Track Test Shelby G.T. 350
In January 1965, Sports Car Graphic writer and soon-to-be Shelby team driver Jerry Titus tested the first competition G.T. 350
Editor's Note: Carroll Shelby had known Jerry Titus since 1957, when Titus managed the shop that built and maintained Shelby's Maserati race cars. By 1964, Titus had taken a job as tech editor at Sports Car Graphic magazine. As Carroll Shelby told interviewer Austin Craig, "(Jerry) said that he had heard that we were testing a Mustang race car and he would like to do a story on it. I invited him to come with us to test the first (competition) G.T. 350 with Ken Miles at Willow Springs. I asked him if he wanted to drive the Mustang and after a few laps he was faster than Ken!"
Actually, according to the story that Titus wrote for the March 1965 issue of SCG, he wasn't faster but did come within a second of Miles' lap times. Shelby soon offered Titus the job as Shelby American's team G.T. 350 driver. He won nine SCCA B-Production races in 1965 and the national championship.
Titus was the first journalist to experience Shelby's new G.T. 350, which we now know was SFM5R002, the first competition car. Reprinted here is Titus' report in full, with a number of photos that did not appear in the magazine.
In three short years, Shelby American has progressed from a rented stall in Moon Equipment's shop to a monster facility on the grounds of the Los Angeles International Airport—a parcel so vast that North American used to assemble their Saberliners there until the contract ran out. It will now be used for the assembly of the 427 Cobras and the Mustang G.T. 350. Shelby's alliance with Ford Motor Company has been a successful one for both concerns. The bib-overalled chicken farmer put far more teeth in Ford's Total Performance theme than any other competition ventures. In turn, he is being given a bigger and bigger slice of the performance pie.
The story of the Shelby-ized Mustang G.T. 350 started many months ago and reached a climax when the SCCA recognized it as a Production Sports Car, assigning it as a Class B. Familiar with some of the circumstances surrounding homologation of the original Cobra, we suspected Ole Shel had pulled another slickie. The normal production Mustang is a compact. SCCA didn't buy it quite that way either. They would only accept it as a sports car if 100 chassis were built by last January 1 that were decidedly special two-seaters, sold as an individual model, and delivered in raceable form. Knowing that Shelby had committed himself to a new model Cobra and the Ford GT, we figured he'd at last backed himself in a corner and were wondering how he was going to get out. The answer came as we were driving down the freeway in mid-December and passed a whole caravan of transport, each loaded with white fastback Mustangs, all missing hoods and in semi-stripped form. They were headed for the Venice, California, facility. Ole Shel had taken over the San Jose assembly line for a couple of days. Numbering well over 100, these cars were more than enough to convince the SCCA that Carroll wasn't kidding. Had they tested a prototype as we did, they'd have been even more convinced.
Development of the G.T. 350 has more-or-less become the "baby" of an English immigrant (now a citizen) alternately known under such aliases as "The Beak," "The Hawk," and "The Flyin' Limey"—Ken Miles. A Shelby employee for over a year now, he brings to the organization as much, if not more, road-racing savvy than any other man on this continent possesses. His official title is "Competition Consultant," but he wears a couple of other hats too. He goes like hell in any kind of race car and is a recognized suspension set-up artist. The latter two talents have been well applied to the Mustang G.T. 350, as we had ample opportunity to discover during a track test on the challenging Willow Springs circuit.
With a high center of gravity, a butt-headed silhouette, a theoretically unsophisticated suspension system, a heavy forward weight bias, and a pot full of other limitations when considered as a race car, the Mustang is no "piece of cake” to convert to such an application. However, there are a bunch of imported sports cars with the same limitations, so Miles had plenty of experience to draw on, combined with many of the recent developments to come out of Shelby American as a result of their intense racing and research programs. While held to the basic Mustang configuration, their hands were relatively free to alter as they saw fit. After all, it was to be a separate model. Cost was a primary consideration, as they hope to hold the price of the street version to under $4,000 and the ready-to-race machine to under $6,000.
The first move was to reduce weight. Replacing the rear seats and upholstery with light pressed-paper trim and having the racing model assembled in San Jose less sound deadening and undercoating amounted to a huge chunk. In the racing version, the side windows are replaced with pull-up plexiglass units and all the internal regulator mechanism removed. The hood is duplicated in fiberglass. The front bumper is removed and the gravel guard behind it is replaced with a reshaped fiberglass covering that greatly increases air intake to the radiator. The small and somewhat functional vents in the fastback are removed and blanketed out via a fiberglass insert. These fancy little grille assemblies weigh 14 pounds each. The front seats are replaced by glass buckets, very light and efficient ones that retain the adjustment tracks.
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With just about the maximum in weight savings accomplished, it was then necessary to put pounds back into the car in the form of competition options. The street car will have six-inch rims on steel wheels. The race car uses seven-inch wide magnesium wheels. Both are 15 inches in diameter. Goodyear 6.50/6.70 "Red Dots” are mounted for competition. Brakes are disc in front and 10 x 2.5-inch drums in the rear. These are borrowed from bigger cars in the Ford family. The live rearend is of Galaxie derivation with limited-slip and heavy-duty axles. The street model gets an "export,” or heavy-duty, radiator. The racing version uses a Galaxie HD/Air Conditioning radiator with a very large oil cooler mounted directly behind it. Both have the Mustang HD suspension with an extra fat front sway bar and Koni shocks. For better rear axle control, the race car has special radius rods or torque arms in the rear that run above the leaf springs and into the unitized body near the front pivots of these springs. For better geometry in the front, the inner pivot points of both upper and lower control arms are altered—the top arm lowered and the lower arm moved outboard. Despite these additions, the racing model tips the scale at a mere 2,153 pounds.
The 289 High Performance is the powerplant in both models, but the racing version is a hand-assembled unit with a special camshaft, roughly the same except for a grand's worth of tender, loving care that net it a 20-percent increase in performance. Both use the new Holley four-barrel with a special intake manifold. A very efficient set of side-routed headers are used for racing. The competition engine has a large, steel sump; the street version a cast-aluminum pan with extra capacity and big fins. Both connect to Ford's close-ratio four-speed transmission.
About the only item not finalized at test time was the configuration of the intake scoop on the hood. It will be a reversed scoop that draws high-pressure air from forward of the windshield. Just how big and how far back it will be is what's yet to be decided. (Editor's note: The scoop was eventually forward facing). Attention to the interior is elaborate. To assure proper ventilation on the racing machine, air is drawn in through the small grille just below the windshield, through the plenum chamber normally used for the heater. To get it out of the car, the rear window is heated and allowed to droop down above the transverse centerline. Thus it leaves a two-inch gap at the top, right where the boundary air coming over the roof will draw it out, cutting drag and reducing turbulence in the process.
While a centrally-mounted tachometer is the only addition to the street model's dash, the race version gets a complete panel of new and business-like instruments. In addition to the bucket seats, this model also comes equipped with a roll bar, seat belts, and shoulder harness. Again, the street car has the production bucket seats and the majority of trim intact. It does, however, have the rear seating blanked off and the spare tire mounted atop it.
Ken Miles, Bob Bondurant, and this writer took the prototype race car to Willow, combining a six-hour, "let's see what breaks" run with our test. For the type of car, Willow is one of the least advantageous circuits. If it looked good here, it would almost anywhere. Miles suited up and proceeded to tour around holding a roughly 6,000 rpm redline to get time on a fresh engine. Except in a tight, uphill switchback, the car looked to be every inch a thoroughbred. It tended to tail-wag in that particular segment, but so do the vast majority of cars. What really impressed us was that Ken was soon turning 1:40s—faster than the existing A-Production times with the exception of the team Cobras. He handed over to us and we were turning 1:41s within four laps. We were impressed, and plenty. While the optioned production Mustang is a very strong understeerer, the Shelby car very lightly understeers and is quite easy to bring to dead neutral or even to a slight oversteer. Except for braking in a turn, it is an embarrassingly simple car to drive at competitive speeds. Under full power, it uses quite a bit of road—a real drifter—but gets a surprising amount of bite when cornered in a neutral or closed-throttle attitude. The brakes work great in a straight line, but the tail-end is very sensitive if you try the same thing with the wheel turned. The ride is impressively soft, probably much of this is due to the large tire cross-section, and the car negotiates rough surfaces with a minimum of skitterishness that would do credit to a very sophisticated racing machine. Only in the last few "tenths" does the car take some getting used to. Still holding the revs down but using everything else, Miles clipped a 1:39.9 before we left. The run terminated about the fifth hour when an ominous howl developed in the rear end; the differential bolts had loosened, something a simple lock-tab arrangement will eliminate.
The Shelby American Mustang G.T. 350 has a bright future. It is really a fun race car and should prove equally enjoyable in street form. Class B-Production should be swamped by it and any stragglers in A-P will be quickly gobbled up. Due to frontal area, it is doubtful that the Mustang will have as high a top speed as some of its competition—especially in FIA racing—but it's far from wanting in the acceleration department. If they can hold the price down to their target, Shelby will sell a bunch.
Postscript: Within weeks of this test, on February 14, 1965, Ken Miles drove SFM5R002 to its first victory at Green Valley, Texas. The car is currently owned by Shelby collector John Atzbach and is undergoing a restoration by John Brown at Thoroughbred Restorations. Atzbach plans to debut the freshly restored car during the Mustang's 50th anniversary next year.