Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
Shootout, GT vs. GT 350
We Pit the Latest Against One of Shelby's Greatest
The Ford Mustang is one of a few legendary American-built automobiles with a tremendous past and a very bright future. The original concept was simple, as Ford mated a sleek, yet small body style to a warmed over engine and then sold it at a modest price. America fell in love with this package and amazingly the Mustang, with its V8 and rear-wheel drive, is still kicking, or should I say prancing, proudly.
Over the last 38 years, there have been five generations of our favorite pony car, including 4-cylinder Stangs, 6-cylinder Stangs, big-blocks, small-blocks, Mod motors and some we'd just like to forget about. There's also been a handful of specialty Stangs, some of which are highly collectable by today's standards.
Mustangs, old or new, capture our emotions and take them on a wild ride. That's why we find it important to look back on the heritage and compare the early models to the new ones.
Today, our "ticket to ride" put us behind the wheel of two hot Mustangs: one is the racy 1966 Shelby GT350 and the second is a stock 2001 GT. Despite being born some 35 years apart, this pair of Mustangs has quite a bit in common. Each has a small displacement V8 engine, a 5-speed manual transmission (as the Shelby is equipped with a T-5), and similar styling traits. Both are white and share the 2+2 seating arrangement.
Long before there was Saleen, there was Shelby American. Famed road racer Carroll Shelby's relationship with Ford Motor Company dates back to the early '60s when he installed a 260 V8 in a 2-seater A.C. sports car and called it a "Cobra." The Cobra was beefed up with a 289, and then the nasty 427 engine. In 1965, Carroll Shelby turned his attention to building a series of "tuned" Mustangs for racing and for the street. Shelby originally wanted to build only race cars, but he needed to build 100 street units to gain approval for SCCA competition. He soon realized that building street versions of his GT350s would get him past the 100-unit mark, and working closely with Ford he was able to reach his goal during the '65 model year.
To the base Mustangs he added Koni shocks at each corner, along with big anti-roll bars, big brakes, chassis stiffening and a few extra ponies under the scooped fiberglass hood. The front A-arm suspension was lowered to improve handling and the grille bar was deleted, along with many other items to save weight. All '65 models came in Wimbledon White. In addition, the 1965 models came with noisy Detroit Locker differentials, but these items were dropped for 1966 in order to cut production costs and make the cars profitable and more attractive to the average buyer at Ford dealerships.
Shelby Mustangs for '66 retained the stock suspension geometry, the rear seat became an option and four additional colors were added. They included: Candy Apple Red, Guardsman Blue, Ivy Green and Raven Black. Shelby also sold cars to Hertz rental car company in 1966. Most of these cars were black with gold stripes, though other colors were available. In 1966 Shelby also sold cars with automatic transmissions, though these models came with smaller carburetors. Another noticeable difference between the '65 and the '66 Shelby is the plexiglass rear quarter window found on '66s and not on '65s. The window was added at Shelby American during the conversions to help driver vision and to add a racier look to the upper half of the car.
Peter Larkin of central New Jersey is the proud owner of this 1966 Shelby, which we used for our MM&FF shootout. His GT350 is documented as the 327th Shelby built in '66, as noted by the Shelby American World Registry, and was originally an automatic car. Save for the aforementioned T-5 5-speed conversion, the Shelby is stone stock although it has been upgraded with stickshift Holley carburetor and 3.89:1 gears in the rear.
The 1965-66 package was so good that Shelby's Mustangs won regularly in SCCA B-production competition over Corvettes. Quarter-mile times were in the high 14s and low 15s, which was on par with many small-block equipped cars of the mid-'60s.
Larkin's model ran like a champ, making smooth power and showing it could turn like a real sports car. The low-back buckets were comfortable and place you right on the floor of the car, unlike the up high position in the modern GT. The wood-trim steering wheel (hooked up to manual steering) is also low and it gives the driver a clear view of the gauges. One of the coolest parts of the Shelby is looking over the stripped and scooped hood. It was downright inspiring.
The Shelby had a very light feel, as it should have. Our tester weighed a mere 3140 lbs. with driver. Despite the light weight, the GT350 only ran in the high 14s. But that was mainly due to the open rear, testament to the fact that our car was born with a C-4 automatic. The rear limited our ability to leave hard. Any launch above idle produced plumes of smoke. With 4.10 gears and a Traction-Lok rear, we could have slipped into the mid-14s. And perhaps the 13s are doable with stickier tires. Nevertheless, the car performed flawlessly and was a blast to drive. It was not quicker or faster than the new GT, but at times it sure felt like it was.
In contrast to the restored Shelby, the new 2001 GT we tested was a true factory flyer, with all of its components coming directly from Ford Motor Company. This car has a standard GT suspension, standard brakes and a 3.27:1 ring and pinion ratio. As for performance testing, this Oxford White GT has already clocked a 13.71 so we had a baseline to go against. And once we turned our senses to the 2001 GT we were greeted with a refined sports car that is suited to the modern performance era. Devices such as traction control, power everything, leather and a killer stereo make the new GT a comfy cruiser.
Like most modern performance cars, the latest Mustang GT grips the road well and offers smooth operation of the controls. This comes despite a raised stance that is awkward looking. The reality is that the '01 GT is a fine handler. It is balanced well and is confident inspiring. Technology has given us a smooth cable release clutch, though shifting can be balky at times.
Clearly though, when it comes to horsepower and performance, the '01 GT gets the job done. The 4.6 is not a screamer, instead it is a smart V8 with electronic fuel injection, twin cams and a hearty sounding dual exhaust. And even though it only has 281 cubic inches, it acts like a larger V8.
What the new Mustang gains in performace it gives up in character. Thanks to bland plastic bumpers (which are great for safety, mind you) there is no boldness. Nor is there any chrome or brushed aluminum, there's no hot-looking steering wheel, no stripes or wildness about the GT. The Shelby, in contrast, is in your face with racy stripes, finely detailed emblems, knobs, switches or bright work to give it character. We spent an hour photographically documenting its many details. The new car took about five minutes to do the same thing. Nevertheless, for a modest price, about $24,000, you can own a brand new GT and it will run hard. A Shelby in Larkin's condition is worth at least $30,000.
The good news is that Ford has been improving the appearance packages of the Mustang. The success of the Bullitt has taught Ford a lesson about style. Now anyone can have the 5-spoke retro wheels, rocket moldings and big pipes for the sweet-sounding exhaust to exit from. Plus, the Mustang package should improve further with the introduction of the highly speculated Mach 1 and the Terminator when they make it to market.
As for the current GT model, we give it two thumbs up. The base package is a solid, well-built machine. The 4.6 SOHC engine has proven to be a real winner, too. With 260 horsepower from only 281 cubic inches it can pull the Mustang into the 13s with ease at almost 100 mph. By comparison, the Shelby packs 289 cubic inches and is rated at 306 horsepower. (Note: You have to remember that the engines were rated using two different formulas. If the Mod engine was rated the old way, sans engine accessories, and with open tubular headers, the numbers would come close to matching that of the Shelby.)
As a toy, there is no question which car I'd have in my garage--as a daily driver, it's a different story. The Shelby is a true classic that makes a statement with Le Mans stripes, fastback design and a racy suspension. The new GT is, well, a new GT. Anyone can have one, and while it is quite a car, it lacks some of the character that is Shelby.
Where the Shelby has chrome, intricate emblems, fancy trim work, functional scoops and racy stripes, the GT is plain Jane. The interior is monochromatic, and that includes the knobs, switches, shifter--everything. There is nothing under the hood that would make a hot rodder say, "Hey, look at this." No polished intake, no classy cam covers, nothing.
However, there is one stout Mod motor that gets the GT solidly into the 13s and I wouldn't trade that for a little flash. Not now, not ever.
2001 GT vs. GT350
2001 GT 1966 GT3501 14.43/97.09 15.06/93.552 14.09/98.18 14.99/93.303 14.06/98.33 14.92/94.334 13.97/99.02 14.87/93.865 13.90/98.77 14.87/94.13