Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT500 - Classic Muscle Car Review - Muscle Car

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT500 – Classic Muscle Car Review

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Written by Elise

19th October 2020

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT500 – Classic Muscle Car Review
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Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT500 – Classic Muscle Car Review

By Charlotte Iggulden

Few names conjure up the image of performance like Carroll Shelby. His involvement with the Mustang stands as probably the best marketing decision Ford Motor Company ever made, and a pivotal moment in the history of automobiles.

The limited production 1965-68 Shelby Mustang performance cars, with their racing pedigree, helped define the golden era of muscle cars. The car’s winning streak has led to the first models being referenced in most muscle car articles. The history and recognisable aesthetic of the Shelby GT Mustangs, particularly the ’65 model year, make them highly sought-after by car enthusiasts.

Although remaining examples are rare, Muscle Car UK was honoured to have welcomed a fully-restored 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500 to the factory this year.

This review will cover the classic Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT500.


History and Background

Although not the first pony car (that spot belong to the Plymouth Barracuda), Ford defined the segment with this revolutionary, sporty mid-size hardtop and convertible, later fastback.

However, in a generation increasingly preoccupied with speed, Ford was concerned that the popular 1964 Mustang’s small-block 289cid V8 engine and Falcon-based chassis, although well-designed, lacked the necessary gravitas.

To reinvent their image, Ford manager Lee Iacocca approached Carroll Shelby, a former race car driver and WWII flight instructor from Texas.

1964 Ford Mustang

Over the course of his career, Shelby won numerous races across the USA and Europe, including the 1959 24 h Le Mans endurance race in an Aston Martin DBR1. After a heart condition forced his retirement in 1960, he founded Shelby American in 1962, where he manufactured race cars. The company combined European handling, chassis, and suspension, with American V8 power. The two-seater, long-hood body was chosen from a small company called ‘AC’ in Thames Ditton, England, with a 221cid and 260cid Ford engine. It was first called Shelby AC Cobra, then AC Cobra, then Ford Cobra.

Pilgrim Motorsports AC Cobra for sale UK

After its racetrack initiation in 1962, the lightweight Cobra dominated races until 1965. To beat Ferrari, Shelby modified the Cobra into the Shelby Daytona coupe, winning at Goodwood and Le Mans in 1964. In 1965, its driver Billy Krause led by a mile and a half!

After Henry Ford II’s offer to purchase the Ferrari company was rebuffed in 1963, Ford responded: “If we can’t buy Ferrari, we’ll beat them.” In this way, Cobras ended up competing alongside the cars designed to snatch away Ferrari’s prized Le Mans title: the first Ford GTs.

Unlike the Cobra, the Ford GT did not win all year. Shelby’s success led him to re-engineering the GT as part of Ford’s Total Performance Program. Led by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby, GT40s took first, second and third place at Le Mans in 1966, comprehensively beating Ferrari. Their rivalry was immortalised in the 2019 film, Ford v Ferrari.

Initially, Shelby was reluctant to collaborate on Ford’s new Mustang. He called the pony a ‘secretary’s car,’ declaring: “You can’t make a racehorse out of a mule.”

However, with Ford’s financial backing, Shelby aided the pony car’s evolution into thoroughbred Mustang. The Shelby GT350 debuted in 1965.

The drag strip street version of the car, GT350, and the competitive version, GT350R, were handmade and designed for racing just like the Cobra. The formidable 1967 GT500 was built solely for high-performance and drag-racing.

According to Mecum auctions, the ‘R’ version was the ‘engineering test mule’ for Shelby American engineers, with higher specifications, larger fuel tank and exhausts. The prototype improved designs for Shelby’s second R-model team car built to qualify for and dominate the SCCA Production Sports Car competition.

The resulting ‘Flying Mustang’ was arguably the most important in the history of the marque. A beast of the race-track, the prototype was the first Shelby Mustang to win a race, with over ten first places in B-Production during the ‘65 SCCA season, winning three consecutive years against Ferraris, Corvettes, Cobras, E-type Jaguars and Lotuses.

The first R model prototype for the 1965 Shelby GT350R Mustang, driven by Ken Miles, sold for $3.85 million at Mecum in July 2020, becoming the most expensive Mustang in the world (pictured above). 

Specs and Model Variations

The 1965-66 GT-350s were the lightest and smallest models, often called Cobras. Despite its ‘Gran Touring’ or ‘Gran Tourismo’ name implying high-performance blended with a touring car’s interiors, first generation Shelby’s were not built for comfort.

1965-68 models were modified by Shelby American. The popular 1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 used a small-block, Windsor 289cid K-Code with 271 horsepower. It had a lightweight fibreglass hood and Goodyear high-performance blue dot tires, with a four-speed manual. Only 562 were produced, at a $4,547 base price. Like the ‘R,’ it was Wimbledon White with blue ‘350’ stripes to give it a racier look.

1967 Shelby Mustang GT350

The GT350R was a stripped fastback with tuned suspension. Its modified 289cid with hi-riser aluminium manifold, four-barrel Holley carburettors produced 306hp at 6,000 rpm. 34 R versions were produced under SCCA rules, with 12 competition versions. 14.5 second ¼ mile time at 98mph. $5,995.

The 1966 car was marketed as the Shelby GT350, often cited as one of the greatest muscle cars of all time. The first 252 models were converted into 1965 Mustang K-Code fastbacks. New colours appeared, including Sapphire Blue, Ivy Green and Raven Black. Wood-rim steering wheel and Magnum tires were optional. $4,428.

To help sales, Ford offered 1,001 GT350s for rental with the Hertz Corporation’s ‘Rent a Racer,’ for $17 a day, 17 cents per mile, after which they were sold as GT350H models. Most were black with gold stripes, although some were white with blue stripes. The majority were automatic. In April, the Paxton supercharger was optional.


The popular 1967 Shelby Ford Mustang was a heavier muscle car, with a touring car’s handling, power steering, power brakes, and air con.

Its classic muscle car looks included an elongated nose, larger, functional hood scoop, four bodyside intakes, high-beam lights in the centre of the grille and optional ‘Le Mans’ stripes. The car could come in either manual or automatic. Standard steel-rim wheels or aluminium ten spoke. A new Cobra snake logo replaced the running horse. The GT350 and new 500 ruled both street and dragstrip.

The 1967 GT350 had 289cid, with MUSTANG across the back until 1970. 15.3 second ¼ mile at 91mph. 0-60 in 6.9 seconds. Optional supercharger. 1,175 were produced at $3,995.

The GT500 had room for a big-block powerplant, otherwise reserved for larger Fords: the modified 428cid ‘Police Interceptor,’ produced 355hp, 420 lb-ft torque at 3200 rpm, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds with 13.6 second ¼ mile at 106mph. 

A handful received 427cid V8s, with cast-aluminium medium riser intake manifold and twin 600cfm Holley four-barrels producing 425hp. Rumours suggested it could destroy its rear tires in a single drag race. 2,048 were produced, outselling the 350 by 875 units. $4,195. Also available from Hertz as GT500H.

One 1967 fastback was modified into a GT500 ‘Super Snake,’ with aluminium 427cid GT40 Mk II race engine producing 650hp, with a top speed exceeding 170mph. Often featured in ‘best muscle car’ listings, it sold for $1.3 million at Mecum in 2013.

To reflect their heritage, the 1968 cars were renamed Shelby Mustang Cobra GT350 / GT500 / GT500KR, also available as convertibles. They were redesigned with aggressive fibreglass front-end, functional hood scoops, non-functional bodyside intakes, and Goodyear tires.


GT350s had 250hp 302cid with hydraulic lifters instead of solid lifter 289. Automatic or manual. 1,253 fastbacks, $4,116, 404 convertibles, $4,238.

GT500 had either 427cid or 428. 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, 14.97 second ¼ mile time at 99.6mph. Manual. 1,140 fastbacks, $4,317, 402 convertibles, $4,438.

In April 1968, the 427 and Police Interceptor engines were replaced by the Shelby Cobra GT500-KR ‘King of the Road’ 428cid with Cobra jet engine and ram air scoop. 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds. 14.3 second ¼ mile at 100mph, rated 335hp at 5,200 rpm, but made over 400hp. 440 ft-lbs torque at 3,400 rpm. 318 convertibles, $4,594, and 933 fastbacks, $4,472. Four-speed manual. The most powerful Mustang to date, it outhandled other sports cars and looked intimidating.

Without Shelby’s involvement or the Cobra name, 1969 Shelby GT350s and GT500s were four inches longer and more luxurious, lacking their predecessor’s race qualities. The 350 had a 351cid V8 or 428 for GT500. Unsold 1969 models were given 1970 VIN numbers and emission modifications, before being discontinued.

Modern Shelby Mustangs

To honour Carroll Shelby’s legacy, the nameplate was reintroduced for the fifth generation in 2005.

The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is Ford’s most powerful street production car to date, with 760hp at 7,300 rpm, and 625 lb-ft torque at 5,000 rpm. 5.2L Supercharged V8 version of the 350/R engine, with a 2.65 litre supercharger.

End of the line for GT350: in October 2020, Ford announced they would be discontinuing production of the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 after 2020, possibly due to the more powerful GT500.

Appearance in Popular Culture

Gone in 60 Seconds

As in the original 1974 film, ‘Eleanor’ is the ultimate prize in the 2000 remake, appearing as a modified 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. In the last chase scene, the combination of skilled driver and impressive muscle machine outmanoeuvres pursuing police vehicles, proving Shelby’s words that “good driving is a fine art.” Frequently listed amongst the top movie cars, one of the eleven vehicles used in the film sold for $852,000 in 2020.

Shelby Mustang Eleanor 


Carroll Shelby’s involvement was critical to Ford’s racing success in the sixties, beginning with the GT40, followed by the GT350 and GT500. In particular, Shelby American transformed the 1964 Mustang pony car from underdog to lightweight, winning sports car, then again to a heavy muscle car, a thoroughbred champion on the street and track.

Through increasingly powerful modern incarnations, the legendary classic Shelby Mustang lives on.

Author: Charlotte Iggulden

Muscle Car UK is the UK’s leading specialist Mustang and Muscle Car dealership. We import American muscle cars from the US, restore them here in the UK, and re-home them with our delighted customers.

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