Eric English
July 25, 2007

We suspect that few of our readers need an introduction to the rare and revered '65 Shelby GT350 competition model, yet most will certainly need an introduction to the car shown before you, the SFM5R533.

Better known today as an R-model, 5R533 spent its formative years battling all comers in the rugged and beautiful western province of British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, and today is right back at it-in the hands of vintage racer Gary Fitzgerald.

SAAC 30 at California Speedway saw original driver Tommy Hamilton reunited with 5R533 for the first time since he and the car went separate ways in 1969.

We caught up with car and driver at the '05 Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC) convention in Fontana, California, where we not only witnessed the R-model at full throttle, but encountered original driver Tommy Hamilton reuniting with his former ride for the first time since 1969. Simply put, it was a sweet reunion.

Rewind back to 1965. Among the 562 GT350s that rolled off Shelby American's niche assembly line in its inaugural year were three separate batches of competition models. Just 36 of the hard-core racers were assembled, and this one was among the last batch of 14 that included car numbers 527-540. This is according to the SAAC's latest registry.

The same source also notes that Shelby American received the car from {{{Ford}}} on May 22, 1965, yet didn't ship it to New Westminster, B.C.'s Fogg Motors until March 31, 1967. While some R-models were successfully campaigned right out of the gate, it's apparent that others took considerable time to be sold. The SAAC registry notes that a handful of R-models were delivered well into 1966, along with two in 1967-with 5R533 appearing to be the last one sold. So much for the impersonal data; the real story here is the car's racing history.

We found the 77-year-old Hamilton more than happy to relate his experiences with this R-model during the late '60s, and believe us, there's plenty to share. At the time, Hamilton had established himself as one of the toughest sports-car racers in Western Canada, racing MGs, Austin Healeys, Sunbeam Alpines, and Sunbeam Tigers prior to the Shelby. Fellow racer and coworker Ken Dunsire hatched the idea of codriving something bigger and better and approached his friend and local Ford dealer Jack Brown for a sponsorship deal. When Brown agreed, it wasn't long before the R-model order was placed through Ford of Canada and nearby Shelby dealer Fogg Motors. It was 5R533 that arrived several weeks later at Brown Brothers Ford in Vancouver, where the car received final race prep by mechanics Dave Dunbar and Cal Witt. Hamilton still has the Shelby American vehicle invoice dated March 10, 1967, which shows the sale of 5R533 to Ford of Canada for the sum of $5,233.63, including freight.

Race cars with significant history seldom emerged physically unscathed, yet this one suffered its worst mishap prior to the first race at Coquitlam, B.C.'s Westwood road circuit. Hamilton chuckles at the episode some 40 years later, but it was surely no laughing matter when he lost control during practice and put the car on its lid-newspapers at the time reporting the damage at a princely $2,000. After repairs, Hamilton quickly made amends, scoring multiple victories and International Conference championships in B/Production and C/Modified classes. Unfortunately, codriver Dunsire became seriously ill shortly after the season began, leaving Hamilton as the man at the wheel after just a couple of races.