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Back to the Beginnings Tour: Reviving, and Racing, the IRS 1965 Shelby G.T. 350
The Original Venice Crew at Shelby American that built the first G.T 350 Mustangs are back at it, racing an IRS-equipped 1965 Shelby G.T. 350—and winning!
One of the most iconic Mustangs ever manufactured is the 1965 Shelby Mustang G.T. 350. Based on Ford Motor Company’s new Mustang, which was affectionately branded as a “Secretary’s Car,” the Shelby Mustang G.T. 350 bellowed Total Performance. Based out of Shelby American’s Venice Shops—one on Princeton Drive the other around the corner on Carter Road—a handful of Shelby’s employees were tasked with making the Mustang into a fire-breathing Corvette-conquering race car, ready to pounce on all of the competition in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA).
This was no easy task, as the Falcon-based chassis was crude and far from an ideal platform to build a race car from. Carroll Shelby assembled a Team led by Project Engineer Chuck Cantwell and Dick Lins to build 100 examples to satisfy the SCCA requirement to run in B Production. But before production could begin, they had to figure out what needed to be changed to make the less-than-inspiring Mustang into a race and performance street car, and keep the cost down as well.
Ford sent two notchback Mustang coupes along with Ford chassis specialist Klaus Arning for testing. Shelby assigned the development to Ken Miles and with the assistance of Bob Bondurant, headed out to Willow Springs Raceway to turn the Mustang into a race car. Klaus Arning came up with the simple geometric change in the front-end A arms and specified Koni shocks, override traction bars, Detroit locker, and wider wheels and tires. Toward the end of the development, Ford sent out a couple of independent rear suspension units, but by that time the Shelby Team had the live-axle rear end dialed in, and they were performing as well as cars equipped with the much more expensive independent rear suspension units.
The decision to go with the live axle was okay with Ford, as Klaus Arning estimated the development of the IRS would cost upwards of $85,000. The Shelby G.T. 350 utilized the Galaxie station wagon rear end equipped with a towing package with Ford’s largest rear brakes at 10 inches in diameter with 2.5-inch wide sintered metallic brake linings. Best of all, this axle bolted right into the Mustang chassis with very little modification.
Once the development was underway and pieces were selected from Ford’s parts catalog to enhance the performance of the Shelby G.T. 350, Pete Brock was tasked with making the vanilla-looking Mustang into something with a Shelby sporting image. With limitations that it couldn’t cost too much, Brock redesigned the easily removable components such as the hood and replaced with it with a fiberglass version to save weight, two versions of the wheels, the instrument pod mounted to the dash and of course, the G.T. 350’s racing stripes based on the graphics of Briggs Cunningham’s Le Mans Team cars.
Brock worked with Ken Miles, Bob Bondurant, and Chuck Cantwell at Willow Springs Raceway in developing the Shelby G.T. 350 “Competition Model” (the R for the race versions of the Shelby G.T. 350 is the acronym for the original designation). Brock designed the fiberglass valance with a large opening that directed airflow through an oil cooler and the radiator. A pair of holes, one on each side, fed cooling air to the front disc brakes. The rear quarter window vents were covered by riveting on panels to control laminar airflow around the car at speed and the rear Plexiglas window was redesigned to vent air out of the cab. To be readily identifiable as a Shelby Mustang, Brock designed the side stripes on the rocker panel. By the 1966 model year Brock added the rear brake side scoops and the clear Plexiglas quarter windows. These additions are what Brock wanted to do for the 1965 model but did not have the time to get them done.
As the Shelby G.T. 350 was under development in the Venice Shop, several Shelby employees were recruited in fabricating and building the cars. One of Shelby’s master fabricators, Ted Sutton, was assigned to the G.T. 350 Competition Model program. In 1963, Sutton installed the first 427 FE Ford motor into a 289 Cobra chassis. CSX2196 was raced at the Sebring 12 Hour with Ken Miles and John Morton. Miles crashed the Cobra during testing and during the race Morton blew the motor up in the middle of the night. Sutton also worked on the prototype Tiger and the first Cobra Daytona Coupe. Sutton contacted his long-time school buddy, Jerry Schwarz, who was also recruited to work on the project. Another Shelby employee was hired at 17 years old; Jim Marietta had been following the Shelby Team Cobras from race to race and was recruited by Competition Director Al Dowd to assist on the pit crew while at the track. Dowd sent a letter to Marietta offering him a job at the Venice Shop so Marietta packed his bags and moved out to Southern California from Ohio, moved in with roommates Ted Sutton and Jerry Schwarz, and was assigned to the G.T. 350 program.
In late 1964/early 1965, Shelby American was a torrent of activity. The Cobra roadsters were dominate at International circuits, the Peter Brock-designed Cobra Daytona Coupe won Le Mans and was well on the way to an FIA GT Manufacturer’s Championship, the King Cobras won the Sports Car races in 1963 and 1964 and Shelby American was given the GT40 race program. The Venice Shop was the hub of International Racing and now took on the manufacturing of the Shelby G.T. 350. On Valentine’s Day in 1965 Ken Miles won the debut race at Green Valley Raceway in Texas in the newly developed race prepared Shelby G.T. 350 (SFM5R002). Later that year, Jerry Titus won the B Production SCCA Championship driving a G.T. 350. Success reigned once again for Shelby American. By early 1965 Shelby American moved from the Venice facilities to a larger complex next to the Los Angeles Airport (LAX). But things changed after the move to LAX from a small operation in Venice with a handful of Southern California hot-rodders to a more formalized environment.
50 years later, some of the original Shelby employees from the Venice shop reminisced about those glory days while socializing at Peter and Gayle Brock’s home during the 2014 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. What if they, the guys that built the original G.T. 350R-Model Shelbys, build another one the way they wanted to build them in 1964/1965?
Jim Marietta seized the opportunity and decided to spearhead the project. Peter Brock was immediately on board with the project along with Ted Sutton. This Band of Brothers decided to call themselves “The Original Venice Crew” or “OVC” for short. The three of them wanted to explore the possibility of re-visiting the unanswered question of the independent rear suspension under the Shelby G.T. 350 verses the live axle rear end. Sutton and Marietta were at Riverside Raceway when the IRS was tested by Ken Miles and realized a thorough and comprehensive comparison was never competed. Brock knew that Duane Carling in Utah had uncovered one of the original IRS assemblies of the two that were sent to Shelby American to be developed and suggested they consider the bold endeavor of building the Shelby G.T. 350 that never was. Duane Carling tracked the IRS from LAX Shelby American to Holman and Moody’s shop and subsequently into private hands. Much of the original pieces were unusable but some of the parts could be rescued. Carling knew the designer of the IRS, Klaus Arning, and Arning researched his original blueprints from the Ford archives and provided a copy to Carling.
With one of the original IRS assemblies and Klaus Arning’s engineering blueprints in hand, the OVC Team had a vision of a bygone era, was it possible to have an opportunity to build the Shelby Mustang the way they envisioned 50 years ago without the original time and cost constraints? And how would their new version perform? 101 days later two G.T. 350R-Project Mustangs, one with the IRS and another with a solid axle rear, were revealed at Willow Springs International Raceway for the 50th Anniversary of the first G.T. 350R win at Green Valley Raceway. Both Mustangs were created side by side at Pete Brock’s Shop in Henderson, Nevada. The solid axle Mustang was commissioned by William Dearly, owner of the private “Carroll Collection” located in Jackson, Michigan. A handful of volunteers assisted Brock, Marietta, and Sutton to complete both G.T. 350R-Project Mustangs by the February 14, 2015 deadline. Participating in the project was Duane Carling, Daniel Sculnick, Bill Palleva, Dermie Close, and your author, along with assistance from Ted Sutton’s sons Eric and Kevin and Jim Marietta’s son Mark. The final assembly days were spent at vintage racer Michael Eisenberg’s shop before turning a wheel in anger at Willow Springs Raceway.
In the February 2016 issue of Mustang Monthly, SCCA Endurance Road Racing Champion Rick Titus provided extensive coverage of the initial comparison testing of the IRS versus the solid axle project G.T.350R Mustangs, noting the passive toe steer of Klaus Arning’s original IRS design hindered the maximum capabilities of the IRS in a competitive environment. With OVC’s continued development of the IRS and removing the passive steer along with testing new rear spring rates, the IRS has taken on a more aggressive track handling set-up, more in line with what was expected.
With the initial track testing completed it was time to truly assess the OVC Mustang’s IRS G.T. 350R-Project Mustang’s capabilities with the “Back to the Beginnings Tour,” starting with the assistance of Steve McCord at Galpin Ford in Los Angeles in early June 2016 and arriving at the 42nd Annual Mid America Ford & Shelby Nationals at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit to meet up with Greg Reynolds, Jim Wicks, and Randy Roberts along with the Shelby American Team of Gary Patterson and Vince LaViolette. Jim Marietta had arranged for Shelby American Vice President and test driver Vince LaViolette to drive the IRS G.T. 350R in the Vintage Race Group to see how the suspension modifications measure up in a competitive environment, understanding of course that vintage racing is a gentlemen’s sport.
With LaViolette behind the wheel, the practice and qualifying sessions demonstrated that the OVC G.T. 350R performed flawlessly around the 1.8-mile, 10-turn track. Hallett is not a very fast course but with the elevation changes, it is a challenging technical driver’s course and an extreme test of a vintage race car’s suspension. On race day the vintage race group accelerated down the front straight toward the flag station and when the green flag waved they were three abreast heading into the fast left hand Turn 1. Up front was David Williams in his Fast Lane Classic Cars GT40, Greg Reynolds in his 1967 Shelby G.T.350, Vince LaViolette in the IRS, and Jason Childress in his Gateway Classic Mustang prepared 1967 Mustang.
David Williams was leading for the first couple of laps and then had a mechanical failure leaving Reynolds, Childress, and LaViolette fighting for first place as their small block Fords bounced off the rev-limiters as they hammered the gears, sliding sideways exiting the Turn 10 corner leading onto the start/finish straightaway. Childress and Reynolds defiantly pursued the IRS G.T. 350R demonstrating their proficiency on their home track as they waited for LaViolette to make a mistake. LaViolette lead out of Turn 10 on the last lap and stormed to the waving checkered flag to denote the first win, in the first vintage race for the OVC G.T. 350R-Project Mustang. Confirming what Marietta, Sutton, and Brock believed, that the independent rear suspension in the Shelby G.T. 350 more than 50 years ago would have been a proven winner. The rejoicing on the winner’s podium was shared by LaViolette, Childress, and Reynolds as the OVC Team celebrated a very significant moment in the development of Marietta’s dream to once again, go back and build something they wanted to build 50 years ago.
After the success at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit, the OVC Team headed for the Shelby American Automobile Club’s 41st Annual Convention held at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course stopping off at Jason and Lonny Childress’ Gateway Classic Mustangs in Bourbon, Missouri for a quick oil change and safety check of all the components before hitting the track at Mid-Ohio. The IRS G.T. 350R teamed up once again with the live axle Project Mustang owned by William Dearly for demonstration laps and the SAAC car show where both Mustangs attracted considerable attention from the knowledgeable crowd.
The next stop was at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan where the OVC Team was invited by Transportation Curator Matt Anderson to host a public presentation of both OVC G.T. 350R-Project Mustangs in the courtyard between the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village under a beautiful blue sky. Two presentations were conducted which drew quite a crowd when both Carroll Shelby Engine Co. 450-plus horsepower small block Fords were fired up in the open courtyard.
The following day the OVC Team headed for the Ford Flat Rock Assembly Plant were the current IRS-equipped Mustangs are assembled and to meet up with Klaus Arning’s son Ralph and his wife Ann. Ralph Arning is a Service Engineer and Mustang Program Manager at Flat Rock and arranged a special presentation of both G.T. 350R-Project Mustangs exclusively for the Flat Rock employees.
After a whirlwind tour, the OVC Team headed back to Southern California with one last stop at Ford Performance Racing School at Utah Motorsports Campus in Utah to meet up with Ford Performance driving instructor and good friend Bill Rhinehart, to display the IRS G.T. 350R for the Ford Performance School trainees. After saying farewell to Rhinehart, the OVC “Back to the Beginnings Tour” ended right back at Galpin Ford four weeks and several thousand miles later.
WANT AN IRS FOR YOUR EARLY MUSTANG?
Duane Carling, the man who tracked down the original IRS used in G.T. 350 development, has a company called Mustang IRS in Farmington, Utah, where he sells kits to put one in both early Mustangs and also in the 2005-2008 models. Check it out at Mustangirs.com.
OVC G.T. 350 Competition Model Mustangs Being Built?
Jim Marietta is currently in the process of building Original Venice Crew G.T. 350 Competition Model Mustangs with the IRS and Brock’s other changes, but it’s still in the early stages and we don’t have much to report other than that. But if and when it happens, Mustang-360.com and Mustang Monthly magazine will bring you the full scoop. Meanwhile you may visit the OVC Mustang website at ovcmustangs.com and contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.