If you’re a Shelby Mustang fan, today’s a day worth celebrating. 47 years ago today, Carroll Shelby officially debuted the 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang to the press at Riverside International Raceway in California.
Although significant, it was hardly the first milestone in the making of the Shelby Mustang. Shelby American, then renowned for transforming AC Aces into venomous Cobras and aiding Ford’s GT40 racing program, signed on to yet another program: transform Ford’s new smash hit – the Mustang – into a performance machine eligible to compete in the SCCA’s Class B production sports car class. Some sources suggest the first twelve were built within a week, but it’s generally acknowledged that the first 100 examples – enough to appease the SCCA’s homologation rule – were built and ready for inspection by January 1, 1965.
GT350s were certainly a bit more powerful than other 1965 Mustangs built with the 289-cubic-inch V-8 (the combination of a four-barrel Holley carburetor, high-rise intake manifold, exhaust headers brought output to 306 hp), but power was but one portion of Shelby’s recipe for the Mustang. 200 pounds were stripped from the car by adding a fiberglass hood, and gutting the interior of insulation, superfluous trim, and rear seats. Stock springs were retained, but Koni dampers were fitted, as were a front anti-roll bar, beefy stabilizer bars for the rear axle, and a manual steering rack that used the quicker steering ratio from cars built with power assist. Options were limited to sportier wheel choices (steel rims were standard) and the famed blue Le Mans racing stripes – which, contrary to popular belief, very few were ordered with.
Compared to Ford’s own Mustangs – even the performance-oriented Mustang GT – Shelby’s concoction seemed a bit uncivilized when used on the street. Driven in anger, however, it proved a wildly different machine. A review in the May 1965 issue of Motor Trend noted the GT350 ”develops so much cornering force that the idiot light came on and the gauge wavered on several occasions due to oil surge in the pump.” MT also noted the car could accelerate from 0-60 mph in seven seconds.
MSRP for the street-legal 1965 GT350 cost about $4547 — nearly $1000 more than a comparable 1965 Mustang GT fitted with the K-code 289 V-8. Along with one prototype, 521 street-legal GT350s were built in 1965. A drop in the bucket when viewed alongside total Mustang production (559,451 units in 1965), but far more than it’s sibling, the race-spec GT350R — of which only 36 (including two prototypes) were made.
The GT350 nameplate quickly evolved into a more stylish, cosmopolitan road machine starting in 1966 (the R-model, for instance, was dropped that very year) and ultimately turned into a larger, gran turismo-like vehicle. As a result, the 1965 GT350 remains one of the purest, most involving Shelby models ever built. It’s wonder collectors are still scrambling after them today.
Photo source: Ford