The original Shelby GT-350 was a Z-28 before there was one. It was raw, lean, quick and fast, and handled better than any Falcon-chassis car had any right too—thanks in part to relocated upper control arms. But it quickly went soft and fat and lost its edge. R&T tested two versions of the GT-350; a new base version with a mild 250 hp version of the new 302 V8. It was really not much more than a glorified trim package; in fact the Mustang C/S (California Special) used many of the same body add-ons.
The hotter version had 315 hp on tap, and actually was a pretty quick; actually a hair quicker to 60 than the Z-28, thanks to an engine with a significantly lower torque and power peak, making it easier to launch and quicker at lower speeds. But by the end of the quarter mile, the Z-28 was passing the GT-350 by six mph, very telling proof that it was making a lot more than its rated 290 hp or the Shelby’s 350 hp. But overall, the GT-350 was trumped by the Z-28, which was cheaper to boot. The GT’s days were numbered.
The big difference was of course that Shelby GTs were now being built by Ford itself, rather than being modified at Shelby’s works after the fact. In other words, the GTs had been co-opted by Ford, and that means volume and lower costs were the way to genuine profits, which were obviously very modest—if any—for the original GTs.
The GT350 acquitted itself reasonably well in terms of handling and braking, although not as well as the better-balanced Z-28. And its dead power steering was another deficit. R&T summed it up very cogently: “IF they’re the sort of cars to which you are attracted to, they do they job well enough. We know from long experience with cars of this type that it is well-nigh impossible to take a heavy, bulky car with an unsophisticated chassis feel-less power assists and turn it into a truly sporting, responsive piece of machinery. In the early days, the GT-350seemed a serious and partially successful attempt to make a sporting car of the Mustang’ but now if anything it accentuates most of the Mustang’s inherent shortcomings. And what’s worse, the Camaro Z-28 is a better example of the same sort of car—for less money.”
The Shelby GT continued to devolve into cartoonish caricature of itself until it died from the weight of its excesses.
Glad to see this beast had front disc brakes. Based on the acceleration, very much needed. Could you image the same vehicle with drums all around?!
The Mustang in this test was a 302 with GT40 heads which were used in the ’67 Trans Am Cougars and Mustangs on the 289.( PN Do your R&T archives include the January ’67 issue wherein a Cougar Group 2 sedan is tested?) For 1968 Ford was preparing the Mustang Tunnel Port. Tunnel Port heads had huge round intake ports and were originally designed for the 427. In the Mustang, heads with these intake ports were developed for the 302.
Ford announced the availability of the 302 Tunnel Port in the Mustang at the same time they introduced the 428 Cobra Jet.
Car & Driver did a comparison test between the Z28 and the Mustang Tunnel Port with the help of Sam Posey. Below is a link to an article on the test
It would be kind in saying the Tunnel Port was not very successful. It was replaced in ’69 by the Boss 302 with Cleveland heads which was very successful.
I have to be a downer on these. The first Shelby Mustangs look so purposeful and built to drive. On the other hand, this generation has no style to my eye…it looks like it tarted itself up by spending too much time in the accessories aisle at autozone. I mean those tail lights, the hood, the side scoop…horrible. Sure made McQueen’s regular Mustang GT look good though!
Shelbys really lost their purpose in their later years, they started as the hardcore racer version of Mustangs to the rather odd shift into being a luxurious tourer. Performance wise, by 1968, what was the point though? The cars were basically fully built by Ford outside of the fitting of body panels by an outside vendor(that wasn’t Shelby) and the engines for both the 350 and 500 weren’t exclusive to them in the Mustang anymore, even with the vaunted GT500KR you were able to get the 428cj in regular Mustangs. The 69s were especially weird with the Mach 1s Boss 302 and Boss 429; the latter two engines/performance packages bred for Motorsport, a seemingly natural fit or the Shelby name and legacy, especially the Boss 302 since it was really the closest spiritual successor to the 65 GT350, yet they were exclusive to Ford’s own in house submodels, while the actual GT350 went out with a whimper using the same old unremarkable hydraulic lifter 302.
I’ll give these Shelbys credit though that they did look really good, far better than the 65-66s, whoever designed the new bodywork did a fantastic job and the 15” wheels as standard equipment gives them an exotic stance over regular Mustangs. It’s also pretty neat these had inertia lock shoulder belts mounted to the roll bar, that was a pretty ahead of its time feature
Ford was always trying to conjure up some sort of Corvette competitor without having to spend the massive, long-term investment that GM was capable of doing. From 1967-70, it was the Shelby Mustang’s turn.
That’s where comparing the 1968 GT-350 with the Z/28 is a mistake. The Chevy was much more a hardcore racer; the Ford was trying to be more of a grand-tourer by then. It was as if GM was putting up a competitor to the earlier ’65-’66 GT-350 but Ford was moving in a different direction when the Z/28 hit the streets.
The 1969 and later Cleveland-head equipped Mustangs were a much better match.
Mustangs were never going to be real sports cars, they were never designed that way. They were sporty looking two door coupes ( two door sedans in Trans Am parlance) that made a lot of compromises for their appearance and relatively low price. Ford knew how to wring every penny of profit out of the line, and could offer the car in an endless combination of optional equipment configurations. The earlier cars had the GT package with the hi-po engine available. But many of the trim options could be paired with less powerful running gear. That’s what made the Mustang so popular, go fast looks were standard, performance oriented mechanicals? Not so much.
For the well informed and knowledgeable, Mustangs could be optioned out as real street racers, but it was always more in the mode of a “lil’ Deuce Coupe ” and not a Lamborghini. Ford did offer a pretty good package with the Boss series cars. However the Mach One was truer to the Ford formula. The base engine was a two barrel 302 V8, four wheel drums were standard, power steering and brakes, automatic transmission, and of course air conditioning were available. Plenty of luxury and appearance options could be added. Mustangs of every configuration were hugely popular. The ’69 and ’70 Mach Ones are my favorite Mustangs, I think that they are the best looking of the classic era.
I like Mustangs and accept them for what they are. I’ve had sportier cars such as a 240/280Z , ’92 300ZX, and even my ’90 Civic SI. I’ve had lots, and lots, of bigger cars, for me even the current Mustang is a “compact.”My experience with my ’96 and ’06 GTs proves to me that Ford does make gradual improvements to the breed, though the trend to greater size and weight is always there. The new Mustang is going to share a platform with the Explorer, I wonder how that will turn out?
The base engine in the 69-70 Mach 1 was the 351 2V, the 302 didn’t become standard in them until the 71s
Interesting that the article mentions that the 427 was an option, in line with the early release marketing material. From what I gathered, there is no evidence of any ‘68 Shelby built with said engine.
My feeling, even as a twelve year old kid back then, was that Ford really lost the recipe with the GT500. The 289 and then 302 Shelby’s and Boss 302’s, worked for homologated production car racing (GT, SCCA BP, TransAm), even if the later production cars were a step behind the Camaro. The big block may have worked as a drag racer, but that seemed to be GM’s bailiwick with the 396 and 427, and in any case a Shelby should be a road course car not a dragster. Of course, even these “soft” Shelby’s seemed more worthy of the name than the later Omnirizon and Dakota pickups.
The GT500 strikes me as a place filler in the lineup for the impending departure of the 427 Cobra after 1967, but the Mustang was a long way from the AC Ace as a starting point, and there was far less improvements made to the chassis than the Cobra received to make those kinds of powerplants work.
I think the worst part about the GT500 is it instantly made the GT350 look like an afterthought, the 67 was largely the same mechanical spec as the 66 GT350 complete with its modified K code 289 but all the glory is hogged by the big block 500
It certainly didn’t help when the GT500KR (“King of the Road”), with its 428CJ engine, was introduced.
Supposedly, owing to a shortage of 427 engines, a few GT500 Shelby Mustangs came through with a 390. I don’t know how accurate that is, but Shelby ‘did’ send a letter out to those who had ordered a 1968 GT500 expecting to get one with a 427 engine, apologizing for its unavailability, and stating a 428CJ would be installed, instead. Considering the foibles of a street-driven side-oiler, the CobraJet was a better choice.
Sheesh, pity the poor soul who got a GT500 with a 390 (although I suppose they could be worth something today, simply due to the rarity).