THE BIRTH OF THE SHELBY MUSTANG 1965 - 1966
Ford knew that its competition would not easily accept the success of the Ford Mustang.
Chevrolet continued to improve its strong Corvette model. The 1963 split window created interest with its unique styling and 360 horsepower fuel-inject engine. They were getting ready to introduce a 375 horsepower engine in 1964, were having great success at the racetracks and Ford knew they would continue to improve the cars styling and handling.
Ford’s other competition was also busy with plans of their own. Pontiac had announced their new car based on the Tempest called the G.T.O. which would feature a 389 V-8 engine with “tri-power” which consisted of 3 – 2 barrel carburetors. Chevrolet was also working on a re-skinned Plymouth Barracuda which was a tough looking update from it’s mild looking Valiant roots. The race was on to add more power and better styling.
In response to these concern’s, Lee Iacocca called a meeting with Carroll Shelby. Shelby had achieved amazing success with his A.C. Cobra project and now Iacocca wanted him to create a racier version of the Mustang. At this point, Ford had not been able to get the Mustang recognized by the main competition body, SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) as a “production race car”.
Shelby met with the head of the SCCA, John Bishop to find out what it would take to get the Mustang recognized as a production race car. From that meeting, Shelby learned that Ford would need a two-seat that could either have the suspension or engine modified but not both. He also learned it would take 100 of these modified cars to be produced and sold to the general public to qualify.
Shelby, being the cagey veteran that he was, knew he couldn’t produce and sell 100 pure race cars to the public because they would be too difficult to drive on the streets and would not be dependable enough. So, he decided to make two models, one of them modified mildly for the street, the other a pure racing car. He brought his plan back to Lee Iacocca and got approval to being the “Cobra-Mustang” program.
Shelby’s production facility was just north of the LA airport in Venice, California. This facility had been used to produce the AC Cobra. Shelby had two Mustangs delivered to this shop and put together a small but potent crew to work on them. Heading up this team was Ken Miles, Shelby’s director of competition and a very successful racer in his own right. Miles’ job was to modify the two coupes to a point where they would handle well on the race track while still being driveable on the streets. He was also told to use existing parts from the Ford production facility in order to keep the pricing reasonable.
So Miles took the cars up to Willow Springs Raceway near Mojave in California. His team consisted of Ford chassis engineer Klaus Arning and famous racer bob Bondurant. There, they worked on the suspension and created what became the street Shelby Mustang Cobra suspension system. The modifications included lowering the front upper A-arms, a 1-inch anti-sway bar (replacing the stock .625 version), traction bars, and koni shocks all around.
Shelby now had identical, all-white fastback Cobra Mustangs with black interiors. They were powered by a 289 V-8 engine producing 271 horsepower. The cars were stiffened in the front with an export brace which was a single piece of stamping that extended from the shock towers to the firewall. Larger disc brakes were fitted on the front with oversize Fairline station-wagon rear drums on the back. The manual transmission was a Brog-Warner Type T-10 close-ratio four speed. The cars also featured 3 inch competition lap belts and had a modified front bumper.
With the prototypes done, Shelby now had to produce the 100 cars for amalgamation. Ford produced the 100 cars in stripped down version in just two days. They were not shipped to Shelby’s shop in Venice but rather to a temporary set up which were leased airplane hangars on twelve and a half acres on the south side of the LA airport.
Now that production was ready to begin, the car needed a name. Shelby did not want to use a name because of the length of time required to clear it through the legal department. Many of the manufacturers were using numerical designations such as engine size etc. However, engines change so he did not want to go that way. So Shelby wanted to use a number that meant basically nothing but sounded cool. The story goes that Shelby was sitting in his office with chief engineer, Phil Remington, when he asked him how far away he thought the next building was. After much conjecture, Remington went outside and walked off the distance. He came back and said “350 feet”. Shelby said, “Fine, let’s call the little car the GT350. If the car’s good, the name won’t matter, and if it’s no good, the name won’t matter.”
At this point, Shelby ordered another 15 mustangs in stripped down version. These were to be the more modified racing versions. If you remember, Ford could change the suspension or the engine for racing but not both. Since Shelby began with the suspension, it was already race ready so he modified the engines in these cars. The engines were taken apart, ported and polished. A high-capacity Holley 715 cfm carburetor was added to handle the need for additional fuel flow. Tubular steel exhaust headers were added for better exhaust flow. Glass packs were placed at the end to make the system street legal. While the street going version of the GT350 engine produced a reliable 306 horsepower, the racing version developed between 350 and 360 horsepower.
Other minor modifications were allowed so Shelby took full advantage of them. The race version of the GT350 were 250 pounds lighter than the street going version. The front and rear bumpers were replaced with fiberglass models. The front bumper featured the famous lip with large opening to improve air flow. A clip on fiberglass hood also replaced the steel version. Other improvements included air flow to the brakes and the rear windows were sealed up for better air flow.
John Bishop, the racing director for the SCCA had told Carroll Shelby that he thought it would be impossible for Ford to accomplish all that was necessary in time for the 1965 racing season. Imagine his surprise when his inspectors showed up at the Shelby American shops to find 100 production Mustang GT350s lined up in neat rows. News stories went out through the major car magazines on November 7th, 1964 that the SCCA had homologated the “Mustang-Cobra” for Class B Production racing for the 1965 season.
Since Shelby had assembled 100 street models with identical suspension modifications, they became his production base. Shelby then finished the 15 racing versions of the GT350 by early spring of 1965. These featured upgraded motors and light weight modifications. The first two GT350s were purchased by Shelby as factory race cars. The rest were sold to private racing operations all over the US, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland.
Shelby wanted the GT350 to dominate and was worried that the privateer groups could compete against the better financed factory entries. He constantly sent out racing set up and modification information to the various owners to help them compete. Ford offered prize money for strong finishes as well - $150 for first place and $75 for a second place finish. The cars went on to dominate Class B Production racing in strong fashion and were almost as big a success on the track as Shelby’s A.C. Cobra program.