Power ponies, from the ’07 Shelby Cobra GT500 to the ’65 GT350
From specialty cars like the Shelby GT350 and GT500 to Ford-engineered power houses like the SVT Cobra, high performance has almost always been synonymous with the Mustang. Now, on the heels of the vaunted limited-production Ford GT, the Blue Oval boys have announced the introduction of the 2007 Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500. To celebrate a new era in high-performance Mustangs, we take a look back at the important Shelbys, Mach 1s, Cobras, and other Mustangs that set the precedent for the cars of today – and likely the cars of tomorrow.
In 1965, Ford was looking for a performance version of the Mustang and wanted a two-seat car to compete with the Chevy Corvette. In partnering with Shelby-American it was able to accomplish both goals. Shelby-American took a Mustang 2+2 fastback, removed the back seat, and modified the stock 289-cid V8. The 289 motors were used because Ford’s big block V8 engines would not fit into the Mustang’s engine bay. Plus, the small block motors worked best for road racing.
With 306 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft. of torque, the Shelby GT350 was Ford’s high-performance Mustang. Important changes to the GT350 for the 1966 model year included functional quarter panel scoops delivering air to the rear brakes, the addition of rear seats, and a change to C-pillar plexiglass windows in place of the previous year’s air vents. An automatic transmission was also available.
For 1967, the Shelby GT500 upped the ante on the Chevrolet Corvette by bumping horsepower to 360 from the previous 306 bhp. The 428-cubic-inch V8 was capable of 6.2-second acceleration to 60 mph and a low 14.52-second quarter-mile time, crossing the line at 101.35 mph according to Motor Trend magazine.
For those incapable of acquiring a pricey and rare Shelby GT500, there was the Ford Mustang GT390. This 1967 Mustang offered a 390 cubic-inch, 320-horsepower engine. GT upgrades included power front disc brakes, grille-mounted fog lights, dual exhaust with quad chrome outlets, a GT gas cap, rocker panel stripes, and a handling package.
According to Ford, the KR designation on the Mustang Shelby GT500 stood for “King of the Road.” However, legend has it that Shelby heard through the grapevine that Chevy was planning on using the moniker on a competing model, so Carroll simply beat them to the punch. Whichever is true, the 1968 GT500 KR was the fastest Shelby car produced to date. Though factory rated at 335 horsepower, it was believed the true horsepower rating was between 435-500.
With the launch of the Mustang 428 Cobra Jet on April 1, 1968, many enthusiasts were probably waiting for the punch line to the joke. But it wasn’t a joke. Ford built a Mustang with Ram Air induction, naming the result the 428 Cobra Jet. Touted as having 335 horsepower, many thought this number was purposely underestimated to avoid higher insurance premiums. Reportedly, actual output was closer to 400 hp. Visually, the 428 Cobra Jet’s hood scoop and black striping gave it away to passersby. And those who couldn’t row their own gears via the standard four-speed manual could opt for a three-speed automatic transmission.
In 1969, Ford developed a new engine for NASCAR. To meet NASCAR requirements, Ford needed to build a minimum of 500 vehicles equipped with the new engine for sale to the public. Thus, the birth of the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 was ensured. Ford installed this hot new motor in the Mustang because the pony car represented the image they wanted in order to attract younger buyers. Multiple modifications were needed to make the engine fit into the Mustang’s engine bay, but in the end a company called Kar-Kraft custom-built 859 of the 400-horsepower Boss 429s.
One of the most desirable factory Mustangs was undoubtedly the Mach 1. Though the 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 came standard with a 351 Windsor V8, it was also offered with the 428 Cobra Jet powerplants. With Ram Air induction and heavy-duty internals, the Mach 1 428 Super Cobra Jet was rated to develop 335 horsepower and 440 lb.-ft. of torque, continuing the hot rod heritage of the Ford Mustang.
Because Ford felt that factory models like the Boss 429 and Mach 1 428 SCJ matched Mustang Shelbys in terms of performance, 1969 was the last year for the Shelby models. The Mustang Shelby GT350 offered a 290-horsepower V8 with National Advisory Committee for Aerodynamics (NACA) hood scoops, a hidden gas filler, and the sport roof from the Mach 1. The front fenders, hood, and trunk lid were made of fiberglass.
Looking the same on the outside as its GT350 brother, the 1969 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500’s differences were under the NACA-ducted hood. Offering 335 horsepower and a whopping 440 lb.-ft. of torque, the Shelby GT500 could run to 60 mph in six seconds flat and reach 102 mph in a 14.0-second quarter-mile.