A Tale of Two Men and a Pony

A Tale of Two Men and a Pony

by Bob Kennon

After months of anticipation, Lee Iacocca introduced the first Mustang to the public at the New York's World fair on April 17, 1964. The car was an instant success. Iacocca was a hero and the Mustang was hot! Both made the covers of most of the major magazines.

Ford wanted more real performance. This was lacking in the production cars since many mechanical components were derived from the Falcon. Ford needed a few really fast Mustangs to establish this image for all the Mustangs.

Ford first consulted their own very formidable engineering department about building special racing versions. The Ford management also consulted Carroll Shelby who was very successfully racing the Cobra for Ford. By having a much smaller staff, they knew he could build very fast street cars quickly and more economically than Ford's special engineering department. They also knew the value of having Shelby's name attached to these cars.

The deal was quickly made and the Shelby Mustang Project began in August of 1964. In order to race the Mustang in the SCCA's B Production class, several things had to be done quickly. The major requirements mandated were that the car must have only two seats, 100 examples must be built prior to January 1965, and that either only the engine or the suspension system could be modified, not both.

The seats and the hundred cars were not a problem. In order to get around the suspension or engine modification rule, Ford offered a racing suspension as a stock option on the production cars, thus allowing the Shelby to modify the engine.

Ford's San Jose assembly plant built 115 special order Mustangs. They all were identical. They were the Fastback with the Hi Po 271 h.p. 289 CID engines, four speed aluminum-case Borg-Warner T-10 gearboxes, white exteriors with black interiors, 11 inch vented Kelsey-Hayes front discs with competition pads, and 9 inch rear ends with Detroit Locker limited-slip differentials. Some parts such as the hoods, grills, emblems, exhaust systems, rear seats and radios were deleted during assembly. All the cars were built during a two-day production run.

The cars were to have Blue Le Mans strips, a special fiberglass hood emblem, and scoops. It was to be known as the Shelby GT350.

Of the first 115 cars, only 16 were built as the GT350R racing version. These cars were very successful and transferred the performance image to the production Mustangs as Ford had intended. Winning a B - Production title essentially meant owning a Shelby GT350R. Five of the six SCCA B-Production regional titles were won by these cars and in the finals 7 of the top 10 places were won by Shelbys. It was the only car you could buy race ready from a dealership. By year’s end, a total of 562 1965 Shelby GT350's had been built.

Shelby expanded into a larger production facility for the 1966 year. Sales were expanded and Hertz ordered 1000 Shelbys to rent at a premium to members of the Hertz Sports Car Club. These were older, respectable and wealthy regular car renters who were allowed to rent Corvettes as an incentive to maintain their business. With the purchase of the Shelbys, they had a choice.

Since the Hertz order was 40% of the 1966 production total of 2380 cars, the Hertz cars carried special equipment, color schemes, and VIN numbers. All but 230 were produced with black exteriors and interiors and gold striping which included the special GT350H designation. All but 85 cars had automatic transmissions. Hertz rented the car for $17.00 per day and 17 cents per mile. Most of the Hertz cars were used for fast street driving; however, there are many stories about renting the cars for weekend racing, hence the name "Rent-A-Racer."

The First chapter of the early Shelby Mustangs closed with the end of the 1966 production run. The cars accomplished the objectives of Ford and all the Mustangs were perceived as fast street cars.

Today, the most desirable and valuable Mustangs are the documented Shelbys. They are considered by the investment car industry as very collectible and should continue to increase in value.