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
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