Unquestionably, the Shelby Mustang is one of those rare American automotive icons that have transcended the collector car hobby, becoming a full-fledged popular culture phenomenon in the process. But the foundation of the legendary car, often lost in its now-mythic lore, was a more modest racing initiative intended to give Ford’s new Mustang a marketing edge over its anticipated competitors, the Barracuda and the Camaro.
As is widely known to even casual automotive enthusiasts today, Ford approached Cobra maestro Carroll Shelby in mid-1964 to oversee the program, and details were soon finalized for the provision of fastback-bodied Mustangs, a new body style for 1965. Shelby would homologate a street production run of at least 100 examples of the newly dubbed GT350 so that the car could qualify for SCCA B/Production competition. The ruggedly sporty GT350 street cars featured an upgraded suspension and brakes, with an un-tuned version of Ford’s famous 289 Hi-Po motor, which Shelby had recently utilized to great success in the Cobras. With just a hint of refinement in items like an elegant wood-rimmed steering wheel, the GT350 convincingly mimicked European GT sports car sensibilities while offering unbridled American horsepower and race-inspired weight distribution, epitomized by the placement of the battery and the fuel filler in the trunk.
As rugged and rare as the GT350 street cars were, though, they paled in comparison to the competition examples that were further modified for racing, of which only 36 were produced, including the two prototypes. These R-models arrived in stock-form from the San Jose factory, with even more equipment stripped away, absent of steel hoods and latches, rear seats, radios, heaters, an exhaust system, windows and rear glass, door panels, headliners, sound deadeners, and badging. From this blank slate, Shelby conducted the rigorous GT350 suspension tuning and has now extensively modified the motor. The famous Hi-Po engines were removed and disassembled, with the heads being shipped to Valley Head Service for porting and polishing. Upon return, the motor was internally rebalanced and rebuilt to blueprint specifications with the installation of a competition camshaft.
The cooling system was upgraded with a larger radiator and oil cooler, and an aluminum plenum was fitted to funnel air from the hood scoop to the Holley carburetor, which fed a new aluminum intake manifold. Body modifications included a new fiberglass front air dam in place of the bumper, Plexiglass windows and rear glass, and aluminum covers over the former c-pillar vents. Built in three separate batches during 1965 and early-1966, the R-models were completed with the re-installation of the engines, which were often installed irrespective of the car from which they originally came, an identification issue that was solved with a brand new Shelby American data plate featuring a newly assigned chassis number.
According to the Shelby American Automobile Club register, this heart-stopping and powerful R-model was date-ordered by the company on March 18, 1965, slightly more than a month after Ken Miles’ successful R-model debut, a victory at Green Valley Raceway. Shipped from Ford’s San Jose plant on May 20, this car was received by Shelby American two days later, and they began factory modifications on June 24, with work order number 17528. Completed on February 22, 1966, as an example of the third batch of R-models.
Part of the RM Auctions event in Arizona in January, 2013.
347 cu. in. OHV V-8 engine with aluminum heads, four-barrel 800 CFM carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, live axle rear suspension with leaf springs and traction bar, and front disc and rear drum brakes. Wheelbase: 108 in.
Source: RM Auctions Photo Credit: Copyright Neil Fraser