The author (left) and friend, with a car then owned by the former. He would never look so cool again. Michael Darter
Sam’s columns are usually around 1500 words, a few minutes’ reading. Sometimes, though, he trips a breaker in his head and goes long, and we let it run. This is one of those times. It doubles as one of our Great Reads. Enjoy! —Ed.
You probably know the story. If not, maybe the name rings a bell. At minimum, you can probably pick an early Ford Mustang out of a lineup.
The shape means something. Add that name, it means something else.
Shelby American built just a few thousand GT350s for 1965 and 1966. Thirty-four of those machines began life as race cars, a GT350 R, the bare-bones factory competition variant. Shelby people call them R Models, and every single one is now worth seven figures. Which is not to paint the ordinary cars as less than special. Even in road-going form, they were Fords but also not, Mustangs but also not, an uncommon version of a common object.
September 27, 1965: An SCCA race in Riverside, California. The man at the wheel is Trans-Am ace Jerry Titus, a former journalist. (Ha!) The “B” on the door is for B Production, a racing class. This is GT350 #5R002, the first Shelby Mustang to win a race, the famed Ken Miles “Green Valley” car, and one of two R Model (competition) prototypes that Titus drove to a ’65 SCCA championship. It sold at auction last year for $3.75 million. The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images
Google says this site has run the phrase “Shelby GT350” on more than 500 separate pages. We come back to that name for many reasons. For one, our readers love Mustangs. Still, the GT350 story is different.
Unlike many high-dollar 1960s performance cars, the Shelby was not hammered into life in some artisan’s shed; it was based on a Ford sold in the literal millions. Its origins hold lessons on the power of romance and origin, and on how a simple marketing exercise can, without much planning, come to represent something far more important.
A few nights ago, I was digging through an old hard drive, looking for snapshots from an old vacation. In the process, I stumbled onto a long-forgotten folder of photographs of the first GT350 I ever drove. That folder also held an interview I once conducted with Chuck Cantwell, the GT350 project engineer at Shelby American.
The thoughts and images below—some of the Cantwell chat, bits of trivia, some drive notes—contain no grand thread. There is no great reason behind their assembly, not even an anniversary to celebrate. If you do not already love the car in question, you will not find yourself converted, may wonder why I spent so much time on a simple Ford.
All I can say is, the kind of person who can unconditionally love an old machine is also often the type to get lost in memories and story. Perhaps you can relate.