The union between Ford Motor Company and Carroll Shelby turned out to be the perfect combination to establish the bases of what should be -in the sixties- a high-performance North American sports vehicle: the Mustang GT 350 and the GT 350 R, its iconic racing brother.
It was the sixties and Lee Iacocca – at that time, vice president of Ford Motor Company – asked the great Carroll Shelby to develop a Ford Mustang fastback with a view to competing in one of the divisions of the Sport Car Club of America (SCCA). where GM ran with its Corvette model. Once the deal closed, Ford shipped several units to Shelby’s California facility to begin modifications. The Mustangs arrived without glass, heating, upholstery or insulation. Plexiglas windows and aluminum and fiberglass panels were installed to reduce overall weight. The battery was relocated to the trunk.
The engine was powered by a 4800 cc V8 powered (known as “K-Code”) that initially delivered 271 hp. It was fitted with an Autolite 4100 carburettor, a new overhead cam, modified intake and exhaust manifolds, and modified lubrication system by fitting a new aluminum sump with breakwater and higher flow oil pump. Thanks to all this, the power climbed up to 305 hp at 6000 rpm.
The stock Toploader gearbox was replaced by an aluminum-cased Borg Warner T-10M gearbox with stacked ratios to prevent rev drop between gears, while the differential was a Ford nine-inch self-locking. The front disc brakes were Kelsey-Hayes and the rears used larger diameter bells corresponding to the Galaxie model. It was fitted with drawbars, adjustable Koni shocks and larger diameter anti-roll bars.
The GT 350 quickly became a formidable competitor within the reach of anyone who could afford it, but it wasn’t a true race car. In order to obtain the necessary homologation, Shelby separated a batch of thirty-six GT 350 to transform them into GT 350 R. This very small series was clearly intended for professional competition. Power was scaled to 350 hp through the use of a flat-design engine block, polished cylinder head, Holley four-barrel carburetor, high-rise aluminum intake manifold, unrestricted direct exhaust manifold and system, and a oil cooler to cool the impeller. In the passenger compartment, a roll cage with four supports, competition seats and complete needle instruments for all engine functions were mounted. The wheel arches were enlarged to allow the use of American Racing Torq Thrust 15 x 7-inch tires, and the original fuel tank was replaced with another that held 136 liters. Shelby managed to reduce the weight of the GT 350 R enormously: it weighed just 1,150 kilos and was capable of reaching 100 km/h from a standstill in just 5 seconds. As his creator once said: “My name is Carroll Shelby and performance is my business.” How can you not believe him after having created such a beast on wheels?
The Mustang GT 350 R prototype was driven by Ken Miles and turned out to be the first Shelby Mustang to win a race. In a competition held in Texas, he was immortalized in a photo where he is seen with the car completely detached from the asphalt, a fact that earned him the nickname “the flying Mustang.” In 2020, one of these cars was auctioned for USD 3.85 million, thus becoming in one of the most expensive Mustang in history.