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Shelby Mustang GT350 and GT500
America has always been a leader, especially when it comes to sports.
However, on the world scene of motorsports for some reason, the
Europeans have usually got the better of us. From the early days with
greats like Rene Dreyfus, Rudolph Caricciola, or Hermann Lang to the
post World War II period with Stirling Moss, Juan Fangio, Jim Clark and Jack
Brabham, the U.S. was mostly an afterthought in the big leagues of
international Grand Prix and endurance style racing.
Still, America did have some success in international racing with drivers such as the legendary Phil Hill and Dan Gurney. In that esteemed company belongs a person who not only drove and won, but also produced race cars that could perform with the world’s best: Carroll Shelby.
From his earliest days of racing straight from his failed chicken farming days, Shelby has always been aggressively competitive, but not so much as to alienate his fans and fellow colleagues. After being sidelined from active racing in 1960 due to what doctor’s called a bad heart, Shelby decided to fulfill another dream, to create a car of his own. In 1962, working with AC Cars, Ltd., in England, he created a masterpiece, the Cobra. Powered by Ford’s then new small-block V8, it was a true sports car.
Enter the Mustang
Banking on Shelby’s marketing power, Ford courted the smiling Texan with a couple of early production Mustangs in late 1964. The result, in short order, was the GT-350. Starting with a stripped fastback, Carroll got rid of the hood, front grille, and rear pillar vent panels, and then specified goodies like the K-code 271hp 289 V8, a Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed manual transmission, a tall rear axle ratio, and an engine compartment support bar developed for use on export specification cars. A special hood, grille and valance panel were added, along with a window for the triangular opening in the rear pillar. When the Shelby American GT-350 was unleashed on the public, it took off immediately, carrying with it the legend of the already popular Cobra roadsters. By 1966, Shelby’s little Mustang-based cars won such wide acclaim that Hertz Rent-A-Car even ordered up a batch, designated the GT-350-H, and offered them on the “Rent-A-Racer” program.
Although a well-balanced automobile, Carroll being Carroll, more power (i.e. cubic inches) was needed. That problem was solved with the introduction of the 1967 Mustang, available for the first time with a special 390 cid “big-block” V8. In no time at all, Shelby had figured out that if Ford could stuff a 390 under their hood, he could get the even more potent 428 under his.
For 1967, Shelby not only was looking for the maximum in horsepower, but also a number of visual cues to separate his car from the base Mustang. A fiberglass nose-piece extended the front end three inches, and his unique grille allowed for the mounting of extra running lights, effectively giving the car a quad-light system. Some states required the placement of these lights at the grille’s outer edges, while the original design called for them to be placed in the center (hence “outboard” and “inboard” lights). As with the earlier Shelby’s, a custom hood with air-intake passages was used. A decorative scoop was placed on the body side in the rear of the cove, while functional air-circulation scoops were applied to the panel behind the door. Most dramatically changed was the rear panel, featuring the new 1967 Cougar’s taillight lenses, without the protective chrome grille work. It was mounted to a special panel, with the decklid fitted with a spoiler-like fin designed to produce proper down-drafting at high speeds.
While looks were important to Shelby, making the driver’s compartment functional was even more essential. A special 140 mph speedometer was used, accompanied by an 8,000 rpm tachometer. A special panel was mounted below the dashboard to house Stewart-Warner oil pressure and amp gauges. Finishing off the package was a custom designed wood-rim steering wheel with pierced three-spoke design, capped off with a Cobra applique on the center horn button. Masking all identity to Ford, even the sill plates were altered, removing the oval logo and replacing it a badge reading “Shelby American”.
With the new 428 V8, which produced 355 “advertised” horsepower, the new GT-500 was born. Still available at a lower cost was the GT-350, which was still fitted with the performance version of the 289, but treated to the Shelby touch which included an aluminum intake manifold and a 715 cfm Holley four-barrel carb. According to a number of reliable sources, Shelby was supposed to have shoe-horned in 427 “medium riser” engines into a few (less than 50) GT-500’s, and authorized dealers a few more.
New for '67, the GT-350 could be equipped with the C-4 automatic, while the GT-500 was offered with Ford’s stout and dependable C-6 automatic. For those who really wanted the Shelby experience though, the “top-loader” four-speed was the way to go.
Staying with the pattern established with the first GT-350’s, Shelby American issued its own VIN or identification numbers for 1967. This number identified the year, engine, transmission, body style, air-conditioning, exterior color, interior trim and unit sequence. Today for collectors, this serial number alone is an important tool for identification. However, all 1967 Shelby’s started out life as a Ford, and under the hood on the fender aprons, concealed by the fenders and a Shelby American tag, one can find the original Ford VIN. As an aid to owners, Rick Kopec, who heads up the Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC), has all of the factory records which tie the Ford ID numbers to the Shelby numbers. They keep this a closely guarded secret to help prevent pirated or counterfeit cars from coming to market, a practice which protects owner’s investments, and allows new owners to buy with relative confidence. If only the rest of the muscle car market had this protection!
Only the fastback was used in regular production, with a total of 3,225 Shelby Mustangs produced for the 1967 model year. In this figure were 1,175 GT-350’s, and 2,048 of the GT-500’s. Two prototypes were also produced, one notchback standard coupe and one convertible, both with the giant 428 V8 under the hood.
For 1968, Carroll Shelby stepped back a bit from the cars bearing his name. Closing his manufacturing plant in Venice, California at the end of the 1967 run, production of his cars moved to the A.O. Smith Company in Livonia, Michigan. Up to this time, all of the Mustangs destined for the Shelby touch had been produced at Ford’s San Jose, California plant. Now, production was in Metuchen, New Jersey.
While the 1968 Mustang was basically a face-lifted 1967 model, the Shelby did receive some exciting and rather distinguishing touches, as well as a new body style. For the first time, a convertible was added to the line-up. The new, unique front fascia of the 1968 Shelby was wider and more prominent. Replacing the round grille-mounted driving lights were a pair of rectangle lights not affected by state laws. To the rear, a new taillight unit was installed, using the lens and bezel set-up from the 1964 Thunderbird. The side profile was about the same as 1967, except for the federally mandated side marker lights in the front fender and rear quarter panels. A new five-spoke mag-style wheel cover was standard, with special order 10-spoke cast alloy wheels optional.
Other changes affected engine availability. Ford introduced a larger 302 cid small-block, and this occupied the engine bay of the GT-350. While this new engine was rated from the factory at 230 horses, Shelby again added a little magic, and 250 horses were squeezed out. This was a much more docile engine than the old solid-lifter 289, and represented the new direction Ford was taking the Shelby Mustang — more luxury, more conveniences, more image, and, this being Detroit, more production.
Under the hood of the GT-500 the 428 was now rated at 360 horses, using Ford’s “Police Interceptor” version. As in the previous season, both top-loader 4-speed and automatic transmission could be ordered for these two models. Another repeat option, and one that is rarely seen, was the the medium riser 400-horse version of the big-block 427 V8. All of these were backed by the C6 automatic.
As if this wasn’t enough, to coincide with Ford’s January 1968, introduction of the 428 “Cobra-Jet”, Shelby brought out the GT-500-KR. According to a story related by Carroll Shelby directly to this writer, the plan for the GT-500 Super-Car was already in the works in late summer 1967. While visiting Lee Iacocca’s office in Dearborn, they received some confidential information that Chevrolet was planning a major campaign to introduce their totally redesigned Corvette for 1968, billing it as the “King of the Road”. Shelby claims he got his people to check to see if the King of the Road title had been patented or trademarked for use on a motor vehicle. When he found it hadn’t, he ordered up some GT-500-KR lettering from 3-M, (the company that supplied the stripes for all Shelby Mustangs), and then filed the paperwork. When Chevrolet found out about his move, they were understandably furious, having already printed up millions of pieces of advertising and promotional materials, which now all had to be scrapped, as well as coming up with a new idea to sell their flagship sports car.
With production moving away from Shelby American’s plant, there was a question about how these cars would be identified. It is believed that the first 145 units carried a VIN similar in composition to the 1967s, but with the Ford issued numbers also visible. It was decided that the Shelby Mustangs would use the standard Ford issued 10-digit VIN, with an additional five digits for the Shelby unit sequence attached. A special VIN plate was riveted to the inner fender apron, but the factory issued plate visible on the right-hand side of the dash carrying just the Ford VIN, was maintained. On the back faceplate of the driver’s door, the data plate reflected the Ford VIN, plus a position for an order number in the body code line.
Available in both fastback and convertible, form, the 1968 Shelby Mustangs could be ordered in any configuration, making a total of six models this year. Production soared to 4,451 units produced.
The Shelby Market Today
No American race car hero has made himself so visible and available to his fans as has Carroll Shelby. Everyone who meets him feels they have met a friend. At the age of 81, and after a heart transplant in 1994, plus a later kidney transplant donated from his own son, he is constantly on the go, slowed down only by his lovely wife and faithful companion Cleo, who limits his activities to a sane level. As a result of his generosity and enjoyment of his fans, many Shelbys carriy his signature on the glove box door, or under the hood. In fact, it is probably rarer today to have a Shelby car and not have his autograph on it!
In the past year, several significant sales of the 1967 GT-500 have been recorded, reaching well past the $100,000 mark. About a 50% premium can be added when the scarce 427 is documented to have come with the car new from the dealership. As with any collectible, the top-dollar is only given to those cars that have been treated to a full professional restoration and are 100% correct down to engine/transmission and color choices. The record paid at auction for any Mustang based Shelby was at the 2004 Barrett-Jackson West Palm Beach sale, when a Lime Green metallic fastback was hammered at $175,000. The GT-350 are a bit more tame, with values in the low $40,000 to mid $60,000 range for good examples.
Prices for the 1968 models are a bit less than their ‘67 counterparts, probably because Ford began to assert control over production in ‘68, and the “purity” of the marque was somewhat diluted. (Update 2014: The differential of the two years is increasing over time as collectors become more discerning in what they buy) The exception is the King of the Road. Asking prices for sharp fastbacks are approaching the $120,000 mark in several collector car dealerships around the country, and convertibles hit the $150,000 range. While these figures have not been seen in front of the public at auctions, in private trades, prices paid at auction are beginning to approach these levels.
Values will most likely outpace any overall market rise over the next couple of years, especially considering the renewed ties of Carroll Shelby with Ford Motor Company and the new generation Cobra. Coupled with the enthusiasm for the redesigned Mustang, and rumors of a Shelby-ized version of that model (now that is something to look forward to!), the original may become even more coveted.
What to Look For
Thanks to the previously mentioned Rick Kopec and the Shelby registry, buying a Shelby Mustang is a bit less risky than most other muscle cars. Still, the purchase demands study: know what the serial numbers are, where they are located, and track down it’s history before you leap. There have been a number of replicas, often called “clones”, produced over the years, so make sure you start with the SAAC to help verify authenticity.
Always check the numbers. For 1967, under the hood on the left fender apron stamped into a Shelby American ID plate. For 1968, check this location for the number that will include both the Ford issued 10-digit VIN, plus the five extra numbers afterwards, as well as the door tag which will be pre-printed with a notation this is a “Special Performance Vehicle”, and that all entries embossed. (Be careful, there are very good reproductions on the market).
Make sure that the engine codes and models line-up with the VIN (See chart). Also, look for repairs around where the numbers are mounted, such as the front fender aprons, dashboard and rear face of the door. If time permits, through Ford Motor Company, there is a service that offers detailed information on your 1967 and 1968 Shelbys, and for what this writer considers a nominal fee, it is well worth finding out all the information on your prospective purchase.
Biggest area of concern is a mismatched engine, followed by all the typical Mustang maladies such as rust-out in the trunk area, in the doors, rear quarter panels and floorboards. Look for non-Shelby produced parts both on the outside of the car as well as under the hood and in the passenger compartment. Some of the more commonly missing items have been reproduced, which helps owners of the real deal, but of course also helps those who want to create a Shelby looking car from a Ford Mustang.
While the idea of a Shelby was performance, sometimes a customer also wanted comfort. Adding to the values of some models will be extras such as air-conditioning, original Ford AM-FM or AM/8-track audio systems, and power steering. (Power assisted front disc brakes with drums on the rear came standard with all Shelbys during this time period).
Carroll Shelby is one of the most amazing men to have ever been involved in the world of motorsports. From world-champion class driving to world-class production of race cars and teams, he is a legend in his own time. This should assure the continued desirability of the cars that carry his name.
P. Skinner and the editors at Collector Car Market Review
This profile first appeared in the May 2003 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide. (C) Copyright 2003- VMR International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All photos (c) Copyright Ford Motor Company. Used with permission.
Current Values: 1967 1968 or Shelby Menu