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1965 Ford Shelby Mustang GT350 - Shelby Revolution
SFM5S003 was the first Shelby Mustang-and the start of something big for Shelby-American
It could be argued that every Mustang holds a unique history worthy of respect. Within this mindset, certain models clearly have special significance for their rarity, styling, or performance, while others were milestones on a more personal level; first cars, first dates, honeymoons, and more. Yet beyond all, there are a smattering of cars throughout Mustang's 42-year history that hold a significance which simply cannot be overstated. If you've guessed that the latter applies to the car spread before you, you would be right, as this is none other than numero uno among Shelby Mustangs, the very first GT350.
Known in Shelby circles today as 003 by virtue of its SFM5S003 VIN, it is also recognized as the GT350 street prototype and the car that saw duty for much of Shelby American's early advertising and promotion.
To accurately relate the beginnings of the Shelby Mustang, it's important to explain a bit of background. After agreeing to produce a specially-modified high-performance version of Ford's new ponycar, Carroll Shelby and company received several regular-production Mustangs to serve R&D duties. The Shelby American World Registry relates that two coupes were used to evaluate suspension packages, while two white fastbacks were used for paint and styling exercises. We don't know where these cars ended up, but we do know that none became actual Shelby Mustangs.
As plans formalized, Shelby took delivery of three more white fastbacks that would serve as the first GT350s. Two were destined to be race models, and one would serve as the street prototype. This machine, not identified as 003 until months later, was actually finished first and immediately began serving innumerable photographic and press duties.
After some six months of use by Shelby American, the street prototype was free to be sold, and an internal memo from Project Manager Chuck Cantwell indicated the car should be officially tagged as SFM5S003. Of note are some early photos of 003 showing an 001 identification number hand-lettered on its firewall during the first few months at Shelby American. Later, when the first three GT350s were simultaneously affixed with their VIN tags, little emphasis was placed on assuring the numbers matched the hand-lettered notation, which at times has resulted in considerable confusion over the true identities of both 003 and 001.
Original owner Bill Moir purchased 003 from Ed Leslie Motors in Monterey, California, in June 1965, and actually owned it on two separate occasions prior to the early '70s. Through numerous subsequent owners, the car has vacillated between street and race trim several times, the latest iteration obviously being of the competition persuasion. More recent owners Don Day and Doug Richmond campaigned the car amongst the vintage ranks throughout the '80s and '90s until current owner Dave Lennartz purchased it in 1999. Lennartz initially enjoyed 003 in limited open-track environs; many might say as it should be, although his emphasis is evolving even as we speak. Dick Roush and other fellow Northwest Shelby enthusiasts have been lobbying Lennartz to return the car to as-built prototype condition in deference to its unique status among the marque. Initially unconvinced it would happen under his watch, Lennartz is now moving in that direction, acquiring the long-lost parts that the street prototype wore when new. In the meantime, the car continues to represent its competition heritage, a form that certainly holds no shame in our eyes.
SFM5S003 is currently powered by what has perhaps become an atypical small-block Ford. No aluminum heads, no stroker short-block, and no roller camshaft, just vintage speed parts through and through. Below the R-model-style valve covers, Holley four-barrel, and Cobra-lettered aluminum intake, an .030-over Hi-Po block holds 293 ci of rumbling solid-lifter power. While undoubtedly less than a current vintage-racing front runner, Lennartz reports the engine feels plenty strong when pushed. Incidentally, the original engine and transmission for 003 have been missing for years and are items Lennartz would love to reunite with the chassis if they could ever be found. Ditto for various other one-off prototype pieces.
Regardless of configuration, seeing the first Shelby Mustang ever constructed is a special treat and a trip down memory lane. It was the beginning of an ultra-special breed, a breed that continues to grow in admiration and respect to this day and likely well into the future. Frankly, it's an honor to be able to share such a significant piece of history with our international audience, and we look forward to seeing what changes are in store for 003 as the years roll on. From the sound of things, it should only get better!
We've really only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of the earliest Shelby, but thankfully, there's a source for those who want to dig deeper. Northwest Shelby historian Mark Hovander has established www.1965gt350mustang.com, a terrific Web site for anyone interested in 003 or '65 Shelbys in general. It's an ongoing project, with regular updates as relevant facts are discovered, and believe us, Hovander is devoted to turning up even the smallest tidbits of information. As an example, the Web site has plans to detail various production variations for the '65 in the coming year, including seatbelts, carburetors, steering wheels, and front sway bars.
Chain of Evidence
The ownership history of 003 is somewhat incomplete according to the Shelby registry. We're printing what we know in the hope a reader can help fill in the blanks. What are the chances that a missing owner(s) might even still have a few of the prototype pieces that ought to be part of a future restoration? Here's what we know to this point: