In April 1964, the Ford Mustang roared onto the scene, unleashing a sales phenomenon that, 18 months later, would approach the one million mark. Lee Iacocca, steering clear of waiting for any ‘bubble to burst,’ embraced the mantra of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday.’ While the early Mustangs were a sales triumph, they fell short of Total Performance, given their roots in the economy car, the Falcon.

Enter Carroll Shelby, already a trusted force at Ford after engineering the successful Cobra projects. In December 1964, the Sports Car Championship of America welcomed the GT-350 into B-Production Racing. Shelby unveiled the GT-350 on January 27th, 1965, kickstarting a racing career that secured three SCCA B-Production Championships for Ford from 1965-1967.

Shelby America’s January 1965 was a whirlwind, as they took charge of the GT-40 project from Ford and relocated to the Los Angeles Airport for continued GT-350 production two months later. The GT-350, born from a white Mustang 2+2, featured a High-Performance 289 cubic-inch V8 and a four-speed manual gearbox.

Shelby’s magic touch focused on transforming the Mustang into a competitive sports car, not just another muscle car. Mechanical upgrades boosted the standard 271 horsepower to an impressive 306 bhp, creating a performance powerhouse. Exterior tweaks included a lightweight fiberglass hood, racing stripes, a refined grille, and a distinctive tricolored running horse.

Internally, the GT-350 boasted an all-black interior with bucket seats, competition seatbelts, and a special instrument cluster. Despite robust street sales, early GT-350 owners grumbled about noise and harshness, prompting user-friendly revisions in 1965.

For the 1966 models, Shelby ordered 252 additional cars, introducing cosmetic changes, new options, and color choices. Plexiglas replaced vents, functional side scoops improved brake cooling, and the grille underwent a makeover. Under the hood, the Shelby-prepared Ford V8 retained its power, but improvements in suspension enhanced comfort. The 1966 lineup featured an automatic transmission, a fold-down rear seat, and an optional factory supercharger.

With 2,378 units produced, including the iconic GT 350H Hertz ‘Rent A Racers,’ the 1966 Shelby Mustang marked a turning point. Ford, aiming for a broader market, initiated a gradual ‘toning down’ of the Shelby legacy, ultimately leading to a departure from the thoroughbred roots that defined the early models.