One sure-fire certainty in America is that every time a muscle car is produced, someone thinks they can ‘improve’ it by cranking up the performance. In the case of the new Ford Mustang, the ‘someone’ was racing driver and talented engineer Carroll Shelby, who had already established a formidable reputation for turning fast cars into much faster ones.
He went to work with the support of Ford, who hired him to customize a line of cars that would enable Mustangs to run against the factory-sponsored Chevy Corvettes in sports car races.
The very special Mustang variant that resulted was the Shelby GT 350, launched in 1965 and much modified from base semi-fastback 2+2 Mustangs by the inventive Carroll Shelby. It was a hit and went into production, while the race version became a multiple competition winner.
For 1967, the uprated Shelby Mustang was the GT 500, though the GT 350 continued. Now that factory cars were offering a 6.6 litre V8 option, Shelby had to do better — and did, with the frightening tuned 7 litre Police Interceptor power plant. At the same time, a certain level of refinement crept in, as customers seemed willing to sacrifice raw performance for a few creature comforts like power steering and air conditioning.
The GT 500 was more like a proper grand tourer that its race-bred predecessor, but buyers loved it and were happy to pay a premium for the satisfaction of obtaining big-block muscle-car status (often complete with white Le Mans racing stripes that were a must-have extra).
From 1968 the Shelby Mustang appeared, though Shelby’s co-production deal with Ford was terminated in 1969 leaving a stock of face-lifted 1969 GT 350s (with a new 5.8 litre engine) and 500s that were sold off as ’69 and ’70 Shelby Mustangs.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1965 (until 1970)
GT 350 – 4.7 I (289 cid) or (302 cid) V8; GT 500 – 7.0 I (429 cid) V8
Top speed range of 120 mph (193 km/h) to 135 mph (217 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) range from 6.5 to 4.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
One thousand Shelby GT 350H car were made for Hertz to rent out – when early manual examples started coming back with burned-out clutches the spec was changed to automatic transmission, but the Hertz cars (much sought-after today) were still hired to race, sometimes even coming back with different engines.