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Interview

1965 Ford Mustang GT350

Story and photos by Jerry F. Boone

It was Carroll Shelby who turned the rather mundane Mustang into the all-conquering GT350, which laid waste to the competition throughout the last half of the 1960s.

The Texan took 100 of the first 2+2s equipped with the K-code engine built at Ford’s San Jose, Calif., to create his own version of the car. He tossed out the rear seats and added oversize front disc brakes, a fiberglass hood and dropped the suspension, while adding larger, 15-inch wheels.

In the ‘60s, the Shelby version of the Mustang was in short supply, and more than a few racers took cars of lesser pedigree and turned them into GT350 clones.

The clone cars aren’t as valuable as the genuine item, but when it comes to looks and performance, they are just as potent.

About the only difference between Rob Vanderzanden’s GT350 and the real thing is the lack of a Shelby-issued VIN number and tag on the fenderwell.

“Other than the number, it’s almost impossible to tell mine from one that came out of Shelby’s operation,” says Vanderzanden.

In many ways, the clone is the same thing as a Shelby, and was built the same way...in a shop that took high performance parts and swapped them for the production line items. That was how Shelby’s craftsmen did it in a Southern California airplane hanger, and that’s how Vanderzanden’s car was transformed.

It began life as a 1965 fastback, A-code Mustang with the high performance 289 engine and four-speed gearbox.

Shortly after it was delivered to its first owner, the car underwent the full Shelby clone treatment and emerged as a dedicated race car, competing in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, SCCA allowed the car to race in everything from local club events to the nationally-followed Trans-Am Series.

In the Trans-Am, the Mustang went head-to-head with the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, Mercury Cougar and other “pony cars.” Fans flocked to road courses across the country--from Southern California to New England--in a super heated atmosphere of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

The racing history of Vanderzanden’s car is a bit sketchy, but there’s no evidence it was ever entered in one of the SCCA’s top tier events.

“It was raced mostly in the Pacific Northwest,” he says. “It’s first race was in 1966 and it was raced until the early 1980s.”

When he bought it, the Mustang was a typical, well-used, former racecar. It had spent years in a warehouse, the chassis up on blocks.

“It was pretty solid, but it looked like an old race car,” he says.

There was race track damage in the front and rear, and the dents and dings from lap after lap in close competition.

Vanderzanden did most of the restoration work himself, with the help of a few friends. He’s the kind of guy whose wallet is crammed with photos of cars he has or still owns and his mind is jammed with details about each one.

“I guess you could call me an enthusiast,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve owned a lot of cars, but I’m especially partial to Fords.”

His GT350 will run the quarter mile in the mid-12 second range with a trap speed of just shy of 120 miles per hour. He’s taken the car out on the road course at Portland (OR) International Raceway, where he’s seen 146 mph down the front straight.

“It’ll do better than a lot of the genuine 350s,” he says.

Vanderzanden says he’s been offered three or four times the amount of money he has into the car, but he’s not inclined to sell it.

“You can’t replace it,” he says. “I can’t afford the cost of a genuine 350GT and Shelby won’t sell the parts anymore to build another one. Even if you had a good car to begin with, there are no parts available for sale.”

Vanderzanden’s Mustang looks like a Shelby. It sounds like a Shelby. It performs like a Shelby.

And unlike most GT350, his Mustang carries a competition history that most genuine Shelby’s can’t approach.

So while it may not be a genuine Shelby, in the eyes of some, it’s comes closer than most others to being the car Carroll Shelby intended to build.

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Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

R.M. Clarke
Shelby Mustang 1965-1970: Ultimate Portfolio
Brooklands Books, Paperback, 2003-11
Following the successful AC Cobras, Shelby was approached by Ford to develop a hot version of its new Mustang. For 1965 he developed the legendary GT350 and its lightweight racing derivative, the GT350R. In 1967 the GT350 was supplemented by the GT500 with a 428ci V8. After this the stock Mustang began to have more performance even though Ford made the cars more comfortable and heavier. New safety and exhaust emissions regulations in 1968 blunted their performance. Despite Cobra badging and the new King of the Road designation for the GT500KR, power and performance were down. At the end of 1967 production was transferred to Michigan. Production stopped in 1970 after only 10,825 Shelby Mustangs of all years had been built. This is a book of contemporary road and comparison tests, specification and technical data, model introductions, buying a used car, and driver’s views.

Tom Corcoran
Shelby Mustang
Motorbooks, Paperback, 1992-12-06
A sensational history of the mighty Shelby Mustangs, from the raw 65s to the muscular 70s. All the inside details of development, production and special features--plus over 70 color shots of the best Shelby Mustangs around. Street and strip, stock and high-performance, the Hertz cars, and more. The complete history of the Shelby Mustangs by the editor of Mustang Monthly.

Mike Mueller
The Complete Book of Mustang: Every Model Since 1964 1/2
Motorbooks, Hardcover, 2007-10-15

Ford’s Mustang is the most iconic pony car. This lavishly illustrated work conducts readers through the Mustang’s forty-plus years of continuous production--a rich and varied history unmatched in the automotive world. The Complete Book of Mustang offers an in-depth look at the prototypes and experimental models, the anniversary and pace cars, and the specialty packages for street and competition driving that have made the Mustang a living automotive legend. With extensive details, specs, and photographic coverage, this book is the ultimate resource on America’s favorite pony car.


Tom Corcoran
Mustang 1964 1/2-1968 (Muscle Car Color History)
Motorbooks, Paperback, 1994-02-13
A vivid photographic history of Americas original ponycar. Page after page of meticulously restored Mustangs including some exceptional, original-condition Mustangs. Excellent examples for finding the right finishing touches for your restoration. The text is full of the Mustangs history, development, successes at the strip and on the track, and other fascinating details from Tom Corcoran, editor of Mustang Monthly magazine.

Randy Leffingwell
Mustang: The Original Muscle Car
Motorbooks, Paperback, 2002-02-25
Mustang follows the evolution of one of the worlds most beloved cars from its earliest pre-prototype days through the latest generation, debuted in 1994. Leffingwells extensively researched text offers an inside look at the engineering, design, corporate politics, and enthusiast reactions that have literally shaped the Mustang since its 1964 1/2 introduction. Filled with more than 200 color photographs, ads, brochures, and historical shots.

Carroll Shelby: An Interview with the Snake
Wheels TV, DVD
The producers of the TV series Wild About Wheels bring you a full hour “auto” biography of the creator of history’s most exciting sports cars, Carroll Shelby. The Snake Charmer himself takes you through the years of his many motoring exploits, including the development of the Cobra and the GT 350, and his collaboration with Dan Gurney, a former driver for Shelby American who won the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Shelby prepared GT 40. Rare footage and never before seen photos recreate the greatest moments in Shelby’s illustrious career. You’ll meet celebrities such as Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, and Jay Leno. Created by a S.A.A.C. member Bill Stephens.
History and Production Notes

Desmond was afraid to let the cat out...until he got his Mustang.

Mustang! A car to make weak men strong, strong men invincible. Mustang! Equipped with bucket seats, floor shift, vinyl interior, padded dash, full carpeting, more. Mustang! A challenge to your imagination with options like front disc brakes, 4-on-the-floor, big 289 cu. in. V-8, you name it. Desmond traded in his Persian kitten for an heiress named Olga. He had to. She followed him home. (It’s inevitable...Mustangers have more fun.)

There are cars that have changed the automotive landscape.

The Model T Ford, the Corvette, the Tri-5 Chevrolets from the 1950s, even the lowly VW Beetle and the utilitarian Chrysler mini-van were benchmarks in engineering, styling or marketing.

But none of them spawned as big--or as long lasting--change as the Ford Mustang.

It has been nearly 50 years since a concept version of the Mustang was unveiled as a two-seater, mid-engined sports car in 1962. The following year a Mustang II prototype was shown at the Watkins Glen sports car course in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. That version more closely resembled what Ford had in mind for a production car.

The Mustang was the offspring of Lee Iacocca, then vice president and general manager of Ford Division. He wanted a European-styled car that could hold four people, be equipped with sports bucket seats and a floor shifter. It would have to be light and sell for under $2500.

It went from concept to production in less than two years, an unheard of timeframe in the 1960s when engineering was done with slide rules and designs were done at drafting boards. Ford was able to shorten the development time by reaching deep into its parts bin and use components from cars already in production. It was a necessity. The new car was meant to be an inexpensive vehicle aimed at Baby Boomers, the vanguard of which were just then old enough to get their driver’s license.

Critics complain the Mustang generated far more enthusiasm than the car merited. The first ones, after all, were little more than Ford Falcons wearing a prom dress. Early ones were powered by Ford’s utilitarian bullet-proof straight six engine mated to a three-speed transmission. The suspension was basic and the handling uninspired and the all-drum brake cars were frightening.

But the long-nose, short deck car captured the imagination of the buying public. Ford helped fuel the interest by shipping the cars to dealers under cover and scheduling a nation-wide unveiling on the same day. The Mustang was shown to the public for the first time inside the Ford Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964.

The day before its release, Ford ran simultaneous commercials on all three major television networks. The following day, crowds were lined up outside showrooms to look at this revolutionary car. By the end of business that first day, more that 22,000 Mustangs had been sold. By the end of the year, Ford had sold 263,434 and by its first anniversary, there were 418,812 Mustangs on the road.

During the Mustang’s early years, the basic engine was the weak-kneed 170-cubic-inch six that just barely topped the 100-horsepower mark. Next in line was a larger 200-cubic-inch six making 116 horsepower, followed by the 260-cubic-inch V8 with 164 horsepower. The most popular engine was the a 210-horsepower two-barrel-equipped 289 V8, followed by the same engine with a four barrel carburetor making 220 horsepower. The K-code 289, high performance 289 churned out 271 horsepower, enough to merit its own badge on the front fenders.

Buyers shied away from the vanilla version of the car. Three or every four of them were ordered with a V-8 and performance upgrades.

Ford’s unveiling of the pre-production prototype at a race track turned out to be prophetic, as the sports car world was soon to embrace the competition potential of the car.

PRODUCTIONNOTES Production Notes...

According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Ford produced 607,568 1965 Mustangs. This count included approximately 253,200 sixes and 354,400 V8s.

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