Car Show Classic: 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 – The Shame Of Appreciation

If you haven’t noticed, Shelby Mustangs are expensive.  A quick look at the Hagerty Price Guide shows that the valuation of a #3 “Good” condition 1965 model is $415,000.  As the owner of a run-of-the-mill ’65 coupe, the idea of selling everything I’ve accumulated over 45 years and living in a ’65 Mustang is as ludicrous as the idea that any ’65 Mustang, regardless of the signature on its dash, is worth $415,000.  Saying I can’t appreciate something simply because it’s unattainable to me, however, is the most odious form of reverse snobbery.  On the contrary, this Shelby is charisma on Cragar mags.

This example, one of 562 1965 GT350s, was a popular exhibit at the 2022 Motor Muster in Dearborn; indeed, it was hard to take pictures of it because everyone in Michigan likes a Mustang, and a Shelby is not merely a Mustang.  You have to give it to Ol’ Shel, he knew how to market his goods.  Today’s stratospheric price point of Shelby Mustangs makes the casual onlooker forget how little Shelby American did to the basic fastback to make it a special car.  They changed the upper control arm mounting points, added Koni shocks and over ride traction bars, dumped the exhaust through some Tri-Y headers and side pipes, and set the whole thing on a set of Good Year Blue Dots.  Sure, there were some other detail touches, such as a longer pitman arm and idler arm to quicken the steering and ensure that every mile was a day at the gym, but it wasn’t like they changed the Mustang’s fundamentals all that much.

What makes this particular Shelby stand out even among Shelby Mustangs is its originality, and the fact that someone used it as a driver’s school mule at the local road course.  And nobody has restored it, it oozes the charismatic pheromones of a life spent executing unloaded off-camber turns at the hands of wannabe club racers.  It might as well be wearing cut-off jeans shorts and smoking a Salem, as if it’s teleported straight from July 1972 and still reeks of faint blowby and oil on the headers, ticking quietly in the sunlight as another budding Peter Revson waits to climb behind the wooden steering wheel.

This guy might have been driving; perhaps his woodland adventures were no longer enough.

Shelby received his Wimbledon White fastbacks straight from Ford with a K-Code 289 High-Performance engine, four-speed transmission, and a nine-inch rear end with a Detroit Locker.  He added the headers, a deep-sump oil pan, a Shelby intake manifold, and a 715 cfm center-pivot Holley to keep the fuel flowing into the jets when the car was rolling onto its doorhandles, passing a 327 Corvette in the kink.  Naturally, the wrinkled black “Cobra – Powered by Ford” valve covers were part of Shelby’s marketing plan, as anything with the Cobra name on it was sure to elicit envy from anyone who knew a pushrod from a rocker arm.  The GT350 “R” had souped up heads and some other mods, but the street version was fleet enough to knock out the quarter mile in about 15 seconds, which was good going by 1965 standards.

Also notice the “Monte Carlo Bar” across the engine compartment, named after those snorting Monte Carlo Rally Falcons from 1963 and 1964.  When combined with an “export brace,” the engine compartment of the Mustang became noticeably stiffer.  This Shelby also has a prop rod to hold up its fiberglass hood, another Shelby modification.  Early GT350s (such as this one, apparently) had the battery in the trunk for improved weight distribution.

The interior too was changed just enough that the lucky driver knew they were driving a Shelby, as if the side pipes and ratcheting locker weren’t enough to remind them.  This one has a radio delete plate, because you can’t hear the radio anyway.  Shelby added a special instrument pod atop the basic Mustang dashboard; it houses a tachometer and oil pressure gauge, two things missing from the straight-from-the-Falcon grocery getter instrument cluster.  The aforementioned wooden steering wheel and aircraft seat belts evince a “Mulsanne straight, 2 am” vibe, something Carroll experienced for himself behind the wheel of a dashing Aston Martin DBR1.

Also notice the brake pedal: All Shelby Mustangs came standard with Ford’s very good front disc brakes, as one might expect from such a machine.  Of course, the man himself signed the glove box door; I can’t imagine that this touch adds value anymore, since his signature has been consigned to ubiquity.  Still, if you own a Shelby, why not have the full Shelby experience?

One thing that makes the ’65 model unique, aside from that fact that it’s the least compromised of the entire Shelby run, is that it’s a two-seater.  To be labeled a “sports car” by the SCCA and therefore be eligible for “B-Production” racing, the car couldn’t have a back seat.  Therefore, Shelby simply removed the seat, added a shelf for a spare tire, and that shelf handily covered the aforementioned over ride traction bars.

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This picture shows how those traction bars entered the passenger compartment, and why you might want them covered up as they articulate up and down over bumps.

There is only one problem with this fantastic Shelby, and you might guess what it is.  It pulsates with life and history and smells and scars, and all anyone wants to do is heave down that heavy clutch, twist that key with the little horse on it, and listen to those side pipes growl and those solid lifters tick.  But it’s worth a clean half a mil.  Taking it to the track would be bucket list stuff, but how hard do you push a 70,000 mile original Shelby?  Driving on the streets of southern Michigan, with road rage and flying blacktop chunks kicked up by speeding 18-wheelers suffering from tire separation?  People weaving in their lanes trying to snap a blurry picture?  How steely are your nerves?

I’m personally too anxious to own this car, even if I could afford it, and I think that’s why you see so many clones out there.  But the fact that you see so many clones out there is a validation that what Shelby and his group of brilliant mechanics did to this thing was absolutely right.  From the optional Cragars to the slight rake to the optional Shelby stripes, this is a greatest hit if there ever was one.  Even though later Shelby Mustangs lost the laser focus of the fantastic original, the mystique started here.  You rarely see one in the flesh, and it’s even less likely you’ll see one with so much soul.  Sure, most people are sick of seeing Mustangs.  But maybe this one is truly worth what it costs to own it.