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Shelby Mustang Fifty Years

Book Review

by Ryan King

Let's take a step back to the mid-1960s.

The Mustang has just arrived on the scene and it is a cultural phenomenon the likes of which the automotive world has never seen.

It's reasonably priced, beautiful, and sporty. It can be customized unlike anything before. People flock to it in droves. There are 25,000 sold the first day. There aren't even 25,000 available the first day. In one month's time, there are 100,000 sold. It is the greatest launch in automotive history.

There's only one blemish on the Mustang's otherwise sparkling image: it isn't considered a serious performance car by real aficionados. It gets dubbed a "secretary's car." Meaning it looks sporty, but can't really deliver the goods when it's put on a track.

The answer? Carroll Shelby.

If you don't know who Carroll Shelby is, he's the father of the Cobra, which was at that time, the world's most dominant performance car, bar none. Built from the chassis of an English sports car, the AC Ace, and imbued with the performance of Ford's lightweight small block V8, there wasn't a production car built that was able to catch it. There weren't many pure race cars that could hope to either.

Lee Iacocca, father of the Mustang, new exactly what to do: have Shelby inject his pony with some snake venom and turn it into a thoroughbred.

It worked.

The Mustang became such an amazing race car that there were few production cars in the world that could hope to keep up with it and it dominated race after race.

That was exactly what the Mustang needed to remove the blemish on its image and ultimately cement its legacy as one of the greatest cars ever built.

Shelby Mustang Fifty Years is the story of how the Shelby Mustang came to be and became a legend that has stood the test of time for five decades. Read on to find a synopsis of each chapter and get a preview of what's covered in this engrossing book.

The Book

Chapter 1: Turning a Gelding into a Stud

When the Mustang hit the streets it was an immediate hit, but not with performance enthusiasts. The best Mustang available was the 210-horsepower 289 V8 coupe with soggy brakes, smushy suspension, and tepid acceleration – all of which combined for an overall underwhelming car to take to the limit. Lee Iacocca and his team of Mustang wizards figured that out pretty quickly, so, in order to improve the Mustang's image, they decided to go racing. It was at this point that Shelby was brought in to create that racing image. And improve it he did. With the help of a slew full of sharp, enthusiastic gear heads from various crafts, trades, and professions, they turned the Mustang into, not just a performer, but a dominant race car. In the process, the legend of the Mustang was catalyzed into every facet of American culture.

Chapter 1 explores the genesis of the legendary GT-350. It covers the concept, the forces behind it, the people involved in it, the stories surrounding it, and the development process that the car went through to become the most sought after Mustang in the world – the 1965 Shelby Mustang GT-350.

Chapter 2: Shelby Builds a Racehorse

The Mustang's first race cars were something truly special. These were halcyon days for the Mustang, when it wasn't just competing with the world's best sports cars, but beating them.

All of them.

The Mustang had so much performance on the race track that it took home race, after race, after race. Beating vehicles like Corvettes, Porsches, Lotus', Aston Martins, Jaguars, Ferraris, and even Cobras. In 1965, the Mustang wasn't just a popular car for the masses, it was one of the hottest performance cars on the planet, and it was all because of the team at Shelby American and the GT-350 model – the now-mythic R Model, specifically.

Gutted and tweaked, the R Model was lightweight and powerful, but more than that, it was damn near bullet proof. The 289 was straight out of a Cobra, but just slightly de-tuned to keep it from running on the ragged edge. Even with a solid rear axle, the Mustang could run with the best through the twisties, and with the 350 horsepower 289 in the 2500-pound car, it could flat out leave them in the dust on the straights.

Chapter 2 takes a close look at the R Models, their racing exploits and those exploits' impact on the Mustang's image – even a peek at the extremely rare drag cars.

Chapter 3: Gelding the Pony

In 1966 Shelby took some of the fang out of the Mustang.

Gone was the heavily modified, race-bred suspension, the spartan interior, and the weight modifications. Options for colors and an automatic transmission were added, and the GT-350 was either gelded or refined – depending on your perspective – into a Mustang GT with a 306 horsepower 289 and the looks of a smooth, racy machine.

Actually, the '66 GT-350 is my favorite, bar none. Really, it's only a few mods away from being every bit of what the '65 was and more. More because it had brake ducting and a blower option. That's right, some of the GT-350s came with Paxton superchargers breathing on them.

Chapter 3 covers the Shelby GT-350's change in 1966 from all-out performance machine for the race enthusiast to refined performance machine for the masses.

Chapter 4: Go Big or Go Home

The 1967 Shelby Mustang got a bit...rotund.

It also became a softer car.

Like the Thunderbird before it, the Mustang began expanding its waist line as the powers that be decided that big fat cars were what people wanted.

That, of course, hurt the Mustang.

The 1967 Shelby GT-350 kept much of what it was from 1966, albeit, with a more luxurious driving experience and a little less engine. The new for '67 GT-500, however, added more to the package. More in the way of 139 cubic inches and more in the way of weight over the nose of the car. Acceleration, however, improved dramatically. The dual-quad 428 police interceptor motor that propelled the beast did so with never-bore seen ease in a Mustang – or maybe not, if you don't like to drive a traction-challenged car.

The truth is, for me, the '67 GT-500 is my second favorite Shelby Mustang, right behind the '66 GT-350 – even though it continued to lose the bite of the original.

Chapter 4 covers the evolution of the Shelby Mustang from a rip-roaring performance car to a road going GT. Including the special options and prototype cars like the Super Snake and the only '67 convertible – which actually became a production car by accident.

Chapter 5: The Beginning of the End

The 1968 model year saw the beginning of the end of the Shelby Mustang during the Golden Age of the Muscle Car. While the Shelby Mustang had been getting softer, more refined, and lower performing with each successive year following 1965, 1968 marked a significant turning point for Shelby American: Ford took over production of the Shelby Mustang.

Although certain aspects of the venomous Pony Car did improve, it was its performance-based heart and soul that suffered the most. The suspension wasn't much different than a standard Mustang's in 1968, and the engine options actually became more tepid. For 1969, the Shelby Mustang was just a Mach 1 with unique bodywork, and although there were some continuation cars sold as 1970s, it was the end of the Shelby Mustang for decades.

There was one last bright shining light for the Shelby Mustang in 1968, however, the King of the Road, or KR, and Chapter 5 covers it and the rest of the "Cobra" Mustang's death throws and final gasps.

Chapter 6: The Second Coming

In 2006, 36 years after the last Shelby Mustang in 1970, the Shelby Mustang returned. After a long standing feud between Carroll Shelby and Edsel Ford II was resolved, Shelby and Ford renewed ties. The result of which has warmed the cockles of enthusiast's hearts.

The first modern Shelby Mustang wasn't even available to the public, however, except to rent. The 2006 Shelby GT-H hit the scene as a Hertz rental. Following the recipe of the original GT-350 in 1966, Shelby modified a Mustang GT and heralded in a new generation of performance Mustangs, here-to-fore unrivaled in the Mustang's production history. The GT-H brought cries from the enthusiasts to have a Shelby for their own and that lead to the Shelby GT, which would fill the gap as Ford SVT produced their next Mustang Cobra, rebadged the Shelby GT-500.

Sadly, in 2012, Carroll Shelby passed away, and the last model he had a hand in developing was the 2013/2014 Shelby GT-500, but what a bruiser it was. With 662-horsepower on tap, it was capable of 1g in the corners, braking from 60 in just over 100 feet, and acceleration times never seen in a production Mustang.

Chapter 6 covers all of the late model Shelby Mustang efforts including the GT-H, the GT, the GT-500, and all of the special Shelby post-title cars that have taken Mustangs to astounding limits, even exceeding 1000 horsepower.

Conclusion

Carroll Shelby ended his career in automotive development the way it began, with suped-up Fords. If not for Shelby, the Mustang may never have achieved legendary iconic status. He injected it with his special brand of snake venom and took it from a hugely popular car, to one that dominated on the racetrack. It was in that legend as a thoroughbred, that it took Ford's Pony Car out of the forgetful pop-culture arena and into the hearts and minds of generations of enthusiasts.

Wonderfully written by Colin Comer (Shelby Cobra Fifty Years) and beautifully designed with loads of archival and artistic photography, Shelby Mustang Fifty Years is an in-depth look at one of the most significant parts of the Mustang's history and legend – a perfect compliment to both Shelby Cobra Fifty Years and Mustang Fifty Years – it shines a bright light on the most raucous production Mustangs ever built.

I highly recommend this book.

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For more information contact Motorbooks on the web at www.motorbooks.com, by phone 1.800.826.6600, or by email at customerservice@motorbooks.com.