Early Shelby Mustang History

Carroll Shelby was a racing legend even before his entry into the history books as a Ford Mustang tuner. His victory at Le Mans and fame behind the wheel of Allards is what drove Ford to turn to him with the effort of turning the sports coupe Mustang into a true racing vehicle.
While the production numbers of Shelby Mustangs is low, the influence these cars had on the industry is impressive. They began a tradition of racing legends and auto manufacturers turning out special production vehicles in low numbers but with great appeal. While Shelby ended his relatonship in the early 70s with Ford, their paths would cross again when in 2005 Ford released the latest iteration of the Mustang legend.

1965 Early Mustang

The first Shelby version of the Mustang appeared in 1965. All 1965 Shelbys were painted Ford "Wimbledon White" with optional Guardsman Blue stripes. Although most of the 1965 Shelbys you see on the road today have Le Mans stripes, less than forty percent of the 1965 GT 350s came factory equipped with them. All GT 350s featured rocker panel stripes with the GT350 name. The engine was a modified K-code 289 cublic inch Windsor V8 with special "Cobra" valve covers, tri-Y headers, a special intake manifold and Holley carburetor increased power from 271 to 306 hp.

Approximately the first 300 GT 350s produced were "rear battery" cars, meaning the car's batteries were trunk-mounted. Customer complaints of acid-fumes led to the creation of the Cobra Battery Caps, which vented the acid fumes outside of the car by way of hoses exiting through the trunk floor panels. An estimated 50 1965 GT 350s (around serial number 200) came equipped with the very rare Cobra battery caps. Vehicle production changed shortly thereafter, leaving the battery in the engine compartment. Today, the most desirable of the 1965 GT 350s are the units with factory installed rear batteries.



1966 Shelby Mustangs

The 1966 was different in body color (non-white versions were introduced - colors included blue, red, green and black, as well as the original white) and trim. The "Le Mans" stripes were continued as an option, as in 1965. It featured special quarter-panel windows and rear air scoops on each side and an optional automatic transmission. A fold-down rear seat was now standard as well. Where early 1965 cars had black engine blocks, 1966 and later cars had the 289 engine painted blue.

The first 252 GT-350s for 1966 were "carry-over" cars. They had the 1965 Ford Mustang Bodies and 1965 Ford Mustang serial numbers under their Shelby serial numbers. They had mostly 1965 features including standard Koni shock and Engines painted black. Blue engines did not occur in 1966 until after these 252 "carry-over" models were produced. 1966 production was 1373 fastbacks including (2) prototypes and (4) drag cars and (252) "carry-over" models with Ford Mustang 1965 bodies. 1001 Hertz fastbacks were produced including (2) prototypes. 4 convertibles were also produced for a total of 2378 units for 1966.

Shelby struck a deal with the Hertz Corporation to produce a special line of GT350s for rent which were subsequently sold to the public after their rental-car lives were finished. These GT350H cars are quite rare and sought-after today, with some examples selling for more than $420,000. Shelby produced 1,000 of these cars: 800 in Raven Black, and 50 each in Candy Apple Red, Wimbledon White, Sapphire Blue and Ivy Green. All Hertz cars featured gold LeMans stripes and rocker panel stripes. Early "Hertz" cars were available with 4 speed manual transmissions until so many cars were returned from rental with burned and broken clutch assemblies that all of the later cars shipped to Hertz were equipped with an automatic transmission. These cars tend to be abused in early life from hard usage in the rental car fleet. Good restored examples can be found.

1967 GT350s and GT500s

The new 1967 Mustang was followed with a new Shelby. It featured a 1967 Mercury Cougar tail light panel minus the chrome trim, a flip-up spoiler, and two sets of air scoops on each side. This was also the first American car to feature a factory roll bar. Surfaces such as the hood and trunk lid were made of fiberglass instead of steel for light weight and ease of manufacturering.

This year also saw the introduction of the GT500 alongside the continued GT350. The new GT500 featured a 428 cubic-inch big-block V8. This is also one of the most famous Shelby Mustangs.

A modified GT500 clone, known as "Eleanor", was featured alongside Nicholas Cage in the 2000 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds. This modified GT500 body style is incredibly popular today, and is partially responsible for the resurgence of Shelby Mustang prices in recent years.

A convertible prototype of the GT500 was made in 1967, which was designated to be destroyed. Before Ford could destroy the prototype, it was stolen. The car was eventually recovered and sold as '68.

1968 GT350, GT500 and GT500-KR

The Shelby GT350 Mustangs were powered by a 302 cubic-inch V8 while the GT500 came equipped with the massive 428 cubic-inch Police Interceptor engine. In February of 1968, the GT500-KR became available and was considered the ultimate Shelby. Under the hood was a 428 cubic-inch Cobra-Jet V8 which produced 360 horsepower. The name 'KR' meaning 'King of the Road' was a quick marketing move by Carroll Shelby who had caught wind that Chevrolet was about to unleash a marketing campaign that featured the 1968 Corvette as the 'King of the Road.' After a quick copyright search, they found that the 'KR' and 'King of the Road' had not been copyrighted. Stickers, photos, and decals were quickly made by Shelby and his crew and placed on the new GT500.

1969 and 1970 GT350, GT500

Carroll Shelby terminated his agreement with Ford in the summer of 1969. The GT350 and GT500 for the 1969–70 model years received extensive facelifts, the body alone increasing in length by 4 inches. Ford was heavily involved with design and style decisions, with Shelby having very little input. Production of Shelby Mustangs ceased with the 1970 model year. The 1970 models were in fact left over 1969 models. VIN tags from 1969 Shelby's were removed and replaced with 1970 Shelby VIN's with careful supervision from FBI agents.
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