When the 1965 Mustang GT350 exploded upon the automotive scene early that year, it was an automobile as revolutionary in concept as it was in its execution. Contemporary automobile publications were enthralled at the car and described it as “one of the most exciting cars to hit the enthusiast’s market in a long time,” a car that “positively exudes character,” and “a brute of a car.”
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The concept behind the GT350 was a for-sale version of an honest-to-goodness race car. In terms of execution, Shelby American had to construct a requisite number of “street” cars that were close enough in configuration to their “race” cousins to satisfy the rules makers, who then granted permission for the race car to perform its appointed duty in life. To reach that goal, Shelby designed the race car version, then turned out half of a thousand oh-so-subtly toned down street versions and offered them for sale to speed-hungry car aficionados. The uniqueness of Shelby’s approach was sufficient to bestow the title “revolutionary” upon the idea and the car.
But despite the rave reviews that the GT350 received for its stunning performance, the same magazines also hinted at what might be a problem: Despite the car’s considerable capabilities, it nonetheless appeared to be little more than a slightly made-over Mustang. One magazine commented that “in appearance, the GT350 still retains much of the original Mustang flair,” then queried, rhetorically, “What makes the car so different from the Mustang?” and “Is it worth the
added cost?” That trio of comments defined what was perhaps the biggest criticism of the original GT350: that it looked too much like a plain-Jane Mustang to justify its additional two grand in sticker price. Never mind what the true enthusiast got for that extra cash—0-60 mph in less than six seconds; the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds; a top speed of more than a buckand-a-quarter, and, oh yes, the Sports Car Club of America’s B/Production championship title. The problem was that the market for automobiles for hard-core performance enthusiasts was a very limited one indeed. It seemed that there were more car buyers for whom it was important that the world know they were driving what looked like a hot car than there were buyers who didn’t care what their hot car looked like.
Since these comments were featured in mainstream magazines such as Car & Driver, Hot Rod, and Motor Trend, it is easy to instinctively conclude that few people shared the opinion that the GT350 should be all “go” and no “show,” as was held by a small minority of radical performance junkies. In fact, at the end of 1965, Ford corporate headquarters received a letter about the sales of the Mustang GT350 for the previous year. In part, the memo noted that “[the customer’s] taste and pocketbook are different from the mass that purchase the regular Mustang and it is vital that the difference be recognized. [The] customer surely wants the public to know they own a unique customized, higher-priced performance sports car without providing everyone a demonstration ride.”
The final sentence of the memo summed it all up in one, brief sentence: “[The company] strongly believes that the 1965 Shelby GT 350 would have had a stronger sales appeal if there had been more of a visual difference from the Mustang.”
It was most telling that the memo came not from a highschool-age car nut with grease under his fingernails, but that it was written by the highest levels of Shelby American management. Coupled with the car’s appearance woes was another troublesome aspect of the GT350: it was not only what the car looked like, but what it felt like. The GT350 unquestionably offered the enthusiast—the car owner who deliberately sought the most convoluted path from Point A to Point B—an enjoyable experience behind the wheel. But for that enthusiast, there was also the understanding that the pleasure was not without cost; it was a part of the package deal: The steering was heavy. The clutch was stiff. The brake pedal pressure was high. The car’s side-exiting exhaust pipes were loud. The ride was bone-jarring. The Detroit Locker differential banged, clunked, and popped. The interior was functional, but stark. The car’s sound system was not by Blaupunkt, Magnavox, or Harmon Kardon, but by Ford Engine and Foundry. And with solid lifters and steel tube headers under the hood—which, it should be noted, needed periodic adjustment and retorquing, respectively—the car was not a zero-maintenance ride.
Considering both the effort required in properly guiding and adequately caring for and feeding the GT350, it was definitely a give-and-take automobile: You took pleasure from driving it, but, in return, needed to take care of the beast.
Those few enthusiasts who truly appreciated the GT350, could pick a curvy stretch of road, point the car toward a wide, gently banked turn, downshift and tap the throttle, and the experience approached nirvana. The troublesome word, however, was not “enthusiasts,” but “few.” The market for a no-nonsense sports car was extremely small, and while Carroll Shelby no doubt delighted in providing cars for those few individuals, the Ford Motor Company likely saw it differently. And Ford was not the only one.
Hertz, the nation’s largest rent-a-car company, described its experience with the 1966 GT350H as “not too successful,” and attributed that lack of success to the very nature of the GT350. Hertz also recognized that its customers wanted cars that looked sporty, but didn’t necessarily want the effort of driving a sports car.
Purpose-Built vs Broader Appeal
Had Carroll Shelby been the sole stakeholder in the project, he perhaps would have continued building cars exactly like the 1965 GT350 for the next few years. But he wasn’t; his purse strings were controlled by the mammoth Ford Motor Company, and Ford’s business was to build and sell cars. Lots of cars. Despite protests from true sports car aficionados, the GT350 had to have to evolve in order to survive. And in this instance, “evolve” meant incorporating characteristics that might have been disdainful to Carroll Shelby and the southern California hot rodders who built the GT350: “refined,” “softer,” and “luxurious.” It was an evolutionary path designed to ensure the continued proliferation of the model, but ironically, it ultimately contributed to the extinction of the very species it was designed to promulgate. But not right away.
As Shelby American sat down to plan the second year GT350, they accepted that there were compromises that had to be made if the car was to survive. These compromises encompassed the two areas of greatest concern to the 1965 product: appearance and a nebulous characteristic that will, for the sake of argument, be summed up as “user friendliness.” In terms of Troublesome Aspect Number One, the car’s appearance, more visual separation from the base Mustang was needed. Shelby and Ford accomplished this through the addition of what may well be the two best-known features of any year of the Shelby Mustang: quarter windows and side air scoops. Also, for the first time, the Shelby GT350 gained a unique badge, which adorned the steering wheel hub, wheel center caps, and fuel cap. Those design cues attacked the appearance shortcoming of the 1965 GT350 by provided the Shelby with an identity that was much more distinct than the Mustang. It was still too easy, however, to characterize the Shelby GT350 as “just a Mustang with stripes,” as the two still shared a large percentage of body sheetmetal.
To address the rough character of the GT350, Ford and Shelby made a few more additions, which were intended to make the Shelby product more appealing to its clientele and to expand the size of that client base. These changes were almost universally based on feedback from dealers, who were merely passing along the comments and criticisms of their potential customers. They included: the availability of colors other than white (although black-only interiors remained for another year); the availability of a rear seat, to allow the car to carry four persons; and the availability of an automatic transmission. There was also a consideration toward lowering the cost of the car and some changes were made that were felt to be unnoticed by the general driving populace, even though they were likely to be noticed by the few pure enthusiasts: expensive Koni shock absorbers were now extra-cost options; the front upper A-arms were no longer relocated to a lower position; and the Detroit Locker differential, which was often been described as “too noisy and clunky” in customer comments, had become an extra-cost option, rather than standard equipment. All of these revisions had a favorable effect on the bottom line.
With the same powerplant and underpinnings as the first-year GT350, the 1966 edition still had the flavor of its rough, harsh ancestor, but the car was clearly pursuing a path from the pure enthusiast’s car to one still tailored to the enthusiast, but to a softer—and therefore larger—group of enthusiasts. It was just as easy to argue the “pros” of the car as it was the “cons,” and defenders and detractors hastened to point out the similarities to or differences from the original GT350, to further their causes. Whether you choose to characterize the “softening” of the 1966 GT350 (characterized by some enthusiasts as “selling out”) as either a positive or a negative development, the relative merits of the car’s evolutionary path are nevertheless borne out by the sales figures with more than four times the number of Shelby Mustangs sold in 1966 as in the year before. While perhaps not to the manufacturer or to the few true enthusiasts, but, clearly, to the masses, softer was better.
Giving the People What They Want
Every year of the Shelby Mustang is unique and can be thought of as some kind of turning point in the car’s evolution. Because of the fact that they were built some 2,200 miles from the marque’s birthplace—and, in fact, by an entirely new and different constructor—the 1968 models are often thought as being a turning point in the Shelby Mustang evolution. There is some degree of merit to that assessment, but actually, a more solid argument can be made that it was in 1967 that the Shelby Mustang made its largest single evolutionary leap. The car not only emerged from the design process with a unique look that was the greatest stylistic departure from the Mustang (and the Shelby Mustang, of the year prior), but that very design process took a completely different approach; one that was unthinkable in 1965.
In late 1966, as the 1967 model was being thought out, Shelby American implemented a cost-shifting process by which aftermarket performance features formerly installed by Shelby technicians were now replaced by standard Ford components that performed essentially the same job, but which could be installed on the San Jose assembly line. The cost-reduction dollars could then be used where they would be better seen by the consumer: Shelby was cutting corners in the performance department and using the cost savings to buy styling. And this approach is not the speculation of some automobile historian based on what appeared to have happened 40-plus years after the fact; the approach was documented by Shelby American as it was being implemented. Shelby-unique performance features were deleted and in their stead, pseudo go-fast features were put on the cars as they rolled down the Ford assembly line. Instead of a special exhaust system unique to the GT350, as had been installed in the past, the 1967 Shelby utilized a system no different from any other Ford pony. Shelby also had as many Shelby-unique components as possible installed on the Ford line, thereby eliminating their installation costs for those items entirely.
But while there was considerably less to the 1967 cars in terms of raw performance goodies, the buyer got much more in the all-important styling department. Through the use of multiple fiberglass components, the car sported a nose and tail treatment that was totally unique to the Shelby Mustang, which was also stylistically a considerable departure from the base Mustang. The nose was stretched several inches to give the car a sleek “going a hundred miles an hour” look even while sitting still, and two center-mounted headlights (the high beams) gave the car a unique face. Wide Cougar taillights graced a rear panel that lay directly beneath a tall, spoilered, deck lid. Inside, for the first time ever, the Shelby cockpit was based on the deluxe Mustang interior, with thickly padded seats featuring stainless-steel trim and hard plastic backs, and bushed aluminum dash and door panels.
Luxury had finally reached the GT350 cockpit; the stark interior of Shelbys gone by was no more. The car also sported a functional roll bar (a first for an American production car) that suspended a pair of inertia reel shoulder harnesses for the front seat occupants—also a first for an American car.
In response to consumer demand, a second interior color (Parchment, an off-white color) was made available to those who claimed the black-only interiors were too hot in warmer climes. Power steering and power brakes both became standard features of the new Shelby and completed the swing from a performance car to a luxury performance car and put renewed emphasis on the “grand” in Grand Touring.
And while the car was available in basically five colors at a given time, the cycling in and out of colors based on their popularity pushed the total available color palate to more than a dozen. White with blue stripes only was a thing of the past. But while there were quite a few “firsts” to the 1967 Shelby that distinguished it as a milestone creation, there were also a couple of “lasts” that further added to the car’s transitional status: it was the last year that Shelby GT350s were powered by the legendary, solid-lifter, High Performance 289 and they were the last of the Shelby Mustangs to be built at the marque’s birthplace at Los Angeles International Airport by Shelby American.
In terms of setting itself apart from the car on which it was based, no one can argue that the 1967 Shelby didn’t establish a new benchmark. It set the stylistic tone for the next several years of the marque: long, horizontal taillights and a spoilered rear deck lid became symbolic of Shelby’s cars and were here to stay. In fact, some characteristics—the deck lid and the side air coops—transitioned unchanged onto the 1968 model. The 1967 Shelby took a major step toward distinguishing the Shelby GT cars as their own unique entities; the cars no longer looked like face-lifted Mustangs. In the end, there were just a tad shy of six times as many 1967s built (including both the small-block GT350 and the big-block GT500 version) as there were GT350s in 1965.
While the 1967 Shelby set new standards for luxury and what might be called “differentness” from the Mustang, so did it also set a new standard for a difficult build. At issue was not so much the radical styling cues incorporated into the car, but that Shelby American’s usual cadre of small-run vendors weren’t suited to manufacturing large quantities of large parts. With a completely new nosepiece encompassing the whole front end of the vehicle, hours of hand-fitting was required on each car to attain any degree of respectable fit and finish, though their degree of success was debatable. In fairness to the vendors and Shelby’s line workers, the nosepiece was cast from a twisted master.
The production quantity had outpaced Shelby American’s production capacity, which was made all the worse by the extra time required to fit the parts, one-by-one, to each car. Yet another nail in the coffin was that Shelby’s lease on the two large aircraft hangers at LAX, which it had called home since early 1965, was set to expire.
From the start, Ford had a desire to see Shelby American located closer to Ford in Michigan in order to have greater control over what Shelby was doing (he was always sort of a loose cannon). So when the LAX lease was ending, Ford stepped in to “assist” Shelby in finding a home in (guess where?) Michigan. It was never Shelby’s desire to move to Michigan, if he had his way (which was beginning to change as Ford was exerting more and more control over Shelby), he would have stayed in California.
All these factors conspired to give the 1968 Shelby a new home, a new producer, a new production technique, and a new source of the base Mustangs. Assembly of the cars was now shifted east, to Ionia, Michigan, where it was performed by A.O. Smith. Overseeing operations was the newly created Shelby Automotive. A.O. Smith was well-versed in the art of producing large fiberglass components, even entire automobile bodies in ’glass. As an added bonus, A.O. Smith had just lost its Corvette production to Chevrolet proper and was more than willing to consider any reasonable offer cast its way. A.O. Smith’s experience, coupled with a more refined molding process, came together to give the 1968 Shelby a fit and finish that could only have been dreamed of in 1967. Shelby now handled engineering and oversight, and was out of the hands-on production business. A.O. Smith personnel installed the components onto the base Mustangs, which, for the first time, were not being supplied by Ford’s San Jose, California, assembly plant but rather the Metuchen, New Jersey, facility.
While there was a heightened interest in making the Shelby cars visually distinct, performance wasn’t totally overlooked, but it was a far smaller player than in 1965. The Shelby-unique suspension, chassis, frame and engine mods of years gone were things of the past. As with the Ford Mustang, the GT350 had lost the potent High Performance 289, and in its stead was a hydraulic-liftered 302. In mid-1968, Shelby introduced a hot new Mustang using Ford’s new Cobra Jet 428 powerplant. The creation was dubbed the GT500 KR, with “KR” standing for “King of the Road” and replaced the 428 Police Interceptor powered GT500 midyear as the big-block Shelby in the 1968 lineup; the GT350 remained unaffected.
Stylistically, there was a good bit of similarity between the 1967 and 1968 models in terms of appearance, as well as the degree of “Shelby-ization” performed to the base Mustang. The tail treatment was very similar, save for a slight change in the taillight trim facilitated by the use of T-Bird (rather than Cougar) taillights; the decklid and quarter panel end caps were dimensionally identical to the 1967 cars, as were the lower side air scoops and upper air extractors. Up front, while there were dimensional differences to improve fit, the degree of change added upon the base vehicle parroted 1967 with a new hood, front valance, nose, and fender extensions that housed the headlights, which had reverted to a two-light system. As in 1967, there were about a dozen colors offered to the Shelby buyer, including a handful of cars done in special Ford fleet paint colors.
In the cockpit, there was also a high degree of similarity to the 1967 cars: the Shelby interior was again based on the deluxe Mustang office, although the brushed aluminum inserts of the year before now gave way to simulated wood. Somehow, woodgrain (even of a simulated nature) conveyed a greater sense of luxury, and it seemed that it was in that direction that the Shelby Mustangs were headed. Two colors were again offered: black and a light tan color, called Saddle. Power steering and power brakes were again mandatory options— they were Shelby features that were here to stay. Essentially the same design roll bar and shoulder harnesses as were used in 1967 also showed up in the 1968 office, as did a pair of extra engine gages mounted under the dash, but this time they were integrated into a floor console—another first for Shelby—that swept upward into the dashboard.
Despite a degree of styling similarity between the 1967 Shelby fastback and its one-year-newer cousin, 1968 saw a significant addition to the Shelby Mustang evolution: the availability of a convertible. The concept of a convertible was first tried experimentally in 1966, with a quartet of very popular cars. The body styling features were shared between the hard- and soft-top Shelby pretty much across the board, the one main exception being the necessary deletion of the upper roof air extractor scoops on the converts. On a smaller scale, the convertible, while also featuring a padded roll bar like its hard-topped cousin, used a sculpted covering to give the bar a wide, targa look when viewed from the side. Extremely well received, convertibles accounted for just about a third of the 1968 production, in both big- and small-block form.
Not as Much Fun as it Used to Be
The 1968 Shelby was something of a contradiction: on the one hand, it was the most widely-produced of all the Shelby Mustang models, so far. And if production and sales are a discriminator—and, for Ford, they clearly were—it was the most successful Shelby yet, with just a hair shy of eight times the 1965 production rolling out of Michigan. The GT350 had evolved to about as far from what Shelby had envisioned, in its original form. It was no longer a nimble, quick sports car. It had grown big, soft, and luxurious—the antithesis of the 1965 cars. And with hands-on production having been wrested from his company, and with Ford assuming greater and greater control of Shelby Automotive, Carroll Shelby was becoming more and more the bystander. As Shelby has often lamented: it just wasn’t fun anymore, and he had just about had his fill of corporate politics. It was nearly time to pull the plug. It was all over. Almost. There was one final fling.
It is no stretch to say that by the end—or maybe even by the beginning—of 1968, Carroll Shelby had grown weary of the Mustang program. The base Mustang, by now, had grown larger and more bloated from its 1965 roots, and it was therefore necessary that the 1969 Shelby likewise do so. The Shelby Mustang had evolved—to its detriment, Shelby believed—into little more than a luxury car with mag wheels. But the program continued with the 1969 models, even though Shelby’s heart clearly wasn’t in it.
From a styling standpoint, which was now the major thrust of the Shelby Mustang, the car set a new benchmark in terms of differentiation from its Mustang base. Not only was the front end and hood different from the Mustang, as in years past, but the car now sported completely different front fenders. Fiberglass usage peaked, with not only the hood but now those fenders rendered in plastic, as well.
With the merits of the Shelby convertible proven in 1968, the idea continued in 1969. Also carried over was the thick, padded roll bar and cross-chest shoulder belts; hardtops also had a roll bar, which lacked the thick covering but featured suspended shoulder harnesses. In many ways, the tail treatment resembled the 1968 rear, with an integrated ducktail spoiler, which was now standard on even the base Mustang, and 1965 T-Bird taillights were used again. The exhaust (dual pipes emanating from under the rear valance panel, as they had since the very early days) was replaced by a central, cast-aluminum outlet in the center, where the license plate had formerly resided. Overall, while the 1969 Shelby was a big car, it was nonetheless a handsome one, especially in convertible trim. The car had stunning looks with the top down, even if the performance could be described as lackluster.
GT350s had the biggest-displacement engine of the type so far, at 351 cubic inches, and the GT500 was powered by a hydraulic-lifter 428, as always. But any increase in displacement over the original Shelby was more than offset by the additional weight gain, which was on the order of 800 pounds in the GT350 and more than a half a ton in the GT500!
One of the characteristics for which the early GT350s had been known (their road-holding stickiness) had gone the way of the solid-lifter HiPo 289. In an effort to smooth out ride characteristics, the suspension had grown more compliant, plus the heavier body rolled considerably in a tight corner. Clearly, this was not your father’s Shelby.
In the cockpit, the Shelby of 1969 was the most luxuriously appointed of any Shelby yet: High-backed bucket seats and tons of simulated wood trim convey a sense of luxury and provide a stark contrast to the Shelby cockpits of just four years previous.
Shelby enthusiasts note that the base Mustangs were sourced from Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant for 1969, though this had little to do with the Shelby’s features.
In late 1969, as the 1970 Shelby program was in the planning stages, Carroll asked to terminate the program and Ford agreed. But when Shelby pulled the plug, there were almost 800 cars still in various stages of production at about the time the 1970 models should be introduced. The solution was to effectively complete these 1969 Shelbys as 1970 models. With FBI oversight, the data plates were replaced with ones reflecting a 1970 VIN. Two hood stripes, and a chin spoiler were added, to distinguish the cars from the 1969 models. In the final analysis, 1969–1970 Shelby production totaled only two-thirds of the production of the year before and convertibles accounted for only a sixth of that, compared to roughly a third of production in 1968. The lower 1969–1970 production total was largely the result of an economic downturn in 1968, as there were still considerable quantities of unsold 1968s when 1969 production kicked off.
When the last 1970 Shelby rolled off the A.O. Smith assembly line, it marked the end of the line for the Shelby Mustangs, perhaps much to Carroll Shelby’s relief. During the five model years that the Shelby Mustang was in existence (or six, if the renumbered 1969–1970 cars are counted as an additional model year), the car underwent a gradual evolution in which it changed from a brash, bold, take-no-prisoners performance car to a plush, luxurious boulevard cruiser. The unique all-performance aspect of the first Mustang GT350 (a total performance version of a wildly popular, but less than fire-breathing, pony car) doomed it to participation in a very limited market. The first GT350 was the transformation of a sporty car to a sports car for a very few performance enthusiasts. In order for the Shelby models to survive, however, they had to evolve further: Instead of Shelbys being produced as limited-production sports cars for a few, the sporty base car for many made a 360-degree journey in which they became a luxury car for the masses. While the transformation certainly wasn’t what Carroll Shelby had planned (or wanted), it was that very transformation that allowed production of the Shelby Mustang, as unique automobiles, to survive for a half decade.
Though the evolution of the Shelby Mustang ended up as a relatively straight-line progression from pure performance car to luxury sporty car, the path followed by the name of the car was far less direct. In fact, it was as if the car’s name never really found firm footing. In 1965, a name was being sought for the new Mustang-based sports car. At one of many planning meetings, the name of the car was being bandied about. Mustang Cobra, Mustang G.T., Cobra Mustang Gran Sport, and even Skunk (which would have led to the cute tag line “goes like stink”) were proposed and summarily dismissed. The story of how the car was named has been attributed to various things over the years: the length of the blast wall; the distance between the production shop and the paint shop; or the length of the hanger buildings. What object it was named for wasn’t important. What was important was the answer: about 350 feet. And so the car became the Mustang GT350. This closeness to the Mustang was largely out of necessity because the car was built to legitimize Ford’s Mustang as a sports car.
The GT350 was seen as one of several versions of the Mustang. The line started with the Mustang, moved a little more upscale into the Mustang GT, then culminated with the fire-breathing white and blue two-seater from Shelby. But as a version of the Mustang, the car had somewhat of an identity issue, that being that for all the extra money that it cost, and despite the performance improvements, it was still too easy to look upon it as “just a Mustang with stripes.” The car needed an identity more of its own, and that led to the car undergoing an evolution that moved it to more of a unique entity and less of a facelifted Mustang. When Shelby American recognized that their sports car needed more distinctiveness from the Mustang, one of the aspects that began to distance itself from the Mustang was the name. By late 1965, the car was being referred to as simply a GT350. Even though some internal Shelby correspondence still tagged the car as the Mustang GT350, to the outside world it was more GT350 and less Mustang. Somewhat confusingly, data plates still read Mustang GT350 even though the 1966 manual’s cover simply proclaimed GT350. In those years, and in 1967 as well, Shelby American had a two-car lineup: the AC-based Cobra and the Mustang-based GT350. Shelby Cobra and Shelby GT350 became the company’s “official” products as listed on their advertising.
In 1967, a new member of the Shelby family was born, the GT500; production of the Cobra continued (for a while at least) and the other product, the GT350, was still produced. There was now the Cobra and two brothers (a big one and a little one, if you will) that constituted the Mustang branch of the Shelby American family tree. According to 1967 advertising, the family of cars included the Shelby Cobra and the Shelby GT, with the GT coming in the two flavors of “350” and “500.” The GT350/ GT500 ID plates eliminated any reference to the Mustang (they simply said Shelby American and listed the car’s VIN). And, in fact, much of the car did same: no running horse badging remained anywhere on the cars after their transformation and the owner’s manual was now a unique Shelby GT350/GT500 publication. There were a few selected references to “Mustang” buried in the text of the new manual, but they were likely only left there to avoid a complete rewrite of an almost perfectly usable publication.
Even the owner’s manuals told the tale of the evolution of the Shelby Mustang: in the beginning, the manual was a compilation of every conceivable technical specification possible. There were specs on the chassis, the valve train, the fuel system, the ignition system, the pistons, the crankshaft, and the connecting rods. If the spec wasn’t listed, it was because it didn’t exist. But as the car changed, so did the manual. By 1967, the amount of technical-speak had been cut about in half, and by the end, in 1970, it wasn’t even possible to find the curb weight of the car in print, indicative of Shelby knowing that the latter-day buyer of the GT350 and GT500 just didn’t care about valve lash.
There was a certain irony about the car’s badges, however. The gas cap, steering wheel hub, and wheel center caps (as well as the fender, decklid, trunk, and grille emblems) featured not only GT350 or GT500 branding, depending on the version, but the badges were lettered “Shelby Cobra.” The wheel center cap emblems deleted the 350 or 500 and simply said Shelby Cobra, with the words flanking the car’s new, more lifelike logo: a reared-up and ready-to-strike Ophiophangus hannah.
For the 1968 model year, the 427 Cobra could no longer be produced because the car failed to meet virtually any of the required 1968 federal motor vehicle safety standards. But the Cobra lived on, if in name only. Shelby Automotive was down to one type of car: the Mustang-based GT350 and GT500. In order to keep the Cobra name alive, these cars assumed the identity—or at least, the nomenclature—of the discontinued two-seater. The cars, according to company advertising, were now the Shelby Cobra GT350/500; individually, they were the Shelby Cobra GT350 and Shelby Cobra GT500. When, in mid model year, the Cobra Jet-powered GT500 KR replaced the GT500, the product line became the Shelby Cobra GT350/500-KR.
Throughout 1969 and into the following model year, with a few remaining in production, 1969 Shelbys were updated and sold as 1970 models. The cars continued to be badged as the Shelby Cobra on the steering wheel, the door panels and the wheel center caps, even though the advertised nomenclature reverted to the pre-1968 convention, calling the cars the Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500. (The “KR” was dropped at the end of 1968 even though the 1969 GT500s continuted to be powered by the Cobra Jet engine).
In terms of execution, the 1969 GT350 was nothing like the 1965 edition, but there was a tiny bit of déjà-vu to that last-ever Shelby Mustang: a small plate riveted to the door edge, below the warranty plate. It said, in part, “Based on the Ford Mustang.” Originally, there had been a concerted effort to distance the Shelby GT350 and GT500 from the Mustang on which it was based, but now, in the end, it again ’fessed up to being what it was. The Shelby Mustang had undergone something of a circular revolution, emerging in its final incarnation as the entity from which it was derived, and so did the name of that entity. In the beginning, Shelby built Cobras and in the end, even if the Cobra that they built was a totally different animal, it was nonetheless still technically correct to say that Shelby built Cobras. And with the original GT350 being admittedly based on the Ford Mustang, the Shelby Mustangs ended up their existence as they had begun it: based on the Ford Mustang. Evolution doesn’t always simply go from Point A to Point B; sometimes, it ends up back at Point A again.
Written by Greg Kolasa and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks