The 1965 Ford Mustang was one of the most successful cars ever built, selling over one million in the first eighteen months. This iconic car formed the basis for the 1965 Shelby GT-350. In 1964, legendary Carroll Shelby was approached by Ford to produce a race version of the popular 1965 Mustang. Shelby had been a racer in the 1950’s; by 1960, he had retired, becoming a designer of high-performance cars
Shelby built 100 of these cars by the first of the year in 1965. All were painted white with blue pinstripes. This super-tuned version of the Mustang was designed to give the Mustang name an image of high performance, and it was very successful at doing exactly that. The car won five of the Sports Car Club of America’s six divisions in its first year, and went on to be the SCCA’s B-production champion for three years in a row. They are said to be as close to a street-legal racing car as has ever been offered by an American motor company.
Differences from the regular Mustang included a pumped up engine and reinforced suspension. Shelby added a big four-barrel carburetor, free-flow exhaust headers, and other high-performance modifications. A rear axle from the Ford Galaxie replaced the stock assembly, along with bigger drum brakes in the rear and new disc brakes in the front. A set of cast-aluminum wheels and high-performance Goodyear tires, as well as a quick-ratio steering box, made the Shelby GT-350 handling much more impressive than that of the standard Mustang, known to have a strong understeer. The Shelby GT-350 had a top speed of 130 miles per hour, and was rated at 306 horsepower versus the 271 horsepower of the standard Mustang. An optional supercharger reportedly boosted the horsepower over 400, cutting the zero to 60 time to just five seconds.
On the exterior, the steel hood was replaced with a fiberglass one with a functional hood scoop. Inside, the Shelby included racing seatbelts and a missing back seat, to qualify the Shelby GT-350 as a sports car under SCCA rules. Though the first 250 or so were white with blue stripes, the last several hundred came in red, blue, green, and black, all with white stripes. Shelby eventually added an optional fold-down rear seat.
While these GT-350 versions were meant for the street, Shelby also designed a GT-350R model, with special features for the track including high-power heads, a stripped interior, and a super-duty suspension, along with other changes, reducing the weight by over 300 pounds.
In all, 562 Shelby GT-350 cars were produced in 1965, with less than thirty of these as GT-350R racers. At an initial price of $ 4,547, this was several thousand more than a V8 Mustang, and a few hundred more than a Chevy Corvette. Although they were quite expensive when first sold, many critics actually believed that it would not achieve collectible status because too many were produced. Today, the car remains quite popular among collectors. Though it is out of reach for most car enthusiasts, numerous diecast model and pedal car versions satisfy collectors’ appetites for this classic sports car.