1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 R: Born in California, Rebuilt to Raise Hell

Bill Wilson

The Mustang wasn’t always meant to be badass ride. Its creators wanted it to be the automotive version of a 1950s singing group; fun and cute but non-threatening. It was to be the quintessential “speedy-but-sensible” car that teens would love and parents could feel good about letting their kids drive.

Then something happened to the Mustang; it met Carroll Shelby. What was once a friendly little pony car became a road demon with a need for blistering, all-consuming speed. It was as if Pat Boone morphed into James Dean or Marlon Brando. The result was the 1965 Ford Mustang GT350 R, one of the most revered muscle cars in automotive history.

Shelby GT 350 R
Shelby GT 350 R

The 350s were built at Ford’s plant in San Jose, CA, and then shipped to Carroll Shelby’s shop in Venice Beach (later moved to the LA airport). By the time the master craftsman was done, the 289 cubic inch engine had been heavily modified, with a Borg Warner T-10M four-speed gearbox, optimized heads, and a four-barrel Holley carburetor. Shelby added cold air intakes as well. All of these changes boosted output from 325 horsepower up to 360 horsepower.

The ‘65s also received 9-inch rear axles, an “export” shock tower brace, and metallic linings and pads. For the exterior, Shelby went with basic, no-nonsense Wimbledon accented by blue stripes. The steering wheels were made from wooden rims and the back seat was replaced with a fiberglass shelf, making the 350 R a two-seater, originally with the battery moved to the rear (this changed in later models).

The car designer did everything possible to shed weight. The first 15 of the 350s he modified had no rear or side windows, no heater, defroster, insulation, or sound deadening. But the team did add a four-point roll bar, along with competition-grade fiberglass seats.

When the 350 R was unveiled in 1965, obtaining one would set the buyer back $5,995, around $44,000 in today’s money; steep, but a bit shy of the million-plus these cars command today. And who says a muscle car is a bad investment?

PHOTOS: See more of the 1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 R

Photo Credit: RM Auctions