Tom Wilson
December 1, 2006
Laying down a smokescreen is child's play given the GT-H's fat torque, automatic transmission, and a willingness to power-brake a little. Simply dropping the throttle won't do the deed-that's what 428CJ's were for.

We've driven plenty of rental cars, but this is the first time we've paid attention. Or taken pictures, visited the factory where it was built, or bothered to get the story behind it. Because, obviously, Shelby's GT-H is no ordinary rental car. It's a rental car with a history.

That history stretches all the way back to 1958, when rental giant Hertz started the Hertz Sports Car Club. Designed to offer interesting performance cars to specially qualified renters, the Sports Car Club was a natural place to sell Shelbys, as Shelby American's general manager, Peyton Cramer, found out. He ultimately sold 1,000 '66 GT-350Hs to Hertz, and later those cars were sold as used cars to the public. And contrary to all those stories the local expert may have told you, the GT-350Hs were sold in various colors-although most were black and likely had gold stripes-and some were four-speed manuals, while the majority were automatics.

Today some of this seems unbelievable. If nothing else, the idea of renting a manual-shift car in the United States stretches credulity, given that clutch and shifter skills are evaporating like ice cubes in the Las Vegas summer sun beating down on Shelby Automobile's massive tilt-up headquarters. Back when race cars were street cars with the spare tire taken out, the idea of renting something so nearly track-ready spoke volumes to the GT-350H's durability.

Those block Shelby letters are the same font and size as those used on the '60s models. The only change was a move to adhesive backing compared with the early style post-and-clip retention.

That's not to mention our country's strangulation by trial lawyers, which makes the fact that Hertz, Shelby and, in a peripheral way, Ford have gotten together again all the more amazing. This time the vehicle is the Shelby GT-H, and like the GT-350H, the GT-H will be available only in selected major markets to qualified Hertz renters. "Qualified" seems to mean, "not from here," as hearsay evidence reports a local address disqualifies potential GT-H renters. You have to show a distant residence and plane tickets to have the shuttle bus drop you off in front of one of the 500 GT-Hs Shelby bolted together in 2006.

On the other hand, special driving prowess apparently need not be demonstrated, as the GT-H fleet is entirely equipped with automatic transmissions. (Well, all but four; see the accompanying sidebar.)

In fact, the GT-H is, by the admittedly fire-breathing standards of this magazine, a pleasant upgrade over stock-a bolt-on car. But, and it's a big qualifier, it's one incredible rental car and a great drive for the real world. What few upgrades the GT-H boasts are exactly those few the current Mustang needs to pique the enthusiast's interest without corrupting the S197's impressive daily driver aplomb.

Shelby's hood is stepped and pinned. Both are for looks, with the pins delivering a classic performance look that fits the car perfectly.

To start at the beginning, all 500 GT-Hs are black with gold Le Mans stripes. Ironically, back when Shelby was winning Le Mans in the '60s, Shelby called the skunk treatment "rally stripes." There is also the so-called rally stripe along the rocker panel with a SHELBY GT-H script inset, a Hertz plaque above that on the front quarter-panel, and a nonfunctional side scoop. Loud and proud across the rear trunk lid are widely spaced S H E L B Y letters. The phony gas-cap detail remains stock Ford. In keeping with Shelby Mustang tradition, the front treatment is a handsome plain grille with a Tri-bar and running-horse badge offset on the driver side set in a Shelby-specific fascia and capped with by a vented composite hood featuring hood pins. It's all quite proper and strikes an impressive image when seen on the street.

The GT-H eschews some of today's usual embellishments. The brake rotors, for example, are unadorned stock production parts no matter what the Web site says, and the wheels, thank goodness, are good old soft-riding 17-inchers, with stock tires no less. The reason for all this off-the-rack dress is economic and practical. Hertz needs to maintain these cars without unduly clogging their parts stream and couldn't afford the chance of putting cars out of service because they need a low-volume tire or specially painted replacement brake rotors. The stock stuff works just fine and is immediately plentiful from a spares perspective.