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The Shelby Mustang – from birth to rebirth

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Most car enthusiasts will know of the Shelby Mustang and its legendary status amongst performance cars. If you’re a V8 lover who has always dreamt of owning one, you could win a Mustang in our Mater Cars for Cancer lottery! We’ve got a slick new Shelby Mustang Super Snake up for grabs. Loaded with a monstrous 650 horsepower (hp), this is one beast to be reckoned with and a sure ride of thrills!

Since the Shelby Mustang has gone through a few changes over the years, we thought we’d delve into the history of this magnificent machine and its maker, Carroll Shelby.

Carroll Shelby, the automotive legend

Born in Texas, USA, Carroll Shelby was a man obsessed with speed. After working as a flight instructor in World War II, he soon found himself behind the wheel of racing cars. A great talent, he broke land speed records and was named ‘Sports Illustrated’s Sports Car Driver of the Year’.

Unfortunately, due to heart problems, his racing career ended abruptly when he was just 37. But Shelby wasn’t willing to walk away from the automotive world completely.

He initially opened a racing school and then set his sights on designing a powerful yet light and agile sports car. The result of his efforts was chassis no. CSX2000, the prototype for the Cobra model. Considered the most significant car of the latter half of the 20th century, the CSX2000 formed the basis for the design of the Shelby Cobras 260, 289 and 427, Daytona Coupes and the Shelby Mustang.

The CSX2000 was also the foundation for Shelby’s successful racing platform.

The Shelby Mustang

In the early 1960s, Ford approached Shelby and asked him to turn the 1965 Ford Mustang into a performance racer. Shelby and his company began work on the very first Shelby Mustang in August 1964.

The Original GT350

In January 1965, the Shelby Mustang GT350 made its debut. By February, its racing version (the GT350R) had already won its first Sports Car Club of America race!

The GT350 was a light car with incredible acceleration. It featured:

  • The iconic Cobra emblem
  • A 289 inch3 (4735cm3) modified K-Code engine capable of 306 hp — a full 35 hp more than the standard Mustang 289 inch3 engine
  • A one-inch (2.54 cm) Monte Carlo bar across the front suspension
  • 14% improved the steering speed compared with the regular Mustang
  • 15 inch (38.1 cm) wheels
  • An air intake manifold that rose from the hood of the car
  • Rear passenger seats replaced by a sloping piece of lightweight fibreglass — leaving room for a spare tire
  • Optional Guardsman Blue Le Mans racing stripes

The high rising air intake manifold gave the Shelby Mustang its own distinctive look and so it was nicknamed the ‘Cobra high riser’. This model was only available in Wimbledon White.

This Shelby Mustang became the first mass-produced car that was officially approved and ready for the racetrack. And it sure was ready — the 1966 Shelby Mustang won the B-Production championship three years in a row.

1966 Shelby GT350 and GT350H

For the ’66 model, the word Mustang was dropped from the name. Shelby kept the same modified K-Code engine for this model and the same racing car feel, but he added a few consumer-friendly features:

  • Back seats that folded down for extra trunk space
  • Optional colours
  • Extended exhaust pipes to reduce cabin noise
  • Optional automatic transmission
  • Rear quarter windows and brake scoops

The 1966 Shelby had a unique variant: the GT350H – the ‘H’ stood for Hertz, the car rental company. Shelby made 1,001 special models just for Hertz. The GT350H wasn’t any different from the regular GT350, except that it had a distinctive paint scheme: black with gold stripes.

1967 Shelby GT350 and GT500

The ’67 GT350 maintained the previous standard with its K-Code 289 engine. But the GT500 blew everyone away with its ‘Cobra Le Mans’ engine. This engine was based on the 427 inch3 (6997 cm3) V8 that Shelby’s racing team had used to take the top three places in the Le Mans Race.

The ’67 models came with:

  • A bona fide roll bar across the top of the cabin
  • An even bigger, but still functional, air scoop
  • A spoiler lip
  • Rear facing air scoops that let air out of the cabin

Overall, the Shelby Mustang really came into its own in 1967, both in terms of style and performance. This can be seen in the GT500 variation, the Super Snake, which featured a modified 427 engine capable of producing over 650 hp!

1968–69 Shelby Cobra GT350, 500 and 500KR

For 1968 and ‘69, Shelby’s Mustangs were known as Cobras and were marketed as the Shelby Cobra GT350 and GT500. They were also available as a convertible.

The ‘68s are distinguished by:

  • Shorter hoods with air intakes further towards the front
  • Redesigned grilles with a distinctive “shark-like” look

1968 is all about the GT500 KR — KR standing for ‘King of the Road’. A deserved title, the GT500 KR brought an unparalleled combination of power and handling to its driver. With the KR, Shelby arguably added an even better engine than his version of the Mustang. It featured Ram Air Induction and an impressive total torque rating of 440 ft lb (596 Nm). To support the incredible amount of torque, Shelby added a ‘Monte Carlo’ bracing bar to help stiffen the chassis.

In 1969, further changes were made to the body of the Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500, including a body extension of four inches (10.16 cm).

Parting ways

A combination of slower sales and creative differences led to the Shelby-Ford partnership terminating in the summer of 1969. After this, leftover ‘69s were remarked and sold as ‘70s.

In 1971–2, on special request, Shelby produced Mustangs especially for a Belgian Shelby dealer. Known as ‘Shelby Europas’, these models were exclusive to Europe.

The Rebirth of the Shelby Mustang

It wasn’t until 2006 that a Shelby GT was back on the market – again as a rental for Hertz. In the same way as its 1966 forbearer, the Shelby GT-H (H for Hertz) had a colour scheme incorporating black paint with a distinctive gold stripe.

Compared with the Mustang GT, the Shelby GT had an additional 25 hp and 10 ft lb (13.5 Nm) of torque. It also featured a handling pack from Ford Racing that gave it a racing car feel like the original.

The GT500 also returned in 2007 with the 2007–2009 models sporting a supercharged 5.4L V8 engine with a remarkable full 500 hp. Pushing the limits further, the 2010 model upped the ante with a further 40 hp.

There was one issue with the 2007–10 Shelby Mustangs, they tended to be a bit front heavy due to the weight of their massive engines, which negatively affected their handling. The Shelby team addressed this in the 2011–12 models by creating a 5.4L V8 that had 10 more hp than previous models, but weighed a full 100 lbs (45.3 kg) less. The result was an even more powerful car with much crisper steering.

The 2013–14 models kept up the pace with their 5.8L 32-valve V8 supercharged engine, capable of producing a mind-blowing 662 hp to achieve a top speed of 320 km per hour and a blazing 0–100 kph in 3 seconds!


In 2015, the third generation Shelby GT featured trendier, aggressive styling and newer technologies including carbon-fibre components.

A modern version of the Super Snake was introduced in 2015 featuring newer components as well as a redesigned grille and prominent Super Snake branding inside and outside the car.

2017 – The Super Snake 50th anniversary

In January 2017, Ford produced 500 units of a special-edition fiftieth-anniversary release of the Super Snake. The car features special trim, badging and minor performance enhancements. It is based on the Mustang GT but features a number of mods to boost output up to a Super Snake-worthy 750 horsepower!

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