The story of the design and development of the 1965 Mustang GT350 is actually a tale of two automobiles: one for the race track, and the other for the street. But these seemingly different automobiles are so closely intertwined in their development that it is virtually impossible (or at least, very difficult) to separate the tale into two neat, clean narratives. They were conceived simultaneously and their development followed that same conjoined path.
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The story of the 1965 GT350 is actually comprised of three basically chronological parts. The first part of the story, about the need for the 1965 Mustang GT350, is covered in Chapter One. The second part, which explains what was done to the Mustangs bound for Shelby American by Ford’s San Jose Assembly Plant and why, is discussed in Chapter Two, so that we can understand the first half of the GT350 production process.
The details covered in those two chapters have rarely before been presented in any substantial degree of factual completeness and lay the foundation for the third part of the trilogy, which delves into why and what Shelby American did to the Mustangs once they arrived at 6501 West Imperial Highway, or earlier at 1042 Princeton Drive. What happened to all those Mustangs once they arrived at Shelby American is perhaps the best-known part of the entire GT350 story and, intuitively, it may seem to be nothing more than a simple reiteration of what has come to be thought of as common knowledge. However, factory documentation sheds new light on this tired, old tale so the story—the correct story—is presented as the final chapter in the creation of the almost-legendary 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350.
Once the development on a pair of notchback Mustangs was finished at Shelby American, establishing the basic workings of the not-yet-named GT350, three white fastback HiPo Mustangs were received at Shelby American in late summer/ early fall of 1964 and work began transforming these cars into the first three (one street and two race) GT350s. These cars were eventually serialed (although not in the correct order of actual completion) 5R001, 5R002 (the Shelby team race cars), and 5S003 (the street car prototype). There were essentially two areas where the cars were modified (in some cases extensively) from the base Mustangs: mechanical and visual. The “meat” of the GT350 package was, of course, the mechanical aspect.
Naturally, it made sense for Shelby American to have as many modifications as possible performed on the cars on the San Jose line, and, to the extent possible, that’s exactly the approach that was taken. Two overarching principles dictated which modifications could be made on the assembly line: first, anything done to the cars could not incur any additional assembly line time over and above what was already being done to the Mustangs, and, second, the cars bound for Shelby American had to be drivable off the end of the San Jose line. With those two hard-and-fast edicts in place, Ford did all that it could to the cars commensurate with the well thought-out plan agreed to by Chuck Cantwell from Shelby American and San Jose; the rest was in the hands of Shelby’s fabricators.
Whether the cars were being transformed at Shelby’s former Venice location—which was a tiny shop where the first three dozen or so cars were built, but where only five or six fit inside the shop at a given time—or the new, spacious LAX hangar that had an actual assembly line over a pit, converting a Mustang into a GT350 was a lot of work.
A Race Car For the Street
In the car’s engine bay, the exhaust manifolds and complete Ford-installed exhaust system were removed and discarded.
(Due to legal and quality control issues, reuse of the take-off parts by Ford back at San Jose was not possible, although some components were sold to aftermarket parts distributors.) In its stead, steel tube headers, designed and manufactured by Cyclone, were installed. Their design essentially consisted of three “Y” sections welded together, which gave rise to the headers becoming known today as tri-Y headers. Connected to the exit end of the tri-Ys were straight sections of pipe with inline mufflers that resided just under the driver’s and passenger’s seats. The exhaust exited the mufflers, then turned roughly 45 degrees to exit from beneath the car under the rocker panel, just forward of the rear wheels.
The HiPo 289’s stamped-steel valve covers were replaced with sand-cast aluminum valve covers with polished cooling fins and “COBRA-powered by Ford” lettering. The covers were designed by Shelby’s Peter Brock and were cast by the Buddy Bar Casting Company, resulting in them being called Buddy Bar valve covers. On the bottom of the powerplant, a Brock-designed, “COBRA”-lettered, 61/2-quart, cast-aluminum oil pan replaced the stamped steel, five-quart Ford pan. Large chambers protruded from the sides of the oil pan, giving it an inverted “T” shape, when viewed from the front, and the pan is sometimes referred to as the COBRA Tee Pan. Internally, these chambers feature hinged, hanging doors that close during cornering, trapping the bulk of the engine oil in the center section of the pan. This ensures that the engine oil pickup is always submerged in oil, even under severe lateral acceleration.
Atop the engine, a cast-aluminum COBRA high-rise intake manifold replaced the factory intake, while the Ford Autolite 4-barrel carburetor was swapped out in favor of a Holley 715cfm unit. The subject of the COBRA intake has always been something of a mystery, as far as where they were actually installed—at Ford’s Cleveland engine plant, which supplied the HiPo 289s to San Jose, or at Shelby American. Unfortunately, in the absence of firm documentation, the location still cannot be specified with absolute certainty.
There was still work to be done in the engine compartment, but work concerning the engine, itself, was complete. A tubular crossmember was installed between the two opposing inner fender panels, just forward of the shock towers. Similar in design to a stiffener installed on Ford Falcons participating in the Monte Carlo Rally, the bar is now known as the “Monte Carlo Bar,” in keeping with the informal racing tradition of naming a car (or parts) after the first race in which they participated. A heavy 1-inch-diameter stabilizer bar was installed where the stock Mustang’s smaller bar would have been, but the cars shipped to Shelby American had their sway bar omitted. At this juncture, a very labor intensive part of the suspension transformation began: the front coil springs were compressed and the upper control arms (A-arms) were removed.
Secured to the shock absorber tower by two bolts (and hence, two bolt holes), a second set of mounting holes was drilled one inch below the existing stock holes and when the A-arm was reinstalled, it now mounted an inch lower in the shock tower. This repositioning accomplished two things: it lowered the front end of the car, giving it a lower center of gravity, and it raised the theoretical roll center, improving the body roll characteristics of the car. While not necessary for street driving, this modification was nonetheless performed on the street cars to maintain suspension commonality, with the real object of the whole GT350 exercise being the competition version. Completing the A-arm relocation was the installation of a pair of Koni adjustable shock absorbers; these mounted within the already-installed (at Ford) special shock absorber “beehives.”
With the car now needing a front end realignment, it was an appropriate time to upgrade the steering linkage. The standard Mustang idler and steering arms were replaced with special Shelby unique units that were 1 inch longer (the GT350 suspension made good use of the inch). This resulted in faster steering as the front wheels now turned further with the same angular turn of the steering wheel than on a factory Mustang. This quicker steering was in addition to that achieved through the use of Ford’s fastest-available ratio in the steering box. Initially, the car’s battery tray was removed because the battery was relocated to the trunk on the passenger’s side, for better weight distribution. However, due to issues with the trunk filling with acid fumes and the never-adequate venting thereof, later street cars had their batteries remain up front.
As much work as the front of the 1965 GT350 entailed, it was very much on par with that needed at the other end. The entire rear axle was lowered from under the vehicle and once clear, a pair of triangular mounts (with large bolt holes at their apexes) were welded atop the axle tube, one on each side of the differential; these had semicircular cutouts at their lower ends and straddled the axle tube to form the axle part of the torque control bars, or traction bar, setup. While the axle was clear of the car’s undercarriage, a pair of vertical slots was cut into the floorpan, under and behind the rear seat. The slots were to allow the tubular traction bars to pass through the floorpan to connect to a second set of triangular mounts, also with a large bolt hole at their apexes, which were welded to the floor in the passenger compartment.
The car’s differential was removed and the Detroit Locker (full name: Detroit Automotive Products No-Spin Locking Differential) was installed in the axle housing in lieu of the Ford unit. A large eyebolt was installed in the frame, directly over the soon-to-be reinstalled axle tube. The eyebolt allowed a steel cable to pass through the eye and wrap around the axle tube; an aluminum crimp connector completed the cable loop. The purpose of the cable loop was to limit downward travel of the axle when the car’s suspension went into full extension. This was necessary because the Koni shock absorbers installed on the GT350 did not feature internal extension stops, so the cable loop limited the downward travel of the axle and prevented the rear shocks from being pulled apart. Since the shocks also lacked a compression stop, a rubber bumper was welded to the frame above the axle, to act as a bump stop. The axle housing could then be reinstalled, perched atop the springs, and the tubular traction bars were passed through the floorpan slots and connected to both the fore and aft triangular mounts, via large bolts. The bar’s above-the-axle orientation has garnered the traction bar setup the nickname of “override traction bars.”
In a theoretical effort to keep exhaust fumes as well as the elements from entering the passenger compartment, flat pieces of rubber with slits cut into them were riveted in place over the floorpan slots; the bars passed through the slit rubber which was supposed to close around the tubular bar, sealing the cockpit. In actuality, however, the rubber didn’t close very well around the moving traction bar and weather/fume sealing became an unattainable pipedream. A second generation of traction bar seal was developed, consisting of a molded fiberglass box that was riveted in place, completely encasing the traction bar as it protruded into the cockpit. Better but not perfect, the boxes were replaced later in 1966 (on the 1966 models that still utilized the override traction-bar setup) by a rubber boot culled from the Ford heavy truck parts list.
In the cockpit, changes worthy of the car’s new “sports car” moniker were made to the Mustang interior. Per SCCA edict that the cars be two-seaters, the cars arrived at Shelby American without rear seats, and a plastic shelf (molded plastic originally, but fiberglass on current-day reproduction versions) was installed in their place. The car’s spare tire mounted to the shelf by way of a J-bolt that passed through a slot in the shelf and attached to a bracket that was welded to the floorpan under the shelf.
The Mustang’s Falcon-like dash configuration was decidedly un-sportscar-like with its minimal engine instrumentation, so Shelby American added a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge to a molded plastic bezel, or “pod” that was secured to the car’s padded dashboard, between the two raised “eyebrows” of the dash pad. Both instruments were canted toward the driver for more optimal viewing. Early pods were made from molded plastic, but the hot Los Angeles summer sun had something to say about the choice of materials: the pods began to droop and sag as the completed GT350s baked under the sizzling sun; droopiness was eventually rectified by a switch to fiberglass for the pods.
To keep the driver and the passenger firmly ensconced in the car’s Mustang bucket seats, a set of hefty 3-inch-wide competition lap belts replaced the pony’s 2-inch Ford straps. These were manufactured by Ray Brown Automotive and were of the current-day racing “latch and link” design; they clipped into eyebolts installed at the seat belt attaching points in the floor. Finally, what might be thought of as the final touch of the interior was installed: a real wood steering wheel.
Manufactured by Derrington, the wheel originally installed in the early GT350s was taken directly from the 289 Cobra. Sixteen inches in diameter, the three-spoked wheel had lightening slots cut into the spokes and carried the Cobra center cap logo in the center hub of the wheel.
Since the wheel had no provision for a center horn button, the car’s horn was relocated to the left of the radio blockoff plate on the dash (real sports cars don’t have radios!) and was actuated by flipping a spring-loaded toggle switch. It soon became apparent that the wheel’s 16-inch diameter made steering wheel-todriver’s thigh clearance a bit lacking so a second type of wheel by Moto-Lita, an inch less in diameter, was subsequently installed; this second-generation wood wheel was characterized by lightening holes (rather than slots) drilled into the spokes.
Later, a second Moto-Lita wheel found its way to GT350 steering shafts. Identical in size to the second style, this third and final iteration of wood steering wheel reverted back to slotted spokes. All 1965 GT350 interiors followed Henry Ford’s Model T business model: they were available in any color, as long as it was black.
With the mechanics out of the way, there was now the issue of appearance to be dealt with; no small matter in the automotive world. Shelby’s master stylist, Peter Brock, went to work and designed the now-familiar—or more aptly put, iconic—twin broad Guardsman Blue “LeMans stripes” that covered the car from nose to tail. As is well known, the cars themselves were all delivered in Wimbledon White; the color scheme of white with blue stripes reflected the United States’ official racing colors.
Ten inches each, with a 2-inch gap between, the stripes have since become synonymous with anything Shelby. Brock employed a creative bit of optical illusion to counter another optical illusion created by the car’s hood: a styling crease along the outer edge of the hood angled inward ever so slightly from rear to front. Because of the slight taper, a pair of constant-width stripes had the appearance of being wider at the leading edge of the hood than at the trailing edge, so Brock designed the stripes to be an inch narrower at the front than at the back of the hood. Because of the tapered styling crease, the tapered stripes now appeared to be perfectly parallel and of constant width.
The top stripes were extra-cost, dealer-installed options, although another stripe, which was painted along the rocker panel and the bottom of the door, was standard fare. The rocker stripe was of the common “racing stripe” layout of the day, consisting of one thick stripe bordered by two thinner stripes, one above and one below. The center part of the stripe and the top border stripe sat upon the lower edge of the door, but the lower border stripe sat upon the rocker panel, which made masking the stripes a bit difficult with so many surfaces being affected. A blank space at the front end of the stripe (on the lower part of the fender) allowed placement of a Scotch decal that proclaimed the name of the car: G.T. 350. The font chosen was Microgramma Extended Bold, a style of lettering that was wider than it was tall, and over the years this, too, has come to be a part of the Shelby Mustang mystique. Because the G.T.
350 was a decal and the stripe paint, there was, from day one, a slight color mismatch between the two parts of the stripe, and this has simply been accepted as just another part of the GT350’s rough and ready character.
Viewed from the rear, GT350’s product identification was via a small 3/4 x 4½-inch metal plate with the GT350 name engraved, also in Microgramma. The plate was mounted on the right (passenger’s side) rear fascia, inboard of the taillight. From the front, Brock went in a direction that many consider to be “classier” than Ford, deleting the large, chrome running horse, “corral,” and horizontal bars. This left a large, clean opening, backed up by the hexagonal, blue-anodized mesh. And though all of the Shelby-bound Mustang’s exterior ornamentation was omitted at the factory—including their accompanying attaching holes—Brock specified that a Mustang running horse fender emblem be installed offset in the grille opening, on the driver’s side. Since the deletion of the running horse and corral from the grille left a gap between the two bright metal pieces that lined the grille opening, a polished aluminum trim piece was installed to cover the gap.
While most of Brock’s styling enhancements were intended to bolster the car’s appearance, one styling aspect had a definite impact on the workings of the car: the hood and its now-familiar Cobra-like scoop. Peter Brock was more than just a stylist, he had a keen sense of vehicle aerodynamics and this was borne out by the unexpected performance of the Cobra Daytonas. The experts poo-pooed the car’s performance, but Brock was vindicated when Ken Miles put the car on the test track and its performance was demonstrated. In the case of the GT350, Brock wanted a source of clean, cool air for the carburetor. In the Mustang, all engine air entered the car through the grille, where it was warmed by the radiator. To get cool air in, Brock played around with hood scoops, and his knowledge of the car as it moved through the air told him that the best source for cold air was at the base of the windshield, where there was a high-pressure mass of air.
The most efficient intake for the carburetor was, therefore, a rearward-opening scoop that allowed the higher pressure air to move forward into the opening, and thus, into the engine compartment. But popular wisdom held it that a “backward” hood scoop, while perhaps more efficient than a more conventional scoop, looked awkward, and, well, backward. So, Brock bowed to pressure and designed a less efficient but more visually-acceptable, forward-facing scoop. It was patterned after the hood scoop of the Cobra roadsters and sat in the geometric center of an otherwise stock Mustang hood; in this case, function took a back seat to form.
The final cosmetic enhancement to the Shelby GT350 over the base Mustang was the wheels. As the cars rolled in from San Jose, they did so on Argent-painted steel units, supplied by Ford’s wheel supplier, Kelsey-Hayes, and at first glance resembled the same style worn by Galaxie station wagons underneath their wheel covers or hubcaps. In reality, the wheels specified by Shelby were unique items, and while they looked like any other station wagon wheel, they could be identified by a trio (rather than a quartet, on most wheels of the type) of bumps to secure “dog dish” hubcaps. The wheels’ original usage was very limited.
Eminently functional, the 15-inch-diameter steel wheels did the job very well but fell short in the appearance department. Chrome lug nuts helped a little, but the car still didn’t have the look befitting the exclusive sports car that it was, so Brock again went to work and designed a suitable decorative “mag” wheel. It had five spokes and the center section was done in cast aluminum, riveted to a chrome rim. A clay sample was carved by Brock and Shelby’s Skeet Kerr and sent to the Cragar wheel manufacturing company. Soon, the snappy aluminum and chrome wheel-known today as the “Shelby Cragar” became the optional dress-up wheel for GT350 owners—or equally importantly, for prospective owners—who wanted the car to look as good as it went.
First on Race Day
Whether referred to by its official Shelby American nomenclature of the period, GT350 Competition Model, or the much snappier R-Model—a moniker, by the way, not coined until the mid 1970s, and not by Shelby American—one fact is unarguable: the race-ready GT350 Competition Model was the reason for the GT350’s existence.
Designed to win B/Production races and establish Ford’s Mustang as a true sports car, the R-Model carried the banner for Shelby American in SCCA racing, while the street version showed Shelby’s colors on the public thoroughfares. Each had its own similarities to and differences from the other, but whether street- or race-based, all GT350s began their transformation into such from a basic Ford Mustang supplied by Ford’s San Jose Assembly Plant. The cars that were destined to become street GT350s were built to one configuration, called a “package”; R-Models were built to another package that involved additional deletions made on the San Jose line.
The R-Model had extreme performance that outgunned that of its street brethren and it exemplified the adage that “less is more”—or perhaps it is more correct to say that “less would become more.” While both the race and street package deleted the car’s hood, hood latch, and hood springs, the race package went several steps further, omitting the front and rear bumpers, front valance, and quarter vent louver assemblies. The side windows, mechanism, and cast vent window frame were also deleted and, in fact, the windshield was the only glass on the car when it left San Jose, since the rear window was also omitted from the race package cars upon assembly. Parts that would be utilized on the R-Models but would have been mounted in or on other parts that were deleted—such as the parking lights, which normally would have been mounted in the deleted front valance panel—were shipped in the car’s trunk.
Inside, cars predetermined to be turned into race cars arrived sans carpeting or soundproofing underlayment. The headliners were omitted and there was no seam sealer used anywhere in the cockpit. Lacking carpet and sound deadener, the interior and floor (which normally only receives a dusting of body-colored overspray) was given a coat of semigloss black paint; the same treatment was given to the underside of the roof. The heaters were also omitted, as were the Mustang padded dash and supporting “eyebrow” structure, which were normally welded to the dashboard. The heavy, chrome-plated cast-metal glove box door was omitted as well. The windshield wiper motors remained, however.
The engines in the street version of the GT350s received subtle tweaking by Shelby that consisted mostly of parts that were added onto the engines while the engine remained installed in the vehicle. Not so with the R-Models, whose engines were removed completely. They were taken to Shelby American’s engine shop, where they were totally disassembled. Cylinder heads were sent out to one of several outside firms to be ported and polished; they were also milled to increase the compression ratio. The crankshaft, pistons, and connecting rods were balanced and blueprinted, and the stock HiPo camshaft was replaced with a race-spec unit. A degreed crankshaft damper went on the front, and a Cobra aluminum intake, which had been specially milled to match the milled heads, was bolted on the top. also pop-riveted in place.
On top of the manifold sat a Holley 715-cfm carburetor set in a spun aluminum plenum bowl that was located directly below the air intake in the underside of the hood. A cast-aluminum “COBRA” oil pan covered the bottom end, although a couple of cars received welded-steel competition oil pans. Special valve covers with tall breathers and oil fill caps that expedited filling during quick pit stops were fabricated from standard Ford stamped-steel valve covers, however, most of the race cars were delivered with cast-aluminum Buddy Bar-sourced valve covers. The cast-iron exhaust manifolds were tossed, replaced by a set of tri-Y headers, just as on the street cars. The race cars utilized the same geometry side-exiting exhaust as the street machines, but lacked the straight-through mufflers. Oil filters were removed, and replaced with an adapter that mounted the oil filter vertically, hanging down beneath the car. The adapter also contained plumbing to tie in to an oil cooler, which was mounted behind the car’s radiator, which was a three-row unit, larger than those used on the street GT350.
Once completed, the race engines were dyno-tested, and produced 350 hp, on average, however, the similarity to the car’s GT350 designation was purely coincidental. Following testing, the engines were reinstalled in the cars; however, it should be noted that in contrast to the modern-day obsession with matching numbers, the engines were not necessarily reinstalled in the same cars from which they were originally removed.
Underneath, the R-Models received the same chassis upgrades as their street brethren—or perhaps it is more correct to say that the street cars received the same suspension as the race cars: lowered front A-arms; traction bars in the rear; quick-ratio steering up front; Koni shocks all around; and a heavier, 1-inch-diameter front stabilizer bar. Like their street relatives, the GT350 Competition cars had already arrived from Ford with metallic brake pads and shoes and big Fairlane rear brake drums installed. Some additional work was performed on the rear brakes of the race cars; specifically, the backing plates had several holes drilled in them and were covered with a small, forward-facing air scoop to direct cool air into the brake assemblies.
The race cars got the same real wood steerin
On the outside, more changes set the race cars apart from the street model: a one-piece fiberglass front valance (or apron) replaced the heavy, multi-part, factory Mustang valance and bumper assembly. The apron, which was contoured to match roughly the envelope of the stock valance and bumper, had a large opening in the center, to allow more air to the radiator and oil cooler. The Mustang parking lights were mounted in the same location as on the stock steel valance and two circular holes, flanking the radiator opening (and replaced by vertical slots on later aprons) were plumbed to provide cooling air to the front brakes.
The same all-fiberglass hood as used on the street cars topped off the engine compartment of the competition models, and was also held closed by the same method: posts and pins. Unlike the street cars, however, which used the snap-over “clik” pins, race cars got “R” or “bobby” pins, and, also unlike the street cars, lanyards attached the pins to the grille, preventing losses during harried in-race hood openings. Another “R” pin on a lanyard passed through a post to keep the rear deck lid closed, as the Mustang latching mechanism was omitted from the race cars. The circular opening in the rear fascia was blanked over with a circular metal disc that was pop riveted in place; the holes left in the C-pillars by the deletion of the Mustang’s heavy metal louvers were similarly covered by simple, triangular pieces of aluminum that were also pop-riveted in place.
The heavy glass rear window was replaced by what, at first glance, appears to be a very poor-fitting piece with a noticeable gap at the top of the window opening. The gap, however, was strictly intentional; Brock designed the upper edge of the Plexiglas replacement window to curve downward toward the interior, missing the top edge of the window opening and creating a gap that allowed fumes and warm air to exit the cockpit.
Nothing was done to the vacant space left by the missing rear bumper, however, and the empty cove in the body, with the clearly-visible bumper bracket holes, has become something of an R-Model trademark.
The competition cars were fitted with 15-inch American Racing GT Plus wheels, and the Mustang’s tight wheel openings, both front and rear, were enlarged to provide clearance for the larger wheels and tires, which were much larger than had ever been envisioned by Ford to be worn on its little pony car. In the front, this meant simply cutting the fender opening larger, but in the rear, the process was a lot more complicated because enlarging the wheel opening in the quarter panel destroyed the welds connecting the quarter panel to the inner wheel well. More welding was required to correct the collateral damage, but on later cars, a revised, less aggressive opening was made, to minimize the destructive affect on the spot welds.
Much more work was done to the trunk area than just the omission of the trunk latch: the gas tank was removed, replaced by a unit fabricated by welding the bottoms of two stock Mustang fuel tank halves together. This increased the fuel capacity to a nearly double 32 gallons, more than adequate for the average SCCA race. The stock Mustang filler neck was deleted and the resulting hole in the car’s rear face covered by the aforementioned circular aluminum disc, pop-riveted over the hole. An aluminum flip-open filler cap of the type used on the competition Cobras and GT40s was mounted to the top of the enlarged fuel tank. It was surrounded by a spun-aluminum splash bucket that prevented fuel from being spilled into the trunk. Excess fuel dumped into the splash bucket was vented overboard via a rubber hose. The filler was accessed by opening the pin-secured rear decklid, since the filler did not protrude through the deck lid. A Stewart-Warner 240A electric fuel pump was mounted to the trunk floor and it fed fuel to the engine’s mechanical fuel pump; some early cars actually had two such pumps. The car’s battery was also placed in the trunk on the passenger’s side, in the same location as in the early street cars, to reduce the Mustang’s nose-heavy tendency. Placing it on the passenger-side also offset the weight of the driver.
Compared to the somewhat stark and businesslike interior of the street GT350, the R-Model’s cockpit was even more functional and no-nonsense, much like the character of the cars themselves. As Shelby ads of the day touted, the interior of the R-Models was fireproof because—lacking carpeting, soundproofing and cloth headliners—there was little combustible material around to burn. The driver sat in a standard Mustang seat, although a molded-fiberglass racing bucket seat was optional. A business-like array of engine instruments was mounted in a flat aluminum panel: fuel pressure, oil temperature, speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, and water temperature. Indicator lights were provided to alert the driver of ignition status, turn signal flashing, and high-beam headlights status.
The race cars got the same real wood steering wheels as their street cousins. The flammable factory cardboard and vinyl door panels and armrests were replaced by lightweight, fireproof aluminum panels screwed to the doors. The heavy cast-metal vent window frames and glass that were omitted as the cars rolled down the San Jose line were replaced with lightweight aluminum frames and non-opening Plexiglas vent windows. The side windows are also Plexiglas and slide up and down in the lightweight aluminum frames, and were held in the closed position by a simple strap that was snapped in place; unfastening the snap allowed the windows to slide down and pulling on the strap raised the window. Behind the driver, welded to the floor, was a four-point roll bar that was manufactured by Cyclone, the same folks who made the car’s tri-Y headers.
The same plastic package shelf with spare tire mount that was used on the street GT350 also made its way into the R-Model interior, although the upper roof trim panels that trimmed the vent louvers on the inside of the street car were replaced by similarly-shaped fiberglass pieces sans the air vent grilles. The race cars got the same Ray Brown three-inch competition belts as the street models. So as to maintain a strong visual similarity with its street car cousin, the R-Models received the same Guardsman Blue side stripes and G.T. 350 marking, and nearly all received the wide top LeMans stripes. The only exception was the Com-stock of Canada car, which carried a dark green top stripe.
Even after the GT350 competition models established themselves as worthy opponents on the race track, fulfilling Ford’s wishes of gaining the reputation of Corvette-beaters, sales of the R-Models were somewhat slow, as was expected. As calendar year 1966 began, 1965 R-Models that were completed and sold within 1966 received some 1966 features, such as tape side stripes and 1966 grilles. These cars are often erroneously referred to as 1966 R-Models, however, whereas the street GT350 was clearly identified as a 1965 model, the race cars were simply “GT350 Competition Models,” with no model year associated with them. Ultimately, Shelby built just 36 factory R-Models: two prototypes that ran as the Shelby team cars, followed by one batch of 15 cars, then 5, and a final batch of 14 cars.
That the cars may have been fast on the track but slow off the showroom floor is likely explained by the fact that, at nearly $6000, the GT350 Competition Model was not cheap. As a result, the last R-Model was finally sold during the 1967 model year.
But the proof is in the pudding and in automobile racing, a sport defined by the adage that “there is nothing slower than last year’s race car,” the GT350 Competition Model continued to garner trophies. It won the Sports Car Club of America’s B/Production Championship title not once, not even twice, but for an unprecedented three years in a row—1965, 1966, and 1967—as well as a handful of championship titles on the drag strip, grabbed by the eight factory drag GT350s. Not bad for a “secretary’s car.”
1965 GT350 PRODUCTION STATISTICS
Body Style Available: 2-door fastback
Total Production: 526
Colors Available: Wimbledon White (100.0% of total build)
Interior Colors Available: Black (100.0% of total build)
Base Price: $4,547
Available Factory Options: Shelby Cragar deluxe alloy wheels (although not specifically listed as an “available” option, LeMans stripes were factory-applied to public relations, demonstrator and auto show cars and were available as dealerinstalled options on customer-purchased cars). Stripes were painted Ford Guardsman Blue.
Running Production Changes: Early cars: trunk-mounted batteries, 16-inch-diameter steering wheels with slotted spokes, all-fiberglass hoods with single meshed-over circular opening and small-letter COBRA intake manifolds without part number. Somewhat later cars had 15-inch-diameter steering wheels with holed spokes, COBRA vented battery caps, COBRA intakes with cast-in part numbers, and all-fiberglass hoods with large scoop-sized openings in the underside. Traction bar sealing was via a flat piece of rubber with a slit cut into it. Some early Shelbys had 1964½ Mustang features, such as clip-on inside door handles and window cranks and two-piece decorative chrome bezels under the wiper shafts.
Late cars: front-mounted batteries, 15-inch-diameter steering wheels with slotted spokes, and steel-framed fiberglass hoods. Some cars had a fiberglass box riveted over the traction bar inside the car (the flat rubber remained) to better seal off noise/water/exhaust fumes. Screw-on inside door handles and window cranks were used and the wiper shafts lacked the decorative chrome trim bezels. More than two dozen (although not necessarily the last two dozen) cars were shipped with 1966-type rear-exiting exhaust.
1965 GT350 COMPETITION MODEL PRODUCTION STATISTICS
Body Style Available: 2-door fastback
Quantity Built: Total Production 36 (2 prototype/Shelby team cars, 34 production cars)
Colors Available: Wimbledon White (100.0% of total build)
Interior Colors Available: Black (100.0% of total build)
Base Price: $5,950
Available Factory Options: Optional rear ratios, optional transmission ratios and racing bucket seats.
Running Production Changes: The Mustangs that became the “production” R-Models were delivered to Shelby American (interspersed with Mustangs destined to become street GT350s) between December 1964 and May 1965, and as a result, were very similar to each other in their “leaving San Jose” configuration. Work completing some of the race cars began immediately; the time to complete them varied from car to car, while others were finished to a certain level, then were held awaiting a buyer, and final completion. This meant that the final completion dates for the R-Models ranged from April 1965 to early 1967. Some changes were deliberately made to the later race cars, most significant being a revised front valance with larger brake cooling intake slots (which replaced the earlier round holes) but race cars completed after street car production had transitioned to 1966 models received some features commensurate with the current crop of street machines, such as tape side stripes and 1966-type grilles.
Written by Greg Kolasa and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks