This article originally appeared in the February 1967 issue of Road & Track.
One thing about Carroll Shelby and his cars, they aren’t subtle. sneaky maybe Sly, perhaps. Deceptive, undoubtedly. But not subtle. His latest entries in the automotive lists—the Shelby Mustang GT 350 and GT 500—are typical. They started with a Mustang fastback, re-styled the extremities, added a roll bar, put in shoulder straps, stuck on some trim and it became a different car. It looks something like a racing car, yet it isn’t. It also has something of the flavor of a luxurious Grand Touring machine, but it isn’t quite that either. It’s different from anything Shelby has offered before—less brutal, less purposefully ugly, less stark performance—and yet it offers an abundance of those virtues for which Shelby’s products have become famous. It goes, it handles and it stops.
The appearance is distinctive. At the front the nose has been given a revised shell that does away with the chrome grille above the bumper and adds a scoop below. Where the grille used to be there’s now a finished-off snout that is backed by an expanded-metal bug strainer and encases a pair of close-together headlights mounted in the manner made popular on international rally cars. The hood, also fiberglass, has a big bulge molded in behind a functional air scoop and there are a pair of post-and-peg hold-downs.
On the sides of the car, the alterations consist of two pairs of scoops. Two fit over the cockpit air extractors in the rear quarter area; the others offer fresh air to the rear brakes.
At the rear, there’s a moderate ducktail on the deck lid. This effect has been achieved by using a fiberglass trunk lid and replacing the standard rear fender caps with ones that have a matching upsweep. Across the back there are two wide taillights in place of the triplicated smaller ones on the standard Mustang.
These changes in appearance, plus shiny 15-inch steel wheels and Goodyear E70-I5s, hang together well, in our opinion. It looks like what it is, a styled-up version of the Mustang fastback. Shelby would like to have you believe that this sort of thing “just happens” at Shelby American but the sure hand of a thoroughly professional stylist obviously had more than just a little to do with these changes. The original GT 350 looked appropriately purposeful but lacked the class of the current model.
The interior has the same sort of distinctive-but-similar flavor as the exterior. The Mustang seats, instrument panel, controls, etc., are retained but there is the addition of a proper roll bar and there are shoulder straps to supplement the standard lap belts. These shoulder straps are attached to the roll bar through an inertia reel that allows the wearer to lean forward as long as it is done slowly but locks up solid on being yanked.
The basic instrumentation of the Mustang is supplemented by an ammeter and oil pressure gauge awkwardly located on the bottom edge of the middle of the dash. There’s also a wood-rimmed steering wheel with the Shelby emblem and this, being less deeply dished than the standard Ford wheel, is consequently a bit farther from the driver’s chest. Which is good.
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The back seat of the fastback is retained this year and though the seating is minimal, it does make a practical 2 + 2 where the original GT 350 was strictly a two-seater. This back seat will also fold flat to make an attractive and practical flat deck and, borrowing an idea from the Plymouth Barracuda, there is a drop-down door between the small trunk and the back seat to make even more space.
The suspension of the GT 500 is stiff and the ride could be described as extra firm. Until now, Shelby American has lowered the pivot point of the front upper A-arm but since Ford incorporated that change in the 1967 Mustang, this is no longer necessary. Shelby still uses stiffer springs front and rear, a larger anti-roll bar front (0.94 inches, not as large as last year’s 1.00) and Gabriel adjustable shocks all around.
At the rear, the trailing arms previously added to the GT 350 are gone, replaced by rubber snubbers mounted 8 inches behind the front eyes of the leaf springs. These still provide some resistance to rear axle windup and hop but are not as effective—or as harsh—or as expensive—as the arms. They did the job in our test car (the GT 500 with automatic transmission and without limited slip) but we don’t know if they’d do equally well with the manual gearbox, hard clutch and limited-slip differential. The milder suspension alterations this year represent part of Shelby’s effort to tailor the cars to a wider market—and at a lower cost.
The brakes are the disc front/drum rear combination available as an option from Ford but with a more fade-resistant organic friction material. These were power assisted on our test car and although the touch is a bit lighter than we prefer, they are comparatively easy to control. Because of the weight of the GT 500, the swept area per ton is not impressive (175 square inches/ton), and by the time we’d completed our sixth stop from 60 during our fade tests, the pedal effort had increased by 48 percent.
This year’s Shelby Mustang GT can be had with the 289-cubic-inch V8 (the GT 350), a supercharged 289, or with the big-big 428 (the GT 500). This 428 (4.13 x 3.98 bore and stroke) is Ford’s big cheap cooking engine used in the Thunderbird and the Police Interceptor variants, you should understand, not the celebrated 427 (4.24 x 3.78) developed for NASCAR stock car racing and used in the Le Mans-winning GT Mark II prototypes. As fitted to the GT 500, the 428 has hydraulic valve lifters, is equipped with two Holley 4-throat carburetors and is rated at 355 hp at 5400 rpm.
In pure physical bulk, the 428 is bigger than king-size. There is barely room for it in the Mustang’s hull and though there have to be spark plugs down there someplace (you can see the wires disappear under the rocker covers), changing them doesn’t even bear thinking about.
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That the 428 is also full of weight as well as bulk is demonstrated by the 3520-Ib curb weight of the GT 500. The standard GT 350 we tested earlier had a curb weight of 2800 lbs.
Our GT 500 had not only the 428 engine and automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes, but also air conditioning. All these things, with the exception of the air conditioning, come standard at no extra cost on the GT 500. Although these power assists may seem inappropriate to such a car at first glance, they blend into the car’s personality without obtrusion. And unless you have biceps like Freddie Lorenzen, you’ll find the power steering almost mandatory what with those big tires and all that weight pressing them against the ground.
The car is extremely easy to drive. The engine lights off with a whump, there’s a clunk-jump when the shift lever is moved into gear, and if you mash on the gas pedal, you’ll GO. The steering is easy, it tends to go where it is pointed, and on the open highway it rolls along without fuss or fury. There is an unmistakable detent in the throttle operation so it requires a conscious effort to get through to the carburetors’ secondaries. When you do push down hard enough to bring in the additional barrels there’s a great hollow gasping, gouts of smoke pour out the rear and the car hunches forward with a bellow.
In pure acceleration, however, the GT 500 simply doesn’t have anything sensational to offer. As we tested the car (two up, plus test gear), it would do 15.5-second standing quarters consistently but that was about all. And that simply isn’t very fast as drag strip times go. A Ford Mustang with the 390-cubic-inch engine option does as well and based on our experience, it would take about 400 hp and a stick shift to get the GT 500 down to the 13.5-second quarter claimed for it in Shelby American publicity .
As for handling, the GT 500 is something less than we’ve come to expect from Shelby’s cars but still very good in comparison to the typical American sedan. On the other hand, considering the weight distribution, it’s better than we would have thought possible only a couple years ago. With 58 percent of the total weight on the front wheels, we’d expect it to have understeer akin to that of the USS United States, but it doesn’t. As we said, it goes where it’s pointed. With that amount of weight at the front, there’s no doubt that the front tires are operating at greater slip angles than the rears when the car is turning but we have a theory that modern wide-tread tires such as those on the GT 500 are so generous in their grip that non-breakaway understeer is almost undetectable. And especially when you’re even further insulated from what’s happening by power steering. If you push the car hard enough, the front end will finally slide but the grip is so good that cornering limits are higher than even normally vigorous driving will ever bring out.
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Some of the things we didn’t like about the GT 500 included the amount of attention given to it by traffic officers. We also found our particular example needed the air conditioning working most of the time. Not only was there an uncomfortable amount of heat coming through the firewall, there were strong gasoline vapors that became even more objectionable when the throttle was depressed. With the air conditioner running, the heat was counteracted and the odor of raw gasoline diminished. The test car also deposited a pool of oil every time it was parked. The GT 500 also recorded the highest fuel consumption of any street version car we’ve tested in years. In over 800 miles, we averaged 9.8 miles per gallon.
The noise level of the GT 500 was reasonably low and though there seemed to be a lot of valve clatter for an engine with hydraulic lifters, it blended in with the general rumble and was soon forgotten. There was a distinctive noise from the back end. Though, that on a slightly rough surface sounded like the trunk was full of roller skates.
All in all, though, the GT 500 is a more civilized vehicle than the original GT 350 from which it descended. It rides better, it has more amenities and it is far more attractive. It isn’t so closely related to a racing car, perhaps, but we have the feeling that it will appeal to a larger number of buyers than any previous Shelby American automobile.
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