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The First Shelby G.T. 350 is Restored to Street Prototype Glory!
Full Circle: After decades of life in racing trim, the very first G.T. 350 has been restored to Street Prototype glory!
When considering how to debut a fresh new look for Mustang Monthly, it was a given that our cover feature should be a car of significant stature. As they say, timing is everything, and it just so happens that we had recently scored a feature on Mark Hovander’s freshly restored 1965 G.T. 350, SFM5S003. A match made in heaven? We think so, as Hovander’s Shelby just happens to be the first G.T. 350 ever built. That’s right, out of the 13,000-plus Shelby Mustangs built between 1965 and 1970, this one is the very first.
A quick primer on early Shelby history is no doubt in order. In the fall of 1964, after several Mustang hardtops and fastbacks had been the subject of various mechanical and styling exercises at Shelby American, three sequentially numbered 1965 K-code fastbacks arrived from the San Jose assembly plant to be constructed as the first production G.T. 350s. Two would be built as R-models, while the third would be built in street configuration. SFM5S003 is that very street car, finished in advance of either R-model, and ushered off upon completion for a wide variety of promotional endeavors. Often called the Street Prototype, 003 was pictured in early Shelby American advertising, and even modeled for a Goodyear advertisement for their new Blue Dot tire—the OE rubber designed specifically for the new G.T. 350. Shelby made the most of this one car for promotional purposes, evidenced by fitting the driver side with the base Kelsey Hayes painted steel wheels, and the passenger side with the optional Shelby Cragars. Depending on the vibe the photographer was seeking, 003 could look the part of a sharp street machine with its unique “mag” wheels, or with more competitive toughness if viewed from the side with the steel wheels. Either way, the wheels measured 15 inches in diameter, which was considered large at the time.
In those early days at Shelby American, proper G.T. 350 ID tags had yet to be created, and the three fastbacks were hand marked as 001, 002, and 003 at the base of the cowl panel. In a rather odd and confusing twist, the Street Prototype was initially marked in this manner as 001, and it wasn’t until it was readied for sale six months later, that the official ID tag bearing 5S003 was affixed to the inner fender apron. It is believed that the two R-models were officially tagged at this same time, those numbers being 5R001 and 5R002. From that point forward, the numbers were officially locked in. Interestingly, a memo from G.T. 350 Project Engineer Chuck Cantwell, dated May 20, 1965, identified several items that the Street Prototype would need prior to public sale, including specific wording that the car would be fitted with an official tag bearing number 003.
Owner history of the Street Prototype is well known, thanks in part to the exacting record keeping of the Shelby American Automobile Club. It was first sold to Bill Moir through Leslie Motors in Monterey, California, and changed hands several times before Don Day bought it in 1980. Day converted 003 to R-model specs, and became the first of three consecutive owners to enjoy racing it in vintage road race competition. Doug Richmond turned out to be the last guy to go fender to fender in the Street Prototype, finally thinking better of it in the late ’90s due to 003s significant status as the first Shelby Mustang.
With friend Dave Lennartz’s purchase of 003 in 1999, Hovander became involved in the story. Both he and Lennartz felt the car deserved an exhaustive restoration back to day one status, and thus a dozen-year search for parts began. Typical of a race car, 003 had been stripped of virtually everything when it was prepped for track duty in the early ’80s. The entire interior had to be acquired in correctly date coded form, as did the Hi-Po 289, aluminum case T-10, and a Holley 715-cfm carb from the earliest batch to have been manufactured. One of the biggest finds of all came in the form of unique prototype versions of the Shelby Cragars, identical to what was installed on the car during early promotional shots. In 2008, Hovander purchased 003 from Lennartz, and became fully committed to a Thoroughbred restoration of this earliest Shelby. Hovander’s efforts led to numerous conversations with Chuck Cantwell and designer Peter Brock, who both offered valuable input on the way the Street Prototype was initially configured in the fall of 1964.
Hovander enjoyed driving 003 on the street for the few years that preceded its teardown, the raucous nature of a near-race 289 and gutted interior stimulating ear-to-ear grins for driver, passenger, and appreciative bystanders. Finally, in 2012, the restoration began with complete disassembly and stripping to bare metal. Hovander turned the shell over to ace metalman Dave Mackey, who removed all evidence of racing modifications and returned the unibody to 1964 specification. Hovander loves the fact that Mackey used virtually no filler to complete the repairs, and describes the tedious metalwork as “masterful.”
It would be accurate to call Hovander a true enthusiast of the breed, but his role as a dedicated historian would follow as a very close second. From these perspectives, he was perfectly suited to lead the restoration of a hugely important car in Shelby history, with the results being nothing short of stunning. Hovander performed considerable work on the project himself, while farming out the high skill work to qualified specialists and experts. Among the former is Dale Knutson, who received the Street Prototype once the metalwork was completed, and sprayed the classic Wimbledon White paint using PPG single stage acrylic urethane. Knutson’s handiwork is also visible throughout much of the interior.
Hovander also had John Brown’s Thoroughbred Restorations perform a litany of tasks as the project neared completion. Brown and his staff are well known for their work on cars destined for the highest levels of show competition, and even as Hovander bristles at the thought of a trailer queen, he knew the Street Prototype demanded such absolute perfection. Brown’s shop did much of the final assembly, from suspension to interior, and also painted the iconic Guardsman Blue Le Mans stripes and rocker stripes. Per original photos, the G.T. 350 callout in the rocker stripe is hand painted, purposefully recreating the rather crude original lettering and unique spacing between the G.T. and 350—as compared to the production 1965 decal lettering. It’s this unusual lettering that helps identify 003 in period photographs and advertising, as no other street G.T. 350 was done this way. As well, a unique G.T. 350 decal was often seen on the front fenders of 003 in early photos, a touch which was included during restoration as well.
Hovander’s good friend John Atzbach was simultaneously having Brown’s shop restore the first competition (R-model) G.T. 350, 5R002, which proved a great help in identifying the way things were done on 003. While 003 had been modified and painted any number of times, 002 was in unrestored condition when Atzbach bought it from Steve Volk in 2010. After tedious cleaning of the floorpans by Brown and company, the original finish came into view and was duplicated on both 002 and 003. Digital scans were done on the coloration of the primer, and duplicated. Likewise, items like the original battery cables were still intact on 002, and proved different than those used for production G.T. 350s. Such details were painstakingly reproduced for 003 as well.
The Street Prototype made its restored debut at the 2014 Amelia Island Concours in March 2014, and went on to tour some of the biggest shows in the U.S. during the summer. Some of our readers no doubt saw it at the 50th anniversary in Charlotte, the Mid America Ford and Shelby Nationals, SAAC 39, or others. The quality of the restoration was proven with Gold awards at each stop, and yet expert judges such as Jeff Speegle, Bob Perkins, Bob Gaines, and Brant Halterman all offered important input that was incorporated, and made 003 even more accurate each time it was displayed. The Street Prototype’s show tour was largely completed during 2014, but you can still catch up with it at the Monterey Motorsports Reunion this August, where the G.T. 350 is the featured marque in honor of its 50-year anniversary. 5S003, 5R002, and many other great Shelby Mustangs will no doubt be in attendance, with many being wrung out for all they're worth. We can hardly wait!
Northwest Ford expert Dave Bliss built the Shelby-ized Hi-Po 289 to stock specs, using a block and heads dated August 1964. Sharp eyes will notice a couple of unique features in 003’s engine compartment. 1. This is believed to be the only street G.T. 350 to roll out the doors of Shelby American with a stock Mustang two-piece export brace. A period photo shows 003 with the two-piece brace, even as it was being prepared for public sale in May of 1965. Chuck Cantwell discovered the export brace during an early tour of Ford’s San Jose assembly plant, and specified its use—but evidently after 003 was already finished. 2.Only the earliest G.T. 350s used the tall 427-sourced air filter such as this one, N.O.S. of course, as it’s believed the height caused the air cleaner lid wing nut to tear the screen covering the fresh air hole in the hood. The shorter Hi-Po 289 filter became the standard instead.
Production 1965 G.T. 350s used an all-aluminum case T-10 four-speed, a rare find today. While the Street Prototype’s original drivetrain was long gone, Hovander was able to find an October 1964 six-bolt aluminum case, but you’ll notice a cast-iron tailshaft housing. This is because original owner Bill Moir stated 003’s transmission was configured this way when he bought it in July 1965. The idea that it was built this way doesn’t seem farfetched in that original pictures of 002 show its transmission was of the same aluminum/cast iron construction, and it’s known that Cobra race cars ran an iron tailshaft housing since the aluminum versions were prone to breaking.
Promotional photographs of 003 sometimes show the car prior to installation of the ’65 G.T. 350’s unique dash-mounted gauge pod, while other photos show the pod with prototype gauges. The oil pressure gauge is of unknown origin, while the tach was clearly just a paper face. Of course this unique arrangement was part of 003’s restoration, and here we compare it to the production G.T. 350 pod gauges (on the right), with their CS logo faces.
Compare the prototype steering wheel center cap on 003 (on the left), to the production version (on the right). Early photographs clearly show 003 with a hand-built assembly that used a Cobra hood emblem. Long lost through the years, Hovander conspired with original owner Bill Moir and Cobra enthusiast Dan Case to recreate the prototype. Moir made the black centercap per original photos and his memory, and Case provided a pristine original Cobra hood ornament.
These photos illustrate a number of the detail differences between the Street Prototype (top), and a production ’65 G.T. 350 (bottom). The Cragar wheels on the passenger side of 003 look very much like the 15x6s that were optional on ’65 G.T. 350s, but the truth is that they’re unique prototype versions, such as were on the Street Prototype during early Shelby promotional images. Among several differences, the most visible is in the lug web area, with the prototype wheels being cast with more material to allow for drilling a variety of bolt patterns. Once approved for production, Shelby specified a slightly smaller web area for use with Ford’s 5-on-4.5 pattern. Three of the prototype wheels were acquired from Craig Conley who is considered the guru of the genre, having restored nearly 2,000 Shelby Cragars over the last 25 years. Conley reports that these three wheels (the third on the rear package tray) are the only prototype examples he’s ever encountered. Also seen here are the differences between the plain centercaps that were fitted to 003’s prototype wheels, and the Peter Brock designed CS logo cap that went into production. Also notice the OE Goodyear Blue Dot compared to the blackwall Power Cushion, as well as the hand painted G.T. 350 rocker logo versus the production 1965 decal.
The metal throughout 003 was surprisingly original and rust free, just modified in a few areas. An example is the rear wheel openings, which had been radiused for tire clearance years before. This three-frame-sequence (before, during, after) shows the process Dave Mackey performed in restoring the original lip, keeping the original quarter and splicing in a lip from a donor Mustang. The end results are perfection.
Another area of repair that reveals Mackey’s expertise was in the C-pillar, where the original louvers had been removed and the supporting structure hacked away. All replacement metal was date-correct original Ford.
Typical of many vintage Mustangs, the front subframe rails were noticeably damaged from years of jacking the car at these locations. Check out these before and after shots of the passenger side framerail. Amazingly, the original sheetmetal manufacturer’s stamp is still on the framerails after all the paint and primer were stripped away.
Early magazine ads showed the Street Prototype from a couple of different angles. It’s been determined that these photos were shot at Benedict Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, near Shelby’s Venice, California, headquarters. MUMP-150600-GT-33
Suspension detailing and components on 003 are per MCA Thoroughbred standards, and reflective of John Brown and his crew’s exacting work. The Koni shocks are from the first known batch made for Mustang applications, dated 11-1964.
At the start of the restoration, Hovander worked hard to understand what holes in the engine compartment were factory (Ford or Shelby), versus what holes came during years of enthusiastic modification. He sent this image around to different experts in the field, to solicit valuable input on what holes needed to be eliminated.
What’s With The Corvette Tires?
Finding parts for any 50-year-old car will be a challenge, but part of the challenge with the Street Prototype were the unusual parts—one-offs and abnormal pieces that are part of a vehicle’s initial development process. Hovander tells an interesting story about the original tires on 003, which is thought to be the only ’65 street car not to be fitted with Goodyear Blue Dots. You may recall that the Blue Dot was a high-performance tire in Goodyear’s Power Cushion line, and the OE tire for the ’65 G.T. 350. However a study of vintage Street Prototype photos led Hovander to the realization that the car was originally fitted with standard blackwall Goodyear Power Cushions, probably because the Blue Dots were just in the process of being produced. So where would one find a set of N.O.S. 15-inch Power Cushions, a diameter that wasn’t all that common in 1965? Hovander determined that certain base model Corvettes were fitted with this very tire, so he joined a national Corvette forum and placed a wanted ad. A full year later, Hovander was contacted by a Corvette enthusiast who was selling a pristine set of the proper original Power Cushions on a set of aluminum Corvette knock-off wheels. Hovander talked the owner into separating the wheels and tires, “I told him the tires were going on a ’65 coupe. I just didn’t say what kind of coupe, as I was afraid he might not sell them to me if he learned the car wasn’t a Corvette” chuckles Hovander, now after the fact. Another irony related to tires and 003, is the fact that the car was used in a period Goodyear ad for the new Blue Dots, despite never wearing them.
Owner Mark Hovander is grateful to the close-knit Shelby Mustang community, for the many people who helped in one way or another with the restoration of the Street Prototype. Former owners, fellow enthusiasts, show judges, and complete strangers responded to Hovander’s search for specific information, components, photographs, and memories, all of which were integral to bringing 003 back together in spectacular fashion.
Those who finish this story and still find themselves wanting to learn more about 003 and other ’65 G.T. 350s, should check out www.1965gt350mustang.com. This website is a work in progress, and authored by Mark Hovander and other early G.T. 350 enthusiasts. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in all the gory details of the earliest Shelbys.
When Sam Smith of Ford’s Special Vehicles Department was seeking a Project Engineer for Shelby American’s development of the “Cobra Mustang,” he encouraged his friend Chuck Cantwell to apply. Cantwell was working for GM Styling and involved in SCCA racing in the Detroit area at the time, and Smith figured the Shelby job would be a good fit. Apparently Carroll Shelby and his general manager Peyton Cramer came to the same conclusion, for in the late summer of 1964, Cantwell was hired to head the G.T. 350 program. Cantwell’s leadership helped the Shelby Mustang to big successes in both competition and sales realms, winning three consecutive B/Production championships, and growing the initial 562 production units in 1965 to over 3,000 by 1967. Cantwell was also a key figure in Shelby’s participation in the Trans-Am series, and beginning in 1966 was team Project Engineer for the endeavor. He moved over to Roger Penske’s Sunoco-sponsored Camaro team in 1969, where he served as team manager, continuing in that role with Penske for the Javelin program in 1970-1971.
Peter Brock was one of Shelby American’s first employees, and a key figure in early Cobra and G.T. 350 history. With a background at GM’s styling studio where he helped design the prototype Corvette Stingray, his eye for form and function was incredible. Prior to his endeavors with the G.T. 350, Brock’s Shelby accomplishments included developing the shape of the World Championship winning Cobra Daytona Coupes, creation of the hooded Cobra logo, the now famous Cobra, Cobra, Cobra T-shirts, and much more. On the G.T.350 he introduced the now iconic blue over white racing stripe configuration, the hood scoop, the center gauge pod, the R-model vented rear window, and a majority of the company’s advertisements. Brock left Shelby in 1965, and soon formed Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE), which, among other accomplishments, became Datsun’s West Coast factory race team in the late ’60s/early ’70s, to include SCCA Championship 240Zs and 2.5L Trans-Am titles in 1971 and 1972 with Datsun 510s. Brock’s involvement with automobiles continues, with he and his wife Gayle being active motorsports journalists and photographers, as well as manufacturing Brock’s slick aerodynamic race car haulers, called Aerovaults, in Henderson, Nevada.