Eric English
August 17, 2007

There's surely no single recipe for making fast laps in a race car, but if you wanted to key in on one of the biggest ingredients to success, it would have to be minimizing weight. A factor in acceleration, braking, handling, and parts longevity, the negative influence that stems from extra pounds simply cannot be overestimated.

Carroll Shelby knew this long before attempting to turn Ford's new Mustang into a competitive force in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing, so when given the task, he trimmed the new Pony at every opportunity. The result was what is now commonly referred to as an R-model, a pure racer to the core, and the predominate reason Shelby sewed up SCCA B-Production championships in 1965, 1966,and 1967.

When Ian Howard set out to build a serious Mustang track car, he found it an easy decision to emulate the competition GT350 both in terms of performance and cosmetics. The latter are simplistic slam dunks, including the R-model rear window and front apron, a fiberglass hood, side louver block-offs, and 15-inch Torque Thrusts. Less obvious touches really pull the competitive theme together-items like hood and trunk pins, a gas cap block-off, aluminum framed pull-up windows, and side-exit exhaust. Toss in the classic Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue stripes, and you've got a race-inspired replica that stands tall in any crowd.

The simplicity seen here is in some ways remarkable, as later Shelbys and the currently popular Eleanor Mustangs rely so heavily on scoops, spoilers, and assorted body trimmings. While these cars have an undeniably wild and exotic look, none trump the minimalist, all-business approach that an R-model GT350 displays.

Howard's Mustang actually started life as a '66 2+2, but it pulls off the '65-only full-race motif without a hitch. The debate surrounding such clone cars often swirls around future misrepresentation, or poorly executed attempts that discredit the real thing. Neither holds true here, as this fastback looks for all the world like a champion road racer, yet will always bear an unmistakably pedestrian C-code 289 two-barrel VIN. Here's where the spirit of a genuine R-model and a clone begin to diverge, the real thing having the kind of character and soul that can come only from 40 years of legend and authentic history. Still, that genuine Shelby spirit comes at tremendous economic cost when you consider just how similar clone cars can be in terms of actual hardware.

In this case, the hardware defends the honor of Shelby's road racing victories quite well, due in part to the stout 331-inch powerplant under the hood. Proving its mettle via 349 hp on a Dynojet chassis dyno, the stroker Windsor is built around a Mexican 302 block, a 3.25-inch forged crank, Crower rods, 12:1 Ross pistons, and Windsor Sr. heads-all backed by a period close-ratio Top Loader and 9-inch rear with 3.89 gears.

Too bad a picture can't transmit sound, as this high-compression, solid-cammed stroker Windsor is music to an enthusiast's ear, and capable of 349 hp at the rear wheels.

Of course, all the power in the world won't make for fast laps on its own, and Howard's suspension and brake package does a good job of handling the 2,600-pound demands of the spirited fastback. Up front, the upper control arms have been lowered and the lower arms boxed for extra strength, while high-rate springs, Koni shocks, and an adjustable sway bar team with original Kelsey Hayes four-piston disc brakes. In the rear, we find more Konis and beefy springs, a Panhard bar, override traction bars, and 211/42-inch wide drum brakes.

Even more simplistic is the interior, where gutting the cabin and spraying everything in basic black was the starting point. To this, original-style racing buckets from Delta Bay Mustang were installed, along with a package shelf and R-model style four-point rollbar. The dash is sans pad just like an original, though the gauge cluster strays from the competition six-gauge panel in favor of a more traditional five-instrument arrangement with a big tach front and center.

Perhaps the intent of this car is best confirmed by the absence of a speedometer, heater, or radio, and Howard confirms he spends little time on the street other than an occasional blast on nearby country roads.

Club track days are the stated preference, and we've seen him tearing it up in a way that fewer and fewer genuine Shelby owners are willing to risk in this age of spiraling values. Can't say we blame them, but it's a shame since such cars are best appreciated at speed. Obviously, the financial implications aren't as big a barrier for this car of lesser value but no less excitement. With its competition flavor in its element on the racetrack, the less-is-more point of view continues to prove its worth.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery