Jerry Heasley
January 14, 2011

'65 Shelby GT350 If you've ever wondered what happened to the '65 GT350 that toured with Shelby American's famous Cobra Caravan, look no further. Several years ago, Corey Lawson acquired this fastback, one of the 36 factory-prepared Competition models. Bruce Serene, from Vintage Shelby Restorations in Hillsboro, Kansas, restored the Shelby to MCA Thoroughbred standards of originality.

Before shooting pictures during the Mid America Ford and Team Shelby Nationals, Corey and Bruce insisted on jacking up the car to change the wheels so readers could see the R-model with its NOS rubber. Street '65 GT350s came with Goodyear Blue Dots, which are rare enough. Lawson tracked down an even rarer sight-NOS Goodyear Blue Streak tires that incredibly still have the original stickers on the tread. You can see why he doesn't exactly burn rubber with them.

Racing is what makes Shelby's "Mustang GT350 Competition" so special. Shelby American set up their Competition models for SCCA B-production road racing, with the race shop taking care of every detail, even initial test driving. In our opinion, no other American manufacturer ever offered a car off the showroom floor ready to compete. The buyer didn't have to do anything except pay the invoice, turn the key, and hit the track.

By winning the 1965 World Manufacturer's Championship with the 289 Cobra and capturing the B-production road racing championship with the GT350, Shelby American accomplished what Ford wanted. Yet the automotive press wasn't giving Shelby American due credit. So Shelby assembled the unique Cobra Caravan and put it on a nationwide tour starting on November 17, 1965. On board were four Shelby vehicles-the world champion 289 Daytona Cobra Coupe, a Ford GT, a 427 Cobra Competition roadster, and 5R213, the '65 GT350 Competition pictured here.

Today, everyone calls them R-models, a term derived from enthusiasts who saw the significance of the "R" in the Shelby VIN. Of course, it stands for "race." The term "R-model" didn't come into common use until 1973, according to the Shelby American Automobile Club.

Shelby American completed 5R213 on November 10, 1965, just in time to load it on the 40-foot enclosed trailer that carried the four Shelbys. The tour lasted four weeks, including stops in 12 major cities. Local dealers beefed up the display at each stop with street GT350s and 427 Cobras. Corey says the Cobra Caravan spent Christmas at Tasca Ford in Providence, Rhode Island.

Of the 36 R-models, Corey says only four were built with what he calls "factory history." Three were team race cars, including 5R102, Bob Johnson's '65 SCCA B/Production champion. The fourth was 5R213, which was never raced by Shelby American.

Footnotes in the Shelby American World Registry reveal the history of 5R213 after the Caravan: "Shipped to Carter Auto Transport (Newark, NJ). Shipped to Larsen Ford (White Plains, NY) 6/28/66. Shipped to F. Marti & Co. (New York, NY) 7/26/66, who shipped it to Callao Motors (Lima, Peru). Purchased by Julio Martinetti (Arequipa, Peru), who raced it several times. Purchased by Bratzo Vicich (Lima, Peru). Purchased by Richard Cohen and Gary Nufer (Little Rock, AR) and shipped back to the U.S. Purchased by Gordon Gibson (Little Rock, AR)."

Apparently, 5R213 was not raced to any great extent in South America. So when the fastback came back to the U.S., it was pretty much intact. Corey explained that Jay Bentley bought the R-model from Gibson, the last known owner in the Shelby American World Registry. Bentley started the restoration project that Lawson finished last year. Corey explained that Bentley's restoration was set up for vintage racing. However, Corey and Bruce Serene put the Shelby back to its 1965 race trim.

Reproduction parts were not an option. "Every single part on the car is an original 40-year-old part," Corey explains. "There are no reproduction parts on the car."

For example, the racing seatbelts are correct and date coded to the car. Even the fire extinguisher is date coded to the time frame of the build.

"The entire drivetrain is original," Corey says. "We had the original heads, intake, and carburetor, but the block had been replaced, so we found an original 289 Hi-Po block with the correct 5R09K number. Of course, it's not the original block that came with the car, but we wanted to make sure the replacement block came from the same plant where the car was originally built."

The job of rounding up original parts was softened by the originality of the car itself. For example, the Plexiglas side windows were intact, as was the rear window with the area at the top open for air flow.

The end result is a GT350 R-model that satisfies the purist. Corey equates it to a time capsule. "It even has the original Cobra vented battery caps," he says. "There are probably less than a half-dozen left in the world. It's got the genuine battery sitting in the trunk, an Autolite reverse-post 24C series, with the only original negative battery cable I have ever seen."

Although he doesn't vintage race this piece of Shelby history, the Hutchinson, Kansas, collector does put it on the track for special purposes. At Tulsa, his daughter paced the vintage racing group around the track. He also lets her drive the R-model for the ladies open-track sessions.

The historic Cobra Caravan GT350 Competition Mustang of 1965 is in safe hands. Corey is steeped in the tradition and loves the history.

"I volunteer for the Shelby American Museum in Boulder, Colorado. I've had all my Shelbys there on display, so I'm thinking of the history and originality. That's why we went to the pains to get the car 100 percent as-delivered."

In a way, the car is back on the tour. Corey trailers it to shows for all to see. You could call it Corey's Caravan.