Bowing in January 1965, the GT-350 was a special high-performance 2+2 conceived and built at Ford's behest by Carroll Shelby of Cobra sports-car fame.

The 1965 Shelby Mustang

During the Ford Mustang's highly successful initial model year, an even more exciting and capable model premiered at California's Riverside Raceway on January 27, 1965. Though created by Carroll Shelby, the GT-350 was instigated by Lee Iacocca, who wanted a Corvette-beater for Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) B-Production racing. The idea was to give every Mustang a "competition-proved" aura in line with Ford's "Total Performance" racing and ad campaign, then nearing high tide.

Shelby laid down the specifics in the fall of 1964. SCCA required that at least 100 cars be built to qualify as production, and Ford sent that many 2+2 fastbacks to Shelby's small facility in Venice, California, for conversion. The first dozen GT-350s were hand-built by Christmas, the remaining 88 by New Year's Day (a feat that much impressed SCCA officials).

Shelby laid down the specifics in the fall of 1964. SCCA required that at least 100 cars be built to qualify as production, and Ford sent that many 2+2 fastbacks to Shelby's small facility in Venice, California, for conversion. The first dozen GT-350s were hand-built by Christmas, the remaining 88 by New Year's Day (a feat that much impressed SCCA officials).

Each GT-350 started as a white fastback supplied with the Hi-Po V-8, four-speed gearbox, a stouter rear axle from the big Galaxie, and no hood, grille, side trim, or wheel covers. Shelby muscled up the engine to 306 horsepower via a "hi-rise" manifold, larger carburetor, free-flow exhaust, and other changes.

Additional component upgrades included Koni adjustable shocks, a bigger front sway bar, rear torque arms (added to lessen axle hop in hard takeoffs), Shelby-cast 6 x 15 alloy wheels, 7.75 x 15 Goodyear Blue Dot performance tires, larger brakes with sintered-metallic friction surfaces, and fast-ratio steering on relocated upper-suspension control arms. A hefty steel tube was added to bridge the front shock towers to lessen body flex in hard cornering.

Shelby installed a fiberglass hood with functional air scoop and competition-style tiedowns and applied Ford-blue racing stripes above the rocker panels and atop the hood, roof, and deck. Inside were three-inch competition seatbelts, mahogany-rim racing steering wheel providing more arm room, and steering-column-mount tachometer and oil-pressure gauge.

Omitting the rear seat in favor of a spare tire saved weight -- and helped the car meet racing rules.

To meet racing rules for "sports cars" (defined as two-seaters), the stock rear seat was omitted and the spare tire lashed in its place, though Shelby offered a different bolt-in bench seat as an option.

As planned, there was also a race-ready GT-350R. This used basically the same high-tune 289 as competition Cobras, which meant 340-360 horsepower. A low-restriction side-exit exhaust system helped, as did replacing the front bumper with a fiberglass airdam containing a large central air slot.

Also to save weight, the gearbox got an aluminum case, plastic replaced glass for door and rear windows, and the cockpit was stripped down to a single racing seat, roll bar, and safety harness. Super-duty suspension and tires were naturally included, and a "locker" differential was installed. A few GT-350Rs were built with all-disc brakes and ultra-wide tires under flared fenders.

The street GT-350 was priced at $4547, about $1500 more than a standard V-8 Mustang. A real sizzler, it could storm 0-60 mph in around 6.5 seconds, hit 130-135 mph, and make genuine track-star moves. The R-model was even faster -- and at a nominal $5950 an incredible bargain for a showroom car that could race straight to victory lane.

Though no GT-350 was easy to drive, orders quickly overwhelmed the small Venice shop, prompting the newly formed Shelby American, Inc., to move into two huge hangars at nearby Los Angeles International Airport in the spring of 1965. Model-year production totaled 562, of which an estimated 25 were racing versions.

The desired Corvette-beater featured a 306-bhp "Cobra-tuned" V-8, along with bigger tires, wheels, and brakes.

Mustang seemed born to race and did so even before it went on sale. In late winter of 1963-64, Ford prepped several hardtops for the European rally circuit. The effort was sincere enough, but the team's only major win came in the Tour de France, where Peter Proctor and Peter Harper finished one-two in class.

Mustang was more successful in drag racing, where 2+2s stuffed full of Ford big-block 427 V-8s racked up numerous wins in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) A/FX class and, less often, as "funny cars." Ford itself jumped in for the '65 season, fielding wild "altereds" with two-inch-shorter wheelbases. And not unexpectedly, GT-350s tore up the tracks -- and more than a few Corvettes -- winning the National B-Production Championship three years running (1965-67).

Mustang was more successful in drag racing, where 2+2s stuffed full of Ford big-block 427 V-8s racked up numerous wins in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) A/FX class and, less often, as "funny cars." Ford itself jumped in for the '65 season, fielding wild "altereds" with two-inch-shorter wheelbases. And not unexpectedly, GT-350s tore up the tracks -- and more than a few Corvettes -- winning the National B-Production Championship three years running (1965-67).

On the road, the track, and the sales charts, Mustang was off to a galloping start. The trick now was to keep it fresh without tainting the recipe. Find out on the next page how Ford addressed that sensitive assignment.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.