Shelby GT350R - Ford's power and Shelby's talent have created a perfect racing car
In the world of racing cars, the Shelby GT350R holds a special place. Not only because it was very successful, but also because it was one of the first, if not the first turn-key race car. In short, it was a vehicle which could be raced right off the showroom floor. This car was the perfect blend of Ford’s new Mustang and Carroll Shelby’s talent, engineering skills, and vision.
Mustang was enormous sales success but Ford wanted to go racing
Shelby GT350R’s story starts in 1964 after the presentation of the Ford Mustang. The Mustang proved to be a highly popular model right from the start but it needed a true performance version to complete its sports image. The regular models had reliable mechanics but nothing that could attack Chevrolet Corvette on the streets and on the track.
Shelby had the know-how and Ford had the funds
Ford called Carroll Shelby, who owed them a favor. Shelby was already successful at building Shelby Cobra sports cars powered by the Ford 289 engine and four-speed transmission. Ford asked Shelby to use his skills and knowledge to turn the Mustang into a real sports car but Shelby didn’t want to do that since he feared that developing a Mustang model would hinder his Cobra racing performance. However, Ford Motor Company is not exactly the kind of company that one can say ‘no’ to and by the end of 1964, Carroll Shelby was involved in the Shelby Mustang project.
Heavily modified Mustang has become Shelby GT350R
Since the original Mustang had a pretty modest chassis, suspension, and brakes, Shelby knew that those were the things that had to be changed. Over a short period of time, he developed modifications that transformed the regular Mustang into a track-ready beast. Apart from modifying the engine, he increased the power of the original 289 cubic inch V8 from 221-306bhp with new intake, heads, exhaust and other components. The interior was stripped out and replaced with lightweight seats and door panels. By early 1965, the Shelby GT350R was born as a street fighting Mustang with a good pedigree.
Total performance program
However, Ford had just started its ‘Total Performance’ program and needed a true race car. The GT350 fit the bill as an amateur racer but Ford was looking for a non-street legal race car for professional teams and acclaimed racers and thus, Shelby was once again made in charge of project GT350R.
The Shelby GT350R was an all-out racing machine which had all the GT350 features and a few more. The R model package included a full roll cage, racing seats, no interior isolation or trim, Plexiglas side and rear window, fiberglass body panels and 325 to 360 bhp race-tuned engine.
The Shelby GT350R debuted in February 1965 after winning its first race and in a few months time, it had won 5 of the 6 SCCA championships. Over a short period of time, the GT350R became the most successful touring car on the planet, winning almost every championship it entered. Private teams such as Scuderia Filipinetti in Europe enjoyed fantastic success in local races and in Le Mans. The GT350R raced at Nurburgring, Brands Hatch and Spa and won its classes. Besides the USA and Europe, the GT350R was successful in South America and Australia and raced well into the ’70s.
Only 36 models were produced
Shelby only produced 36 GT350R models, two of which were factory prototypes. Today it is believed that only around 26 of them have survived, each representing an incredibly valuable piece of motorsport history.
Video – 1965 Shelby GT350R