Mustang GT350 Roadster: Shelby Style In A New Roadster Restomod

Tucked away behind the massive facilities of Carroll Shelby Industries in Gardena, CA, Jim Marietta leads a group known as the Original Venice Crew (OVC) that builds restomod Mustangs the exact same way he witnessed firsthand in the 1960s at Shelby American’s first shop. Today, Marietta imbues that intimate Shelby knowledge into continuation cars that practically mirror the originals—so much so, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) recently confirmed an OVC Mustang GT350 can officially enter next year’s Le Mans Classic, an iconic endurance race. More recently, Marietta and OVC unveiled a more creative departure from the tried-and-tested recipes that famous figures like Shelby, Pete Brock, Ken Miles, and Ted Sutton put in place six decades prior: a Mustang GT350 Roadster that made a soft debut at Monterey Car Week ahead of the official presentation at Wynn Las Vegas 2022 Concours d’Elegance.

Garage with a white vintage Ford Mustang and other Mustangs behind it.
Michael Teo Van Runkle

The Mustang Corral

OVC’s Gardena warehouse looks like most other shops. Other than a wall crammed to the edges with famous signatures, it's filled with funky old Mustangs in various stages of disrepair and revitalization; a couple lifts, motors, and gearboxes strewn about; and a modern Ford GT parked in the corner for good measure.

OVC burst back on the scene about eight years ago with a highly correct GT350 Competition Model harkening back to the famous "Flying Mustang" GT350R chassis number 5R002. For that car, which still serves as a testbed for OVC’s continued experimentation, Marietta took a cast iron 289ci V8 with original Carroll Shelby aluminum heads, bored and stroked it to 331ci, and mounted a single four-barrel carb on top. He now estimates it puts down around 460 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, originally through a toploader four-speed manual but, more recently, a five-speed unit that Tremec asked him to torture test.

To make the setup fully streetable, Marietta went through six different radiator fan units, custom-built dual oil and coolant overflow tanks, installed a dual-reservoir brake master cylinder, and swapped on an independent rear suspension setup that Shelby toyed with but shelved due to increased production costs. The independent rear suspension also allows for four-wheel disc brakes to replace the original rear drums. Far more than just another Wimbledon White Mustang with Guardsman Blue racing stripes, a roll cage and bucket seats further hint at the Competition Model’s performance potential, as does a front fascia that Brock himself designed to improve aero and brake cooling back in the 1960s.

Ford Mustang 289 engine built by OVC Mustangs.
Michael Teo Van Runkle

Mustang GT350 Roadster Street Impressions

I climb in and tighten down the five-point harness. After eight years of hard service, that intimidating V8 roars to life with a single crank of the ignition and a quick pump of the gas pedal. Despite the inescapable vintage vibe, so much low-end V8 torque scoots this Mustang right along as I let the clutch out slowly. I let the oil temps creep up before redlining.

But the car proved itself easily accessible, even for an amateur, with firm suspension that nonetheless smooths rougher streets and only jounces over the biggest bumps and potholes. It took a moment to adjust to the thin-rimmed steering wheel, notchy shifter, and firm brakes. On public roads, Marietta urged me to push the car harder and harder, calling the drivetrain “unbreakable,” and I do my best. Thanks to all that radiator testing, the coolant temp never climbs above 195 degrees.

Even opening up to only three-quarters throttle, the deep V8 burble transitions to a screaming wail as we near redline. I hope Marietta knows the local cops; if they don’t see us overtaking traffic far above posted speed limits, they'll certainly hear us from blocks away. Then, after a loop back to the OVC shop, Marietta insists he drive for a quick session, too, if just to utterly blow my mind.

Nearly bangshifting, he puts pedal to the metal through the entire rev range, every ounce of Shelby muscle unleashed as we rock and roll down the road.

Exacting Restomod Details

Marietta ensures that each OVC car receives the exact same treatment as back in the day, to the point that he personally hand cuts the wheel arches so they look perfectly imperfect, as if a shop just threw a car together the day before a race. I don’t get to drive the FIA car, since it’s a full-race version with zero concessions to street use—not even radiator fans and, therefore, would overheat if we caught a single stop light. But Marietta gives me a walkaround, pointing out all the little details that make this the only continuation FIA-approved Mustang built since 1966.

Interior of a vintage Ford Mustang.
Michael Teo Van Runkle

From brake disc measurements to matching the track width without knowing the exact original wheel offsets, everything came into play. Brock’s front fascia with the brake cooling ducts isn’t allowed and the rears are still drums. Forget about independent rear suspension, this thing uses the same expansion tanks, same master cylinders, same 289ci V8 without boring or stroking—right down to the C6 FE cast iron heads (possibly the rarest and most expensive piece on an already rare and expensive car), resulting in 450 dyno-proven ponies. Other than modern concessions to reliability and safety, such as the foam-filled 26-gallon fuel cell, the FIA agrees and attests to the originality; shipping the inspector out from the UK cost $15,000 but now, a holographic sticker in the passenger door jamb says so.

If the Competition Model left me wowed during my short time behind the wheel, the FIA racecar will surely hit even higher notes. Back in the day, Shelby would have been happy to get 400 horsepower out of a GT350, which hints at six decades of mechanical progress—but then again, a beefier five-speed Tremec or four-speed Toploader both go out the window in favor of the original side-loader T-10 four-speed (not to mention a spare tire in place of the backseat). All in, with weight savings like aluminum quarter-panel vents and plexiglass for the side and rear windows, the cars tips the scales at a svelte-for-a-pony-car 2,800 pounds. Top speed? A cool 165 miles per hour.

OVC Ford Mustang Roadster in a courtyard.
Evan Klein

Roadster Redux

Top speeds will be less of a concern for the new Mustang GT350 Roadster. To be clear, Shelby never built a Roadster version of the Mustang—neither did Ford—so the perfectly imperfect spirit shines through here, too. The reworked silhouette looks right in sync with the GT350’s original lines thanks largely to Camilo Pardo, who served as chief designer on the “Heritage” Ford GT revived for the mid-2000s (with plenty of inspiration taken from the original Lola-based GT40 that Shelby brought to Le Mans hoping to dethrone old Enzo). Pardo collaborated with Brock to ensure the original aesthetic extends from the front fascia to the new fiberglass Roadster clamshell’s headrest humps, which even feature an aero vent to match the front brake cooling inlet (and line up perfectly with the obligatory racing stripes, too).

Back on the road, the Mustang GT350 Roadster’s personality as more of a cruiser emerges immediately, with softer suspension, lighter steering, even a less notchy shifter than the Competition Model. An automatic, probably a six-speed, will eventually come standard, as will radio and air conditioning, despite the complete lack of a soft top and its components. This prototype began life as a 289ci convertible and is now pre-production tester number 001, but still shows just over 65,000 miles on the odometer.

I refuse to believe any “survivor” Mustang, even one with such low mileage, might drive nearly as well as the Roadster. The 289 still barks with a quick stab at the throttle, but Marietta plans to tone the exhaust down for buyers who worry about their neighbors’ feelings (the wrong choice in my humble opinion, but I love that symphony). Despite such concessions to a more sedate lifestyle and despite the solid rear axle (IRS will be an option), you can’t beat the Roadster’s fun factor. Top-down GT350 cruising in Southern California—after seeing how well the prototype came out, Marietta can’t believe Ford nor Shelby never built something similar.

Reserve Yours Now

Available for pre-order now starting at an appropriate $289,000 and up, the Mustang GT350 Roadster will be limited to only 24 units: four titled as Shelby GT350 Roadsters and the rest as OVC Roadsters. Basing each car on an existing 1965 or 1966 Mustang, rather than starting with a kit, allows for easier registration (especially in states like California) and even the mounting of historic license plates. Meanwhile, just sourcing an original K-code car for the FIA build adds around $100,000 to the overall sticker of $550,000 (basing an FIA car on a non-K-code would cost more in the vicinity of $450-475,000).

Door sill badge of an OVC vintage Ford Mustang.
Michael Teo Van Runkle

Marietta thinks OVC could probably crank out another FIA car in time for the Le Mans Classic running June 29 to July 3 of next year. But the Roadster still needs about a 12-month lead time to polish up the final specifics (selecting the exact modern automatic trans, for example).

But those little details add up to something more significant than many of the increasingly popular chrome-rimmed, widebody, 1,000-hp monstrosities other shops call restomods these days. Instead, OVC’s Competition Model, FIA car, and Mustang GT350 Roadster bring Ford v Ferrari dreams back to life for the modern era, all roaring V8 engines and wind-in-your-hair thrills without sacrificing that quintessential Carroll Shelby style.