Automotive enthusiasts in general—and Mustang junkies in particular—were all abuzz at the April 2006 New York International Auto Show where, for the first time since 1969, Ford and Carroll Shelby had teamed up to build a Shelby Mustang. What made this especially cool was that the “new/old” Shelby was based on Ford’s very retro 2005 Mustang, making it almost a carbon copy. The new Mustang even had windows in the upper quarter panels, just like the 1966 Shelby did.
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But if news of the new Shelby had salivating showgoers beating a path to their banks’ car loan departments, there was some news—sort of the fine print of the reveal—that stopped them dead in their tracks: it was impossible to purchase one of these new cars. That was because the new car was a 500-car production run of a black and gold, Mustang-based Shelbys done especially and exclusively for Hertz rent-a-car. The only way to drive one was to rent one.
Just as in the case of the original Hertz Shelby, the new issue was also done in jet black with two broad gold stripes running nose to tail and as the “new-old” Shelby made its grand entrance it was accompanied by, of course, all manner of media hype. There were videos, posters, handouts, and all manner of introductory ephemera accompanying the car. Also providing support to the extravaganza was one of the 1000 GT350Hs built in 1966 for Hertz by Shelby (6S1886, a former New York area rental). As one great American philosopher is reported to have said, “It was déjà-vu all over again.”
The 1966 car was there to provide background for the 2006 model, comparison and contrast, if you will, of the first time Shelby and Hertz got together, which begat what has come to be known over the years as the “rent-a-racer.” As a supporting member of the cast, the GT350H got second-billing and, as such, was relegated to something of an abbreviated role; more supporting than star. The historical information on the original rent-a-racer was basically correct, but was far from all-telling: it told of 1,000 cars, most of them black and gold, built for Hertz by Shelby, and how the cars were often rented, raced, then returned to the rental counter the following day with the Hertz lady none the wiser. And while that is correct in essence, it sidesteps the many details of that business deal that made it truly revolutionary.
Thanks to the discovery of a cache of factory documentation, details that were lacking in correctness for decades can now be told with as close to absolute accuracy as any historian about any historical event can ever hope to get. The documentation also serves to illustrate that the Hertz program was a continually changing set of requirements, problems, and solutions from cradle to grave. Changes occurred constantly during the proposal phase, the execution, and, finally, in the termination of the Shelby-Hertz deal.
The Original Rent-a-Racer
It is easy to see that the roots of the 2006 rent-a-racer redux back to 1966; however, tracing the genealogy of that first-generation Hertz project is a bit more complex. The story roots actually run back to a half dozen years before the Great Depression, when, in 1923, two seemingly totally dissimilar events occurred: a child was born in rural Texas, and in Chicago a man bought into a company and put his name on it. The child was Carroll Shelby, and the man was John D. Hertz; and in that year they embarked on completely separate paths that eventually converged some 43 years later, in a collision that would bring the automobile world something it had never seen before: a for-rent version of an honest-to-goodness race car.
Meanwhile, Walter Jacobs was the son of a Chicago haberdasher. Jacobs’ father sold suits and, because of his urban client base, often walked to his customers. When he expanded his business base outside of the Chicago city limits into include Indiana, however, distance forced him to rent a horse and buggy to make the trip. Although destined to take over the business, the younger Jacobs instead chose an automotive career field, working his way up the obligatory corporate ladder: gofer, car washer, car mechanic, and ultimately, car salesman.
But always in the back of his mind lay an idea: people who need to travel prefer to have at their disposal a rented automobile that they could drive anywhere they desired, rather than rely on restrictive mass transit or some other happenstance means.
Just after the end of The War to End All Wars, he borrowed $2,500 and opened a business that many of his friends and colleagues thought foolish: he purchased a dozen Model T Fords and rented them out to people wishing a ride. He called his business the Drive-Ur-Self corporation.
Five years later, Jacobs’ business had not only survived, it was thriving; Drive-Ur-Self had grown 50-fold to more than 600 vehicles, and Jacobs was looking for a business partner. Meanwhile, John D. Hertz was building automobiles for his Chicago-based Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company and was looking to expand his business base. It was a perfect union with Hertz adding his vehicles (badged with a red heart-shaped Hertz Drive-Ur-Self logo on the car’s upright radiator) and financial support to Jacobs’ endeavor; the name of the new joint venture became the Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System. With his automobile manufacturing firm, Hertz thought his cars complemented the new Drive-Ur-Self organization perfectly but, to his surprise, he found consumer resistance. People wanting to rent their own cars apparently didn’t want to rent what was essentially a taxicab; they wanted luxury, of the kind provided by a much larger automobile manufacturer, with a more varied selection of vehicles available, such as General Motors.
So, in 1926, Hertz and Jacobs sold their still-growing company to GM, and it flourished even more. The next events occurred around 1958 as Carroll Shelby stated to have thoughts about building a sports car, and Hertz formed the Sports Car Club.
The Hertz Sports Car Club was a fleet of sports cars targeting the traveling businessman who sought something a little more exciting than a beige four-door sedan to ease the drudgery of the sometimes all-too-frequent business trip. The Club consisted of sports cars like the Jaguar XKE, various Triumphs, and the Chevrolet Corvette in a dozen and a half cities with ordinary Hertz rental locations.
Membership in the Club was restricted to individuals who could demonstrate the ability to drive one of the sports cars on city streets, although persons with sports car experience (such as Sports Car Club of America members) were given automatic membership. The problem with the cars in the Club was that because of their upfront higher purchase price, compared to the usual sedan or station wagon, they demanded a higher rental rate in order to amortize the cost over the rental career and thus, weren’t always as in-demand as Hertz had hoped for. Additionally, the lack of a four-passenger carrying capacity doomed the Club to a less-than-thriving endeavor.
Nevertheless, in 1965, Carroll Shelby, ex-racer turned sports car manufacturer, and Hertz Rent-A-Car, operator of the somewhat sagging Sports Car Club, finally reached the station at the exact instant. The Hertz Sports Car Club was never the same again.
With the 1965 Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) B/Production championship just won with the 1965 Mustang GT350, Shelby American sales manager Peyton Cramer approached Hertz in late summer with a novel idea: Shelby American would produce a special version of the SCCA champion GT350 very much identical to the car that Shelby offered for sale for Hertz’s exclusive use in its Sports Car Club. While it would be nice to be able to document that first letter or telephone call to Hertz that started the ball rolling, such information appears to have been considered inconsequential at the time and may well be lost to history.
But looking just a bit below the surface of the plan, which Cramer no doubt did, the genius of the concept manifested itself: Shelby American was a relatively small manufacturer and though it had a nationwide dealer network tied in to Ford’s dealers, only a small percentage of the country’s Ford dealers were Shelby-franchised. Thus, the opportunity for customers to test drive in a Shelby product was somewhat limited. Providing cars to a huge nationwide rental corporation like Hertz allowed many times the number of customers to experience the Shelby GT350.
There were, of course, multiple benefits to Hertz as well, which was the only rental company offering a real, honest-togoodness champion race car. Also, with the GT350’s optional fold-down rear seat, this sports car had a true (if slightly cramped for the two back-seaters) four-passenger carrying capacity. It seemed to be a win-win, a potential marriage made in heaven.
Shelby American started keeping notes of its discussions with Hertz in early September of 1965, although the context of the documentation suggests that talks may have been initiated a short while before then. At that time, it was noted that Hertz might purchase cars beginning the following month, and could potentially net up to 700 vehicles being sold annually to the rental company. This potential sale to Hertz was close to two hundred more cars then Shelby American’s entire 1965 production, so this was beginning to look like a very big deal for the California automaker. Toward the end of the month, the idea had apparently been pitched to Hertz in some detail: Cramer proposed that Shelby American provide a GT350 with over-the top-racing stripes and radio (Hertz would pay for the radio and Shelby would throw in the stripes as freebees); the cars would be sold to Hertz for the same price dealers paid Shelby for their cars, $3,447 plus freight and taxes.
The inclusion of stripes at no charge actually meant that Hertz got a slightly better deal than did the dealers. The optional Shelby 15-inch aluminum Cragar wheels would also be added to the package for an additional $175 and Hertz would be responsible for transportation and dealer prep costs. Shelby would guarantee a maximum depreciation on the cars of not to exceed 2.5 percent per month; this would protect Hertz’s investment. The cars would be “spotted” in the eighteen Hertz outlets across the country that offered sports cars for rent. The notes concluded with the statement that Shelby American expected an initial order for 100 cars within a few days.
In what appeared to be an information paper to Shelby American’s parent company, Ford, the details were expanded a few days later. In addition to the terms specified previously, more about the proposed project was starting to gel: the cars would be painted in Hertz’s corporate colors, black with gold stripes, which would be exclusive to Hertz and its GT350s. In order to preserve the uniqueness of this color combination, Hertz agreed to repaint each car’s stripes white when it sold the cars at the conclusion of their rental duty, which was stipulated to be no less than nine months. Hertz would pay $106 for special bright chrome wheels, which were simply chromed versions of the 14-inch Magnum 500 gray-painted wheel that was standard 1966 GT350 wheel, instead of the aluminum Cragars. Though sporty, the Cragars still rubbed on the Mustang’s small wheel openings, which was hardly an ideal situation for a rental car.
Hertz was reportedly extremely enthusiastic about the proposal, so it not only placed a tentative order for 175 cars, but it also planned to expand its Sports Car Club operations to as many as 100 locations, which Shelby American viewed as GT350 test drive locations. In the end, more than 50 Sports Car Club agencies were opened, which was far more than the original eighteen. Hertz saw the GT350 as just the vehicle to give its slumping Sports Car Club a shot in the arm, and it strongly contemplated an additional order for perhaps as many as 825 cars.
Hertz Test Drives the GT350
As with any new car sales, the test drive is often the deal clincher, when buyers get to experience the car for themselves. Shelby American believed that it was also a good business practice, so Shelby put Hertz in the driver’s seat by flying a GT350 to New York, home of the rental company’s corporate headquarters. Hertz upper management enjoyed the ride so much that a few days before Halloween, they requested a car done up in full costume: a GT350 painted black with gold racing stripes over the top of the car. Back in the day, these were called “rally stripes” but today are known as “LeMans stripes.”The gold rocker panel stripes carried the new designation for the car: GT350H, with the “H” standing for “Hertz,” of course.
Shelby American pulled one of its white near-spec 1966 cars out of stock (serial number 6S048), dressed it in black with gold stripes, and in early November, sent it on its way from Los Angeles to the Big Apple.
The GT350H program then started picking up speed as it was announced by Hertz that its new sports cars would be accompanied by a treasure trove of giveaway goodies (cocktail glasses, tote bags, garment bags, and various medallions) for renters who became members of the Sports Car Club. Hertz followed up receipt of its first prototype car with a request for a second, this one with the new-for-1966 Shelby option of an automatic transmission; 6S279 filled the order and headed east to New York. Because of their early delivery dates to Hertz, 048 and 279 were shipped with 15-inch Cragar aluminum wheels and were the only two cars of the entire Hertz fleet to wear other than chrome 14-inch wheels. Hertz indicated that the first 100-car order would be for 85 4-speed cars, the remainder with automatic transmissions and an even split between the two types of transmissions on future orders.
Hertz’s first two prototype cars enjoyed the spotlight: 6S048 went in December to Nassau in the Bahamas for the annual Speed Weeks festival. This was billed as a wintertime race, but in actuality was simply a reason for racers to enjoy some nice weather in the otherwise cold and damp part of the year; the checkered flag wasn’t nearly as important as the one with the martini glass, indicating that the bar was open. The car was photographed cavorting on the palm-lined beaches and several of these images found their way into a full-color GT350H handout brochure. Car 6S279 likewise enjoyed some fame, being the subject of an early 1966 Car and Driver magazine road test. After the footlights had dimmed, however, it was back to work for the pair, joining their steadily-arriving brethren in New York area rental duty.
Just before Thanksgiving, Hertz upped its order to 200 cars and certainly seemed eager to start receiving the new toys, as a full half of the order was due in December. A joint Ford/Shelby/Hertz proposal for an advertising campaign—one in which Shelby American would reimburse Hertz for up to $300,000 of their ad costs, while Ford, in turn, would reimburse Shelby American $215,000—was pitched to the rental company. If it was approved, an order for an additional 800 cars would follow.
One Little Change
It seemed like there was smooth sailing ahead for a large order of black and gold GT350s, but the first of many waves was soon encountered: Hertz asked that the cars be equipped with power brakes. This seemingly innocuous request began the most troublesome aspect of the entire 1,000-car Hertz deal. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple matter of Shelby American contacting Ford’s San Jose assembly plant and altering the steady incoming stream of Mustang fastbacks to include power brakes on a certain quantity. The problem was: power disc brakes weren’t yet available from Ford on a Mustang. Basically, entering uncharted waters, GT350 Project Engineer Chuck Cantwell began a search for a suitable unit and while that search was ongoing, Hertz was informed of a ballpark price for the addition of the power brakes: $89.
At about the same time, a GT350, also with an automatic transmission and not a Hertz model, was test driven by Ford executives who blessed the whole Hertz deal. Satisfied as to the car’s ultimate drivability, they noted—somewhat prophetically—that because of the car’s hard metallic brake pads in place of the standard soft organic ones, it was a bit difficult to get the Shelby stopped, and “Hertz may have a run on rentals on drag race night.” Both of these unassuming statements foretold the many headaches to come.
In early December, Shelby American was pumping out Hertz cars at a rate of about 15 a day, less brake boosters, since a satisfactory unit eluded Cantwell. The cars also lacked hoods, which is another story, dealt with previously. The chrome Magnum 500 wheels had just arrived and Shelby and Ford were discussing the additional 800 cars Hertz was contemplating. At last, on the first day of winter in 1965, Shelby American received an early Christmas present: a letter contract from Hertz for a thousand cars.
Not surprisingly, the order contained a new twist: the first 200 cars would be black with gold stripes, both above and on the rocker panels. But the remaining 800 would now be an evenly-distributed mix of the colors available on the production GT350: Wimbledon White, Candy Apple Red, Ivy Green, and Sapphire Blue. These cars would all have gold rocker panel stripes but the decision whether to include rally stripes would be made as delivery of the cars drew nearer. All cars would roll on the chrome wheels and all would have radios, but (in another change from the original plan) only the first 85 would have manual transmissions.
Sometime just after the 1,000-car contract was received, Shelby’s Phil Remington located what he believed was a satisfactory brake booster. The master cylinder in question was manufactured by a firm called Minnesota Automotive Company, which its employees referred to by the abbreviation MICO. The unit was designed for a number of industrial applications, one of the intended uses being the addition of a brake system to farm implements otherwise not so equipped. The MICO master cylinder was a two-stage unit, which used a large piston initially to displace the brake pads whereupon a smaller-diameter piston took over to increase the output pressure rapidly with little additional pedal force. Because of the unit’s internal piston-within-a-piston arrangement, it became dubbed the “piggyback” brake booster.
The somewhat oddly-shaped device was designed to be mounted to a vehicle’s firewall by a triangular bolt pattern and since the Mustang’s master cylinder attached with two bolts, a three-to-two bolt adapter bracket was fabricated from flat steel stock, bent and welded to shape. Information was furnished to Hertz warning of the unit’s unusual hard, then soft, then hard pedal feel as you progressively applied brake pedal travel; later, Shelby discovered a wide variation in pedal feel between any two piggyback-equipped cars. Nevertheless, it was the only game in town, and it cost quite a bit less than the original estimate: the unit added $39.58 to Hertz’s tab, per car. Cars equipped with power brakes started rolling out of Shelby American assembly, bound for Hertz. It seemed like the brake issue was settled. But things aren’t always what they seem.
Shelby was hampered by a shortage of vehicles to ship, especially colored cars. This cast the company in an especially bad light in the case of the Hertz contract. The shortage was due, in part, to delays in receiving Shelby’s allotment of cars from San Jose. So, in order to minimize interruptions to the outflow of cars to Hertz, Shelby American started pulling cars from its supply of already-built GT350s and converting them for Hertz use. This entailed removing the cars’ blue side stripes, adding gold rally stripes, swapping out the wheels for the chrome Hertz Magnums, and adding power brakes. Some 50 cars—originally Shelby stock units but now repurposed for Hertz use— were delivered and of this batch, Hertz had requested that 20 be delivered in Shelby’s decidedly “non-Hertz” colors of white with blue GT350 side stripes.
It is not clear whether Hertz’s request was simply to vary the color mix or that it realized that this was a more expedient means of receiving a quick infusion of cars. Nevertheless, history shows that 18 such cars (white with blue GT350 rocker panel stripes and most likely lacking top stripes) made their way into the Hertz GT350 fleet. In mid to late January, Hertz’s color requirements for their yet-to-be-built fleet became more of a moving target when they informed Shelby American that they wished to make another change: all cars after the second 200, which were a mix of red, white, blue, and green, were to be black with gold stripes.
Hertz at the Braking Point
If Shelby American thought continual changes to the color requirements were a headache, it soon became apparent that they wished all their troubles could be so trivial. Hertz started reporting issues with the cars’ brakes: it claimed there was an unusually high number of customer rear-endings that occurred when the renter—unaccustomed to a competition-based brake system that was largely ineffective until the hard shoes and pads had gotten quite warm—stepped on the brake pedal, and little happened. Several of these rear-end crunches reportedly occurred even before the GT350Hs had left the rental lot.
In early February, Shelby instituted a comparative test where one GT350 quipped with a brake booster and the standard hard pads was tested against another GT350 equipped with the standard Mustang/GT350 master cylinder and hard pads. Ford Motor Company, ever mindful of the fact that as goes Shelby American’s reputation, so goes Ford’s, initiated a series of its own tests to get to the bottom of the brake issue and get back into Hertz’s good graces. They also established a test where yet another GT350 was changed entirely back to a Mustang-based brake system: Mustang/GT350 master cylinder and soft pads. Until the results from the tests were in and analyzed, Hertz car delivery was on hold.
Unbeknownst to all involved with the comparative brake tests, however, the test was unwittingly structured so as to not find an adequate solution: with Hertz’s Executive Vice President participating, several crash stops were made with all three cars on Ford’s Dearborn test track. Almost without exception, the brake systems equipped with soft pads showed severe brake fade after several stops and this tended to vindicate Shelby American’s use of the standard GT350 brake system on the Hertz fleet. But the test didn’t replicate the conditions under which the Hertz cars were more frequently driven: at low speeds and often in city stop-and-go traffic. Had more testing been conducted under those conditions, it is possible that test results would have indicated a standard Mustang-based brake system, while inadequate for fast stops from racing speeds, was more effective for slow stops at city speeds—and more appropriate for the rental GT350. In the fitting of the brake booster, it was mistakenly believed that at issue was the hard pedal pressure of the GT350 brake system when it may well have been more the result of the race-type pads’ ineffectiveness when cold. Applying more force to the ineffective cold pads did not solve the problem as well as soft pads.
What this indicates, however, is that hindsight is often far more acute than 20-20 vision, and so, as a result of the brake tests, Hertz cars continued to be delivered with the standard GT350-based brake system and the power booster, at least for a while. At the same time, Hertz again shifted its color demands: after that group of 18 white cars with the blue rocker panel stripes, the next 230 units would be a mix of colors and none of this group would have gold rally stripes. The 200 units after that were scheduled for black with gold stripes, although at the time, Hertz was undecided. A few days later, Hertz again vacillated, requesting that application of the gold rally stripes resume as soon as possible.
Issues with the piggyback brakes continued to plague the cars, mostly in the form of complaints about a “funny” feel when stepping on the brakes, which was actually a normal operating characteristic of the aftermarket master cylinder. It may have appeared that the MICO unit was a possible solution to the Hertz brake dilemma, it clearly wasn’t the solution. Also in early February, while the brake tests were ongoing in Dearborn, another problem surfaced with the MICO contraption, this being in the adapter bracket that mounted the piggyback to the GT350 firewall: inadequate reinforcement was causing the bracket to flex and eventually crack. Shelby American designed an improved bracket that was supplied to all dealers who performed pre-delivery inspection on the Hertz cars and they were instructed to replace the brackets as soon as possible.
In something vaguely reminiscent of “we’re at a loss, we’ll do whatever you want,” Shelby American offered to continue building cars for Hertz either with or without the MICO unit, depending on Hertz’s wishes. Concurrently, another approach to the GT350H’s brake woes was devised, which consisted of a gold foil decal placed on the dashboard of the rental Shelbys, essentially warning the renter that they had to step hard if they wanted to stop. Cantwell’s verbiage of “THIS VEHICLE IS EQUIPPED WITH COMPETITION BRAKES. HEAVIER THAN NORMAL BRAKE PEDAL PRESSURE MAY BE REQUIRED,” which appeared in black on the gold foil label and was flanked with a checkerboard motif, instantly became part of the GT350H mystique. Decals were installed on GT350H dashboards on the production line and decals were sent to Hertz locations for application to already in-service cars.
With the coming of March, things settled down with the Hertz project: the use of the finicky MICO unit was discontinued after the first 400 cars or so were delivered to Hertz with the unit. Hertz also finally decided that all GT350Hs from then on would have gold rally stripes, and history shows that in the middle of the month, the last colored GT350H was shipped; all cars from that date onward, which wound up being almost three-quarters of the Hertz fleet, were black with full gold striping. In the end, GT350H production included 57 blue cars, 59 green cars, 72 white cars, and 59 red cars; the red and green cars lacked the rally stripes. It should be noted that these totals may be off by a car or two, as there are cars for which the original color isn’t known.
The New York International Automobile Show was held in April and featured a GT350H displayed along with a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Still more publicity was generated for Shelby American when actual GT350Hs were set on display at 60 major airports. And it certainly didn’t hurt publicity any when GT350Hs appeared in an episode of the TV series, I Spy, or when the hero of a major motion picture (Pete Aron, played by James Garner) used a GT350H as his daily driver in John Frankenheimer’s mega-budget racing film, Grand Prix. There was even a hint from Hertz that they might be interested in obtaining extra cars. Things were beginning to look up.
Then, also in early March, came word that the entire Hertz GT350H fleet was banned from operating within the District of Columbia by that city’s chief motor vehicle inspector. Ironically, Shelby American wasn’t notified by any formal proclamation, but instead it came courtesy of one of Shelby’s race drivers, who just happened to reside in D.C. At issue here was the use of metallic racing-type brake shoes in the cars’ rear which, when tested cold and at very slow speeds (the exact conditions of the D.C. inspection), didn’t lock up the rear wheels. This was actually proper operation of the system, but the city inspector, unfamiliar with the quirks of race pads and shoes, ordered that the cars be parked, believing that the brakes were malfunctioning.
More scrambling on the part of Shelby and a solution was devised and implemented: Cantwell returned to Los Angeles from Sebring via Washington and recommended that standard station wagon organic brake shoes be fitted to the D.C. rentals, and everyone was happy. Ironically, this was the Ford-devised configuration that Shelby American had deemed the least acceptable in the Shelby/Hertz brake tests a month earlier.
By early April, there was good news in that the entire D.C. Hertz fleet was back in business and by the third week of the month, there was some especially promising news: not only was Hertz contemplating an additional purchase of 1966 cars, but the rental company was throwing around numbers of at least 2000 1967 GT350Hs. It seemed that the brake system dilemma hadn’t substantially dampened Hertz’s enthusiasm for the GT350H. The GT350H’s brake system was still the subject of an occasional grumble from Shelby renters but Hertz seemed to accept it for what it was.
At the end of April, Shelby had just a hundred cars to go to fulfill the Hertz order when the rental company threw another brake curve ball: they requested that all units have a light installed on the dash to illuminate when the parking brake was set. You wonder about the need for such a device, given that, with the parking brake set, the parking brake handle stuck way out from under the dash. Nevertheless, Hertz was the customer, the customer is always right, and Shelby American investigated. The light would cost Hertz about $10 to install, and finding a thousand such lights would be difficult. Nothing more had been documented on the subject of the parking brake lights, although in 2011, a handful of current-day GT350H owners— interestingly enough, all owning former San Francisco rentals—reported finding either the lights or remnants of them on about a dozen cars.
By the third week of May, the Hertz deliveries were completed, but the problems weren’t: issues with the cars’ steel tube headers were starting to come in from Detroit and, not surprisingly, complaints of the cars’ brakes were coming in from the City by the Bay. Hertz also reported that its interest in any additional quantity of 1966 cars had waned.
Shelby American was keenly aware of how its corporate reputation and that of its vehicles dovetailed into the Hertz deal. Nevertheless, there must have been some concern over the fact that Shelby’s reputation was almost totally in the hands of Hertz and out of Shelby’s own control. That concern turned to absolute horror in May when Al Dowd, Shelby American’s Competition Manager, reported back on the results of a trio of Hertz cars he rented while on business trips. He described none of the cars as being anywhere near remotely pleasant to drive, and he described the last of the threesome to be in “deplorable mechanical condition.”
The front end was out of alignment, the steering wheel shimmied so badly at 60 mph that it was impossible to hold with one hand, exhaust fumes filled the cockpit, the engine did not idle below 1,000 rpm, and the car emitted large clouds of oil smoke after idling for just a short while. And all this on a car with less than 400 miles on the odometer! Upon returning the car the following day, Dowd queried some of the Hertz maintenance people and across the board, none of them said they had never received any instruction on the care and feeding of the high performance Shelby.
Dowd’s findings were summarized in a memo to Pete Kennedy, Shelby American’s Hertz Program Coordinator, which concluded with the admonition that the situation must be rectified immediately, as Shelby American had the most to lose. He warned that every Hertz renter must be considered a potential Shelby American customer; after all, that was the very reason for initiating the deal with Hertz, in the first place. And if he had rented that car from Hertz, he would have no interest in exploring the purchase of a similar car from Shelby American.
Out With the Old
Just shortly after the Hertz delivery was completed, Shelby American sat down and started planning the 1967 model-year Shelby. Within the documentation of those discussions was the still-hopeful note that the homologation quantity (the number of units required for sale to qualify that variant for racing) for the 1967 GT350 competition version that never materialized would be satisfied by the 1,000-car Hertz build, which also never materialized. This was not the 2,000-plus units talked about earlier, but it was still a very promising quantity.
Complaints about the cars’ braking ability—or rather, the lack thereof—still flowed in from Hertz lots across the country and by fall, the issue had elevated to the extreme upper management level. A meeting was held between the Hertz Corporation and Shelby American, the former being represented by its Executive Vice President and Mr. Shelby representing the latter; more “working level” attendees from both corporations attended, as well. The meeting covered a host of topics from determining Hertz’s requirements for the purchase of 1967 cars to plans for disposing of the 1966 fleet to improving the low-speed stopping characteristics of the GT350Hs. Hertz also solicited Shelby American’s recommendation for a suitable snow tire!
On the subject of stopping the GT350H, Shelby American indicated that the car was designed with a brake system capable of withstanding the rigors of high-speed driving. Hertz indicated that they were quite willing to abandon the ability to stop the car on a racetrack in lieu of the ability to stop the car in city traffic. Shelby American supplied dealers with kits of soft brake pads and shoes and that these would be installed on the Hertz fleet. Finally, almost a full year after the GT350H entered Hertz service, it was about to get low-speed stopability. Shelby, however, gave something of a “zinger” by pointing out that Hertz did sign off on the GT350H brake system when they signed on the dotted line. Hertz gave Shelby some bad news, that being that their once-talked-about buy of 2,000plus 1967 GT350Hs had now been pared down to just 500.
As for disposing of the 1966 Hertz fleet, Shelby American indicated that it would assist Hertz in doing so. This was not corporate generosity, however, but well-thought-out plan devised at the very beginning of the Hertz program to ensure that a nightmare situation for Shelby didn’t materialize: the agreement between Hertz and Shelby American stipulated that the rental cars must remain in service for at least nine months. With GT350H units starting to hit the Hertz lots in December of 1965, nine months later would have been September 1966. At this time, the arrival of the 1967 Shelbys would not yet have occurred, or would just be occurring, and Shelby would still have brand-new 1966 cars not yet sold. Hertz dumping a thousand slightly-used versions of the same car Shelby was selling new would have had been a disaster for the Los Angeles automaker.
Thus, the “guaranteed depreciation” concept was included in the purchase agreement, Hertz bought the cars from Shelby, but at the end of their rental life, they were sold back at a predetermined amount, less appropriate wear and tear. Much of the “wear and tear” was the result of some hard driving, but some repair costs were the result of incidents that occurred while the cars weren’t even moving. “Borrowing” parts off of cars in the Hertz fleet seemed to be a perpetual problem as a good percentage of the refurbishment costs at the end of the Hertz program were necessitated by missing parts and, in fact, a handful of Hertz cars became the target for Midnight Auto Parts in Chicago when hood pins, gas caps, air cleaners, tachometers, seat belts, and even distributors were lifted from cars being stored by Hertz prior to entering rental duty. Not all repair costs were the result of operating the cars.
While it was actually a purchase with a guaranteed buyback since Hertz actually bought and took title of the cars then sold them back to Shelby American, the effect was very similar to the rental company renting the GT350Hs from Shelby for nine months. This approach actually benefitted both companies: Hertz did not have a large amount of capital tied up while its fleet was being disposed of, and Shelby American was able to maintain control of used Shelby prices.
The disposal would be initiated in early November, when Hertz and Shelby were also expecting to begin negotiations on the 1967 fleet purchase. History shows that only one of those events materialized, as the 1967 GT350H program faded into oblivion. The once-hopeful buy of 2,000 or more cars followed a straight line decline, passing through 1,000, then 500, and finally ended up at zero. It would be two years before the Shelby/Hertz romance was rekindled.
Used But Not Quite Abused
As planned, at the end of 1966, two events seemingly at odds with each other began simultaneously: at last, the GT350H was about to get the oh-so-elusive quality of low-speed stopping, and Hertz began disbanding the GT350H fleet. Admittedly, it does sound somewhat absurd to fix the problem with the cars at the same time the cars with that problem were sold off, but this was the unfortunate result of a coincidence in timing: with the Hertz contract stipulating that the cars remain in service for at least nine months (this pertained to the individual vehicles, all of which entered service at different times), it was simply a matter of timing that had the brake issue not solved until the cars were starting to exit the Hertz rolls.
The mechanics of the GT350H turn-in worked like this: a series of Shelby American dealers across the country were designated as turn-in points for the nearby Hertz GT350Hs; one such collection point was Shelby American’s own facility at Los Angeles International Airport. Hertz took the cars to those locations and the dealers, acting as essentially the agent for Shelby American proper, had the cars inspected by an independent appraiser. The amount of damages, if any, were noted, reported back to Shelby American and usually repaired by the dealer, although some cars didn’t get any refurbishment until later on.
The refurbishment cost was deducted from the amount due to Hertz by Shelby American and payment to Hertz was issued, based on the guaranteed depreciated amount of the cars, less refurbishment costs. At the beginning of the deal, Hertz was guaranteed a payback of 67.9 percent on each car, or $2,589 on an average purchase price of $3,815. Damages to the cars, however, reduced this to an average of $2,484, or 65.1 percent of the original price. Damages per car ranged from zero to over $400 in some cases, but the across-the-board average was right around $100 per car, dispelling the myth that the GT350Hs were largely abused while in the Hertz’s rental fleet.
In short order, Shelby dealers were beginning to amass used rental cars. Used car dealers (some Shelby American dealers and some not) visited the collection locations and were able to purchase the cars for resale. Some of the collection points were visited by large auction houses, which bought the ex-rentals two dozen at a time. The removal from service and turnin of a thousand cars didn’t happen overnight; in fact, the Hertz/Shelby contract prohibited it. Since the cars entered service on varying dates, their nine-month in-service requirement necessitated that the cars come out of service at varying dates, as well. This made it difficult to pinpoint exactly when Hertz took its last GT350H out of service, but warranty claims for the brake pad swap suggest that this could have been as late as April of 1967.
Two months before that, however, in February, the Ford Motor Company stepped in and agreed to assist Shelby American in disposing of their accumulated GT350H collection. It isn’t clear whether Ford’s decision was premeditated or perhaps based on too slow disposal of the cars by Shelby; nevertheless, the Blue Oval was now a full partner in the “rent-a-racer” disposal effort.
By late April, Ford’s dealer network had been informed of the disposal, which allowed sales of the used cars for $2,550 reconditioned or consigned to dealers for $2,600. Although Hertz purchased the cars at wholesale for around $3,815, Ford, in an effort to further entice dealers and potential customers, prominently mentioned the car’s new retail value of $4,756 in sales advertising. The effect was minimal, however, and in June, yet another price reduction occurred offering the cars for $2,450. The price reductions suggest that Ford had a strong desire to finish up with the disposal and move on to other things.
In late June, Ford ponied up with yet another sales pitch, this one being the “Visibility 500” sales contest. The competition was one final push to eradicate the used GT350H fleet, at which time almost half still remained. The objective was for the used vehicle manager of each sales district (Boston, New York, Newark, Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia) to sell as many of the black and gold Shelbys as possible. Total sales were then compared to a previously-established sales objective for the district, which earned points in the contest, thereby determining the winner. The ultimate winner was the owner of a Ford dealership in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and people still remember Marv Neely’s Ford dealership and the fleet of ex-Hertz cars clustered around his place, awaiting sale.
As the cars were gradually sold off, Neely, a Shelby enthusiast, kept the nicest one for himself. He owned 6S1886 until the mid 1980s and today the car (sharing the New York Auto Show spotlight with the new 2006 Shelby GT-H) is still a pristine, unrestored example of the Hertz fleet. But despite Neely’s and other district managers’ best efforts, Ford found itself still the proud owner of a fleet of slightly used GT350Hs. So, when the winner of “Visibility 500” was announced in August yet another price drop ensued, this one to $2,300 and in the end, some of the remaining few ex-Hertz cars were sold for as low as $2,200—more than $1,600 less than Hertz’s original purchase price! After two months of Shelby American’s efforts followed by seven months of Ford’s efforts to sell off the rental fleet, by late fall of 1967, the fleet had finally been sold off.
But the stories and urban legends surrounding the rent-aracer were only just getting started.
Separating Fact from Fiction
Over the years, there have been myriad myths and legends surrounding the car, some dealing with major aspects of the program and others that tend more toward minutiae. Shelby American, in general, tends to be surrounded by stories that made for great bench racing, and perhaps the uniqueness of the GT350H further exacerbated that tendency, but it does seem that the rent-a-racer was accompanied by more tall tales than were Shelby’s other endeavors. The telling of the GT350H story, by default, explained and dispelled some of the misconceptions—such as that all the cars were black or that all had manual transmissions—but others can only be dealt with on a myth-by-myth basis. Now with factory documentation firmly in hand, one by one, those legends can be either confirmed or (in most cases) refuted.
There have long persisted rumors that there were GT350Hs delivered to Hertz equipped with Paxton superchargers and other goodies, such as AM-FM radios, real wood steering wheels, or deluxe Shelby cast-aluminum wheels, which were supposedly exclusively for the use of Hertz executives. This is simply not true and can be substantiated by the factory invoices of every GT350H, none of which list any such options. At less than $700, a Paxton was a pretty pricey option in 1966, and if any car were delivered to Hertz so equipped, it would have been noted on the car’s sales invoice and Hertz would have been charged accordingly. Shelby American would have not tossed in such a costly option as a freebee; the same holds true for lower-cost options, such as FM radios, steering wheels or road wheels. For years, there was no factory information available about the Hertz program that disproved the story, so adding such options to a Hertz car and claiming originality was a way to individualize a specific GT350H and increase its value. But with the existence of factory documentation, today, that practice is all but impossible to pull off.
A persistent set of rumors had it that there were features unique to the Hertz cars and that a former Hertz unit could be identified by one or more of these features. One of them was one, two, or three pop rivets in the underside of one side, the other side, or both sides’ drip rails. Based on logic, this has always been questionable, as whapping a couple of rivets into the underside of the drip rails certainly seems an odd means of identifying someone’s vehicle. Nevertheless, the myth persisted. The debunking of this legend was courtesy of a former Mustang assembly line worker who explained the rivets: the decorative drip rail trim on the Mustang was designed to snap into place under the drip rail, which was part of the roof structure.
On occasion, the fit of the metal trim was such that it didn’t “snug” up against the underside of the drip rail, and the resultant low-hanging trim strip interfered with opening the car’s door with the window fully rolled up. The solution was to install the rivets to pull the drip rail trim against the underside of the drip rail. The non-uniform installation of the rivets (either one, two, or three on either one, the other or both sides) was simply the result of necessity; if only one rivet did the job and it was only needed on one side, that car got only one rivet. This was a Mustang-driven feature, not one in any way connected with the cars that were to go to Shelby or Hertz. Likely, an early observation of a GT350H or two that just happened to need riveted drip rail trim led to the conclusion that the rivets were a Hertz-unique identification method. Mustangs have also been seen with riveted drip rails, lending further credence to the explanation.
Another Hertz-unique myth claimed that the cars’ AM radios installed in Hertz cars were special units and were lettered DELUXE on the faceplate of the radio. In actual fact, Mustang radios were manufactured by several vendors: Philco, Motorola, and American Radio being the three most prevalent. Although the geometry of the radio’s face was dictated by the cutout in the Mustang’s metal dash, vendors had some liberty to alter the graphics of the radio’s faces. American Radio simply used the term DELUXE on the face of their radios while Philco’s said “FORD” and Motorola’s carried MOTOROLA lettering.
The third of these supposedly Hertz-unique features was an all-steel hood. While originally planned for the entire production run of GT350s, which would have included those GT350s destined for Hertz duty, fitment of all-steel hoods was sporadic, driven by the inability of the hood supplier to deliver a consistent product. While issues with the metal bonnets were being sorted out, fiberglass and steel hoods were installed depending on what was on-hand, simply to keep production of the cars flowing. There was never any planned or resultant hood usage keyed to Hertz rental status.
These urban legends likely got their beginnings when there wasn’t a large collector car hobby encompassing the Shelby cars. Seeing a GT350H at a car show in, say, 1974 was a rarity. And with such a small sampling of cars to be seen, misconceptions got started based on a feature that that one car might have either been equipped with originally or was added by a previous owner. The conclusion, based on seeing a single car, was often drawn that that configuration was across the board for the entire population of cars.
It has often been written that Hertz, for some unknown set of circumstances, never got all the cars they ordered and while at first glance there seems to be some level of absurdity to that statement, it actually is completely true, although not to the extent claimed. For years, the rumor persisted that there were only 936 Hertz cars of the 1,000 actually delivered to Hertz. With 936 being so unusual a quantity, it was difficult to believe that that number was simply made up out of thin air. A likely source for that number was a set of invoices pertaining to the brake pad replacement campaign wherein the quantity of 936 was noted. That quantity pertained to the number of sets of brake pads shipped to Shelby American dealers one day and was possibly misinterpreted to indicate the total number of Hertz cars received.
But there really were three Hertz cars that were built as such but never made it into the Hertz fleet. These cars were shipped from Shelby American to the dealer responsible for performing pre-delivery inspection prior to Hertz receiving the cars, but for reasons unknown, the cars never left the dealers. After several months, Hertz was issued credit for the cars and the cars were re-sold by those dealers. So the claim that “Hertz never got all the cars they ordered” is actually true, but for just three cars, not the 64 originally claimed.
Perhaps the most prolific rumors attached to the rent-aracer fleet—in fact, the very reason for the moniker—surround renters who supposedly drove the cars in the manner in which Shelby American intended, but which Hertz did not necessarily condone. These stories tell of cars being rented from Hertz, surreptitiously raced at a Saturday or Sunday event (some even boasted that roll bars were temporarily welded in to the cars’ interiors) then innocently were returned to the Hertz lot on Sunday evening, often emitting strange sounds from the engine or transmission.
The tales run the gamut from the sublime to the downright ridiculous, with one farfetched version having it that a GT350H on a trailer was stopped on a New York highway, bound for
J.F.K. airport, not for speeding, but rather for the mechanic who was frantically bolting the engine back into the car while the rig was in motion! With the renter being handed the keys to more than 300 hp, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how these fantastic tales were concocted, but always in question was whether there was any validity to the wild tales at all. And the surprising answer is, yes, some of these extraordinary works of fiction are actually based, sometimes very closely, on much more mundane works of fact.
Many of the rumors and legends concerning the weekend racing of the rental cars deal with the typical “rent-race-return” scenario, and while these stories abound, confirming them is difficult, but not impossible. One such well-photographed instance shows a dapper blazer-attired Ken Miles driving what is presumed to be a carload of motorsports journalists on what is also presumed to have been the ride of their lives, around Riverside Raceway. No details of the event survive, save for a handful of dated photographs taken just a few days before Miles’ surprise GT40 MKII roadster win at Sebring. The car’s license plates indicate Hertz ownership rather than a Shelby American demonstrator or company car. What is not known, was whether this was carried out with the blessing of Hertz or if this was a clandestine event. Either way, evidence exists that suggests at least a few GT350Hs saw some track time while in Hertz’s fleet.
Another somewhat unusual variation of rent-race-return instance occurred in the summer of 1966 in West Virginia. A Cobra owner was a member of a local motorsports club putting on a concours car show; the next day featured an autocross, held in the parking lot of the Charleston Civic Center. Seeking an interesting display vehicle for the car show, the local Hertz agency was queried as to the possibility of putting one of their five GT350Hs in the show. The response was not only an affirmative but an enthusiastic one, accompanied by the request that the car be driven in the autocross! Photographs prove that this did indeed occur, the event timing sheet provided further confirmation.
It is interesting that in both of these instances, it is very likely that Hertz was fully cognizant of the goings-on with their rental cars.
Another series of myths exist, extolling that GT350Hs were rented, then a part or parts (some legends have it the entire engine) were removed from the Hertz car and installed on a race car, only to be reinstalled just before handing the car back to the Hertz lady. Some embellished versions even have it that the GT350H was returned to the Hertz lot with a low-performance 289 or 260 in place of the car’s original HiPo.
One such example of “rent-remove-race-reinstall-return” is not embellished fantasy, but is completely true: Ohioan Tom Yeager was the first racer to purchase one of Shelby American’s then-new 1965 GT350 competition models, what is more popularly known as an R-Model. By 1966, he had sold 5R094 and was then campaigning a Mustang coupe in the Trans-Am race series. At a race in Marlboro, Maryland, in August of that year, the Sapphire Blue notchback succumbed to carburetor maladies. Mechanic Tom Greatorex located a suitable carburetor not otherwise engaged: it was resting comfortably beneath the hood of a black and gold-striped fastback Mustang in the nearby parking lot. The car, of course, was a GT350H and it was the rental of SCCA director John Bishop.
Greatorex performed a clandestine carburetor replacement, borrowing the rental’s carb. Yeager didn’t win but he did finish the race, with Bishop none the wiser – although after the race both Toms fessed up to Bishop and the trio enjoyed a good laugh, which they still do to this day. It is ironic that this was the very same John Bishop that only a year and half earlier had coached Carroll Shelby on how to turn Ford’s new Mustang into a sports car. You cannot help but wonder: if Shelby and Bishop had not chatted, would Greatorex have been removing the carburetor from a Hertz rental Corvette instead?
Another documented tale of a Hertz car being used as a potential race car spare parts source involves New York Cobra racer Mel Wentzel. Mel had flown to Los Angeles to catch up with his Cobra that had been trailered to the west coast by a friend for a race at Riverside Raceway. The prearranged plan had Shelby American supplying Wentzel with the loan of a company GT350 for the race weekend, but on arrival, Mel found all the available GT350s already spoken for. It was imperative that Wentzel have a GT350 for his loaner car, although he couldn’t say why. Perhaps feeling some guilt at not being able to deliver a GT350 loaner, Shelby exercised its clout and was able to secure the use of a Hertz GT350H from the Los Angeles Hertz lot on the other side of the airport.
On picking up the rent-a-racer, Wentzel’s mechanic, Richard J. Kopec, went to work installing a trailer hitch on the car that Mel had brought with him in his luggage. Kopec also installed a plug in the transmission to prevent oil leakage when the speedometer cable was disconnected because miles enjoyed behind the wheel of a GT350H were not free. The necessity for a GT350 or GT350H had to do with Wentzel’s somewhat limited budget: the car (particularly the car’s HiPo 289, the same basic engine that propelled Wentzel’s Cobra race car) would provide spare parts should the race car encounter mechanical difficulties. Fortunately for Wentzel, and Hertz,his Cobra ran fine and the Hertz car didn’t even have its hood raised during Mel’s west coast stay. It is an unusual twist of fate that had mechanic Kopec, some twenty-plus years later, becoming editor Kopec, editing multiple editions of the Shelby American Automobile Club’s Shelby Registry, placing him in the unique position of editing a story in which he was an original participant.
Myths, stories, rumors, and legends are influenced by the passage of time; as the bottom half of the hour glass fills with sand, the tales often get taller. That seems to have been borne out as the true facts of several rent-race-return tales have been explored in detail. You wonder, however, about the timeline of the embellishment of these tales; in other words, how long was it before the sometimes rather ordinary details began to become twisted and bent into extraordinariness. There is one instance where that question can be answered and it concerns Pennsylvania racer Ray Heppenstal.
An exceptional 1968 book on the history of Ford’s involvement in motorsports tells how Heppenstal, for his Falcon race car in the 1967 Daytona race, which also was ongoing as the book was being written, used the engine that had been removed from a Hertz Shelby that Ray had rented. Some years before his death, Ray was queried as to that incident in the hopes that the often-elusive—and sadly, still-elusive—serial number of the Hertz car be deciphered. Ray explained that the book had it all wrong: while it is technically correct that his Falcon was powered by the engine from an ex-Hertz Shelby, it came from a wrecked GT350H he had purchased for parts, and was not, as the popular myth recounted, from an active-duty Hertz car. In this instance, the story and the embellishment thereof both left the starting gate when the green flag fell.
What these documented events show is that the wild tales of the rental cars being raced are not complete fabrications at all, but rather seem to be embellishments of much more sedate events that actually transpired. The stories really did happen; it is only the extent to which they have grown and become more colorful. With all the stories of how the Hertz fleet was constantly victimized by Mario Andretti wannabees clarified, the final myth to the Hertz story also cries for clarification, that being that Hertz lost its shirt on the GT350H program. In fact, and despite what common sense and those wild tales may suggest, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Bottom Line
The actual fact is that Hertz made tons of money on the deal: well over a million bucks. Crunching the numbers shows how the initial “how Hertz lost its shirt” myth may have gotten its roots: Hertz purchased the cars at a cost of $3,815,110 for the fleet of 1,000, then was to have sold them back to Shelby American at a guaranteed buyback price of $2,589,450. Damages over and above normal wear and tear for the fleet, however, reduced the buyback price to $2,483,820. All told, the depreciation on the cars, plus the extra damages cost Hertz $1,331,290. But that loss ignores the revenue generated by the cars, which was not exactly small potatoes. It is estimated, from the warranty and service paperwork extant on the Hertz cars today, that each GT350H was driven an average of 8,397 miles, which is fully in line with period advertising on the cars that, at turn-in time, advertised the mileage of the ex-rental fleet as ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 miles per car. That 8,397 miles per car, at an average mileage rate of sixteen cents a mile netted Hertz $1,343,520, and this amount almost exactly cancelled the Hertz loss on the depreciated amount of the fleet. But there is still one calculation to be performed, admittedly containing some estimates and assumptions, but nonetheless it is felt to be a valid approach: based on the average mileage driven, the time in-service of the individual vehicles, and the estimated mileage driven per rental occasion, it is calculated that each vehicle was in service for just under 90 days over the course of its rental life (the actual calculation works out to 84 days). At $16 per day average, the daily rental charge alone netted Hertz $1,344,000.
Deducting a few dollars for maintenance not covered by Shelby’s factory warranty, it can be said with a good degree of confidence that the GT350H program generated over a million and a quarter dollars for Hertz; not bad for a program with the “money pit” image that it had. Nor should the benefit to Shelby American be understated. Shelby’s original goal of the Hertz program was to provide increased awareness of Shelby American’s products, awareness that they could not have achieved alone. With the GT350H (and therefore, the GT350) test drive locations being expanded considerably, courtesy of Hertz, to something like 60 major airports, the amount of floor traffic merely walking past a parked Shelby GT350 was increased by orders of magnitude. While there is no doubt that GT350H program may well have some annoyance and cost to Shelby American, you cannot help but imagine that this would have been vastly outpaced by the advertising benefit to the company.
Factory paperwork finally allows a detailed and factual account of one of the most colorful chapters in the Shelby American story to now be truthfully told. The basic story of the high-performance rental car cries for embellishment and exaggeration, and that is what the GT350H story has been a victim of since the first day of the program. The GT350H program did not run smoothly for Shelby, nor did it for Hertz, but the true story is far from the financial and mechanical disaster it has often been portrayed as.
Of course, there were rough spots in the Shelby/Hertz road, but given the type of venture, this could be expected. At issue was the co-mingling of two apparently less-than-compatible worlds: one of high-volume, routine maintenance of regular vehicles, the other of high-performance, somewhat finicky cars and engines. You could easily see how this happened: like a kid on Christmas morning, Hertz was awed by the prospect of a bright, shiny, jet black and gold fleet of sports cars for its perhaps-slumping Sports Car Club, the only such cars in the entire rental industry. Hertz simply wasn’t aware of the care and feeding of race-inspired engines and suspensions and transmissions, and was a little out of its element in maintaining the cars. As a result, the cars got something less than the maintenance they demanded, and tended to be something of a maintenance headache for Hertz. As the cars began seeing rental duty, it became apparent that while Hertz may have thought they wanted to rent a real sports car, this came with its own set of problems. They put on a brave face but some years later conceded that their experience with the high-performance GT350H, while certainly lucrative, was for the most part an unpleasant one.
Buying a used rental car has always come with something of a stigma, and the GT350H was no exception. When Hertz was finished renting the cars, they were sold back to Shelby American for a pre-determined depreciated amount, and Shelby in turn reconditioned the cars and sold them as used cars. As enthusiasts picked up the cars, many owners didn’t want word getting around that they had bought an ex-rental and some vehemently denied any connection with the rental program, despite the fact that the cars were mechanically identical to Shelby’s production product. For quite some time (well into the 1980’s), ex-Hertz cars carried with them the reputation of somehow being inferior to their non-rental brethren. Accompanying that reputation was a somewhat lesser book value on the resale market. But gradually, GT350H values began to equalize, and eventually they surpassed those of the non-Hertz cars. Today, the GT350H “rent-a-racer” occupies a special place in Shelby American history, commensurate with its unique history.
1966 GT350 HERTZ PRODUCTION STATISTICS
Body Style: 2-door fastback
Quantity Built: 1,001
Colors Available: Wimbledon White* (7.2% of total build) Sapphire Blue (5.7% of total build) Ivy Green** (5.9% of total build) Candy Apple Red** (5.9% of total build) Raven Black (73.6% of total build) Unknown (1.7% of total build) * Includes 18 cars delivered in white with blue “GT350” stripes ** Red and green cars lacked gold top LeMans stripes
Interior Colors Available: Black (100.0% of total build)
Average price paid by Hertz: $3,815
Factory Options Selected for use on GT350Hs: Automatic transmission (most cars), fold-down rear seat (all cars), radio (all cars), top LeMans stripes (most cars)
Running Production Changes: Early cars: Lowering of front A-arms and Koni shock absorbers gradually discontinued. Aluminum-cased T-10s on first prototype plus 85 production cars. Tachometers changed to types with COBRA logo at the bottom. Cars with automatic transmission used Holley 715 carburetor (same type as 4-speed cars). Serial numbers hand-stamped on 1965-type serial plates. Standard wheel was chrome 14-inch Magnum 500 wheel (first two cars delivered with 1965-type Shelby Cragar 15-inch aluminum and chrome wheels). Steel-framed hood with fiberglass top interspersed with some all-steel hoods. Small-letter COBRA intake, Buddy Bar (sand-cast, open-letter type) valve covers, override traction bars and Koni shock absorbers. MICO piggyback brake booster master cylinder fitted to approximately first 400 cars. Early cars delivered in colors.
Late cars: Traction bars changed to underride style, valve covers changed to black die-cast (solid-letter) types. Cars with automatic transmission used Autolite 460 carburetor on aluminum COBRA intake. Serial numbers machine-stamped on tags similar to 1965 style, but with pre-printed “6S” in serial number blank. Use of steel-framed hood with fiberglass top gave way to all-steel hoods. Later cars delivered in black/ gold color scheme.
Written by Greg Kolasa and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks