion to per­for­mance, which re­ally helped sell a car, which is why the GT-350 got to wear finned cast alu­minium rocker cov­ers and chromed oil filler caps. The finned sump not only looked faster, it did help re­duce oil tem­per­a­ture as well.

The stan­dard Mus­tang brakes had proved in the test­ing and eval­u­a­tion process to be nowhere near up to the task of com­pe­ti­tion, so the GT-350 was fit­ted with Kelsey-Hayes 11-inch front discs and com­pe­ti­tion pads while at the rear, Shelby had dis­cov­ered the drums from a Ford sta­tion wagon would fit the Mus­tang diff, which also fea­tured a Detroit Locker LSD which came in for plenty of crit­i­cism from driv­ers who only used their cars on the road.

Axle tramp had been a prob­lem on the road cars and this was mag­ni­fied with the ex­tra horse­power of the GT350. It was de­cided to fit trac­tion bars to try to al­le­vi­ate this. To get the re­quired length to make them ef­fec­tive they ran in­side the cabin, through slots in the floor­pan, cov­ered with rub­ber boots to keep wa­ter, dirt and ex­haust gases out. At the other end of the car, a longer pit­man arm and idler im­proved the steer­ing ra­tio, al­though this did make the car very heavy to steer at low speed.

Peter Brock, Shelby’s first em­ployee, was in charge of styling, and he was quite taken by the blue stripes over white, first seen on Briggs Cunningham’s 1950 Le Mans car and he put this de­tail on the sill pan­els of the Mus­tang.

Ini­tially the stripes were painted on, with the G.T.350 be­ing coloured tape. In 1966, the stripes and logo were all stick­ers. An op­tion were the “Le Mans” stripes, the twin blue strips run­ning from the bot­tom of the grille, over the bon­net and roof and end­ing at the back bumper. The trans­for­ma­tion was com­plete and Ford had their lat­est win­ner look­ing good and per­form­ing ac­cord­ingly.

But make no mis­take; this was no civilised tour­ing car. In 1967 Car and Driver de­scribed it like this. “The GT350 was a hot-rod­der’s idea of a sports car – a rough-rid­ing bronco that was as ex­cit­ing to drive as a Maserati 300S, and about as mar­ketable a propo­si­tion.

The trac­tion bars clanked, the side ex­hausts were deaf­en­ing, the clutch was bet­ter than a Charles At­las pro­gram, and when the ratch­et­ing-type limited slip dif­fer­en­tial unlocked, it sounded like the rear axle had cracked in half. It rode like a Con­estoga wagon and steered like a Reo chain drive solid tyre coal truck, and we loved it. It was a man’s car in a world of in­creas­ingly ef­fem­i­nate ladies’ car­riages. You drove it bru­tally and it re­acted bru­tally. Ev­ery minute at speed was like the char­i­o­trac­ing scene in Ben-Hur.”

Our fea­ture car ar­rived at the Shelby Amer­i­can plant on 11 May 1965, one of only 562 GT-350s built that year. On the 26th of the same month, 5S313 was de­liv­ered to Hi-Per­for­mance Mo­tors, Car­roll Shelby’s own re­tail out­let where it went to its first owner in Hunt­ing­ton Beach in Septem­ber. It re­mained a road car un­til the mid 1970s (the date of 1972 on the fire ex­tin­guisher would point to this mid-1970s track de­but) when it was sold and the sec­ond owner con­verted it to “R” spec, the fac­tory rac­ing set up which con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate SCCA rac­ing. The class was so pop­u­lar that en­tire grids were of­ten made up of GT-350s.

The “R” spec was no cos­metic make-over. The rolled-edge mud­guard flares were nec­es­sary for ex­tra clear­ance to fit the five spoke wheels and the re­place­ment of the front bumper and va­lence panel with a fi­bre­glass apron helped di­rect air to the new oil cooler and en­larged ra­di­a­tor. Holes on ei­ther side con­nected to pipes feed­ing cold air onto the front brakes.

In­side, a full set of in­stru­ments re­placed the more mun­dane road­go­ing dash. Now the car had gauges for fuel and oil pres­sure, an 8000rpm tachome­ter as well as wa­ter tem­per­a­ture and amps. SCCA rules re­quired side win­dows, but Plex­i­glas was al­lowed, so the wind­ing mech­a­nism and heavy glass was re­moved, in its place a strap with a cou­ple of studs to keep the light­weight plas­tic ei­ther fully up or down.

The rear win­dow also was taken out, re­placed with moulded Plex­i­glas fea­tur­ing a slot at the top to im­prove ven­ti­la­tion in the cabin, es­sen­tial since the vents in the C-pil­lars had also fallen foul of the light­en­ing process, sav­ing 14lbs per side. Light alu­minium pan­els were then riv­eted over the re­sult­ing cav­i­ties. In to­tal, 500lbs was taken out in the “R” con­ver­sion.

As the cars ran in an SCCA pro­duc­tion class, not much could be done with the en­gines un­der the rules in place, limited to a high-lift camshaft, big­ger valves, heav­ier valve springs and dif­fer­ent head­ers. Prop­erly blue-printed, R en­gines were pro­duc­ing 350hp. The 34 gal­lon fuel tank (two stan­dard Mus­tang tanks welded to­gether) was baf­fled and fit­ted with a quick-re­lease fuel filler cap, ac­cessed from in­side the boot.

Once 5S313 had re­ceived its com­pe­ti­tion make-over, it then saw ac­tion in SCCA events at Wil­low Springs and River­side, but its real claim to fame (and I sus­pect many of you have seen the car with­out re­al­is­ing) came later, af­ter ten years of stor­age and two more own­ers when an ad­ver­tis­ing agency bor­rowed it for a BF Goodrich tyre ad.

The car was cov­ered in a blue film which in the­ory would peel off safely in one sin­gle sheet. Ex­cept it didn’t… it took the orig­i­nal paint with it and the ad agency had to get a com­plete re­spray done to re­turn the car to the state it was in be­fore they got their hands on it.

When asked if he would ever do it again, the owner replied, “No thanks. I’d rather fall asleep on Lorena Bob­bitt’s couch.”

In 1994 a Ja­panese col­lec­tor pur­chased the car and it left the USA to live in a mu­seum on the other side of the Pa­cific. Some­time later, the owner, or at least the car, fell on hard times and in 2004 it came back on the mar­ket and found its way to New Zealand, by all ac­counts look­ing rather un­kempt but still, it is a real, gen­uine and doc­u­mented ’65 Shelby Mus­tang GT350, the rarest of all the Shelby’s.

Hear­ing it thun­der­ing around Man­feild, its cor­rect 1960’s V8 en­gine sound­ing oh-so-dif­fer­ent from the al­loy head highly mod­i­fied mo­tors we are used to hear­ing, in so-called clas­sic rac­ing was a real treat. This is how a Mus­tang should look and sound.

STORY TONY HAY­COCK • PHO­TOS ALEX MITCHELL WITH SPE­CIAL THANKS TO THE MAN­FEILD PARK TRUST AND THE MANAWATU CAR CLUB FOR AL­LOW­ING US TO USE MAN­FEILD FOR PHO­TOS AND FILM­ING

No stranger to the race­track, 5S313 sits on the dummy grid at River­side, c.1975

Early cars like this fea­ture a fi­bre­glass bon­net skin with a steel frame

The wood-rim steer­ing wheel is stan­dard equip­ment on a GT-350

34 gal­lons of fuel will fit in here

Part of the “R” con­ver­sion. Win­dow wind­ing mech­a­nism re­placed with a strap. Light and sim­ple!

How’s this for au­then­ti­ca­tion? The cre­ator added his seal of ap­proval to the glove-box lid

In­stru­men­ta­tion was up­graded on the race cars and tells the driver ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary

The Hi-Per­for­mance Mo­tors logo isn’t just an owner’s whim. This car was sold new by them; Shelby’s own deal­er­ship

The proof that the car we are look­ing at is the real thing. The Shelby Reg­is­ter – ev­ery real Shelby is found within these pages. If it isn’t here, Shelby never built it

World fa­mous –even in New Zealand. In the 90s our fea­ture car was part of a world-wide ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign for BF-Goodrich. It did not end well. Be­low Shelby were con­sid­ered man­u­fac­tur­ers in their own right

The grille badge on a GT-350 comes from the mud­guard of a nor­mal Mus­tang

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