Shelby's crowning race achievement came in 1959 when he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1960, heart problems forced Shelby to leave racing behind, despite his objections. That was only the start of Shelby’s contributions to motor history. In 1962, Shelby started having dreams centered around one word: Cobra. It’s a word that has since entered the dreams of many a Mustang-enthusiast, synonymous with outrageous performance.
Ford’s war with Ferrari eventually enlisted Carroll Shelby and his team into helping to develop their race program. When tasked with building a race car out of the Mustang, Shelby responded to Lee Iacocca by asking, “So, Lee, you want me to make a racehorse out of a mule?”
That mule-turned-racehorse was the very first Shelby Mustang: The 1965 Shelby GT350.
Even the GT350’s appearance refused to blend in with the Mustang herd. The first Shelby Mustangs only came in one color: Wimbledon White, accentuated by Guardsman Blue rocker panel stripes. Only about 28% came with the famed Guardsman Blue Le Mans-style stripes that a contemporary reviewer fretted would be sure to make the Mustang a target for the police and have since become a target for automotive collectors.
The first GT350 featured a number of additional exterior details that distinguished it, including a one-inch thick Monte Carlo bar, a pronounced functional hood scoop, and modified steering. The handling was improved by the 15-inch wheels that were originally fitted with low-angle nylon cord Goodyear tires. Like most things on the car, the tires were somewhere between the worlds of Main Street and the racetrack: They were rated up to 130 mph.
The first Shelby was sometimes referred to as a Cobra (Shelby’s race cars were also called Cobras) and many of the internal badges featured Shelby’s original Cobra design.
There were two versions of the GT350, the other being the GT350R. The R stood for race specifications, and only 35 of these were manufactured. Those 35 were created to comply with SCCA rules and were ready to race.
Shelby American driver and engineer, Ken Miles, drove the GT350 to its first victory on Valentines Day, 1965, appropriate given how famed Miles’ affection for the GT350 was. The GT350 would hold onto the title of B-Class champion for three years.
The 1965 GT350 was equipped with a 289-cid K-Code engine, which churned out 306 horsepower, a full 35 hp more than it would have been able to produce prior to modifications. The GT350R bumped it up to 360 horsepower, an absurd number for the time, especially when coupled with the car’s light body.
Interestingly, the first three hundred 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 produced came fitted with the battery in the trunk. This was actually an unpopular feature, as fumes would make their way up to the driver. At first, Shelby’s solution was to fit the battery with caps and hoses that forced the fumes out through holes in the bottom of the trunk. However, eventually, the battery was simply moved into the engine compartment.
The original Shelby sold for $4,547, which wasn’t cheap at the time. But it would have been a smart investment since only 513 ’65 Shelby Mustangs were sold. They can now sell for over ten times their original sticker price.