Triple-Digit Figures Abound
Eric Lawrence - July 25, 2013 10:00 AM
One of the best places to see all of the Shelby products is the Shelby Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Image: Larry Jewett
This 427 Cobra Roadster sold at a Mecum auction for $650,000Image: Mecum
Imitation can be the finest form of flattery, but it doesn’t bring near the price of an original. This Cobra replica sold for $38,000 at auction.Image: Mecum
A 1965 G.T. 350 can bring a good return on investment, but this happens to be a special car. Shelby built four drag cars and this is one of them and it sold for $350,000 at auction. A “regular” G.T. 350 will still fetch triple digits.Image: Mecum
Shelby Mustangs were sent to Hertz for rental units and dubbed the G.T. 350HImage: Mecum
The KR stood for King of the Road, powered by 428 CJ engines. Only 318 convertibles were made with this designation.Image: Mike Horne
This 1967 G.T. 500 passed on the Mecum auction block in Indianapolis and brought a winning $147,500 bid.Image: Mecum
Someone got a bargain when they purchased this 1969 G.T. 500 for $80,000.Image: Mecum
You can expect to pay nearly $100,000 for a 1969 G.T. 350 and this one sold for $81,000 a few years ago.Image: Mecum
Carroll Shelby, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 89, was arguably the most important, and unquestionably the most colorful and versatile, figure in American motorsports history.
Sure, there have been others who achieved more success within a particular field, but Shelby literally did it all. His record includes winning LeMans as a driver in 1959, developing and manufacturing the Cobra, winning the 1965 FIA World Manufacturers Championship for Grand Touring cars, guiding the once-struggling Ford GT40 to complete domination of LeMans as a team owner, and developing and manufacturing the Mustang-based G.T. 350 and G.T. 500.
In a triumphant return to the automotive world in the 1980s, he helped long-time friend Lee Iacocca revive Chrysler by creating (and lending his name to) high performance versions of Dodge’s sporty cars, and a few years later ended his long running feud with Ford and once again consulted on special projects and attached his name to the highest performance versions of the Mustang. By the way, right up until the end, he ran several other successful automotive related businesses, designed and constructed high performance vehicles, and led a high-profile charity that provided medical assistance for those in need.
Shelby Cobra 289 and 427
Shelby’s first high performance sports car, the Cobra, was the result of a combination of fortunate circumstances and a whole lot of fast talking. AC Cars was a small English sports car manufacturer which produced a car called the Ace, which was quite competitive when coupled with a high performance Bristol engine. The Ace featured aluminum body panels hung on a steel frame and had a leaf spring suspension. When Shelby heard that the supply of Bristol engines had dried up, he had the idea of substituting an American small block V-8. After a good bit of trial and error, not to mention the fabrication of heavier duty components, the car was ready to be shown to the world, and made its official debut at the New York Auto Show. The car was an immediate hit with the press, and Shelby took the car, painted a different color for each road test, on the rounds of the leading enthusiast magazines.
Although Cobra sales figures were insignificant when compared with normal passenger cars, they generated enough PR to be worth their weight in gold. It is generally accepted that Shelby produced just over 650 small block Cobras with 75 260s and the rest being high performance 289s. It should be noted that many original 260 cars were upgraded to 289s at some point in their lives.
Cobras were all about racing. Shelby was afraid that Ferrari was going to produce enough 275 LMs to qualify for racing and Chevrolet was going to drop their new big block engine into the Corvette. He responded by designing a more powerful Cobra, which would also be upgraded to independent coil springs on all four corners. This new Cobra would be seven inches wider, five inches longer, and have a more aggressive look. It would initially feature the side oiling 427 that was originally designed for NASCAR, but it was soon replaced by the much less expensive 390hp 428 V-8, although the true 427 was later brought back to finish out the run. Ironically, by the time the 427 Cobra was finished, it was essentially obsolete on the big name racetracks, and never enjoyed the successes of its predecessors. There were about 350 of the big block Cobras produced, 292 street cars made for the U.S., a few specials, and roughly 20 full competition and 30 S/C versions.
I’m sure that you have heard that Cobra values have skyrocketed in value recently upon Shelby’s death. Small block Cobras (CSX2xxx) in very good condition are currently selling for roughly $750,000 and excellent big block cars (CSX3xxx) are up around $875,000. Racing versions, especially one with a winning history or interesting previous owners, can easily bring much more money, and one of the S/C models was sold for $2,000,000 this past January in Scottsdale.
1965-’66 Shelby Mustang G.T. 350
Ford was looking to burnish their performance image, so it was only natural that they would contract with Shelby to help them produce a Mustang that would be suitable for SCCA racing. Shelby was given unlimited access to Ford’s parts books and was able to have the cars, which would become known as G.T. 350s, assembled to his specifications. The cars began life as stripped-down versions of Mustang fastbacks equipped with the 289/271hp “K” engine.
They received nine-inch rearends, full-sized Ford disc brakes up front with station wagon drum brakes at the rear, and heavy duty springs. At Shelby’s Los Angeles facility, the cars were modified with Koni shock absorbers, a heavy-duty sway bar, rear traction control arms and shock tower bracing. A lightweight fiberglass hood with an integral scoop was added, and a larger four-barrel carb, aluminum high-rise intake, and steel tubing exhaust headers coaxed about 35 more horses out of the 289 hi-performance engine.
In the interior, Shelby added three-inch competition seat belts, a real wood steering wheel, and a dash-mounted tachometer and oil pressure gauge. All cars had their rear seats replaced with a fiberglass shelf that held the spare tire. The cars were all painted white and had blue racing stripes and rocker panel accents. (The twin, over-the-top “LeMans” stripes were optional). Race models (G.T. 350 R) were further modified by removing all interior upholstery and sound-deadening insulation and replacing the side and rear windows with plexiglass. Shelby’s plan was to sell about 500 cars a year. The actual total was 562 cars - 525 street versions and 37 race cars.
The 1965 G.T. 350 was essentially a no-compromise, ultra-high performance car. It was noisy, it bumped and lurched, and wasn’t something a normal person wanted to spend every day in. Ford wanted to sell a lot more G.T. 350s, so they made them a little more civilized. It worked, since production jumped to 2,380. The majority of the labor and material costs to make the car so competitive was probably wasted on most buyers. They addressed this in 1966 by making the back seat optional (most buyers ordered it), eliminating some of the suspension modifications, relegating the Detroit Locker rearend to the option list, expanding the choice of colors, and offering an optional automatic transmission. When hardcore enthusiasts say the 1966 G.T. 350 is “softer” than its predecessor, remember that the 1965 model was essentially a full-on race car. The 1966 G.T. 350 was still a very fast and great handling vehicle that was more than sufficient for 99 percent of its owners.
The Hertz Rental Car company had a program for renting special cars to some of their better customers. They ordered roughly 1,000 G.T. 350s, most of which were painted black with gold stripes, but red, white, blue, and green cars were produced as well. All but the first 85 cars were equipped with an automatic transmission. They carried the designation GT350H, and although rumors ran wild about people renting them for a weekend of actual road racing (including welding in mandated roll cages), most of these stories are probably urban legends.
First generation G.T. 350s are quite expensive. Expect to pay between $160,000 to $175,000 for a nice 1965 G.T. 350, and up to $300,000 for an exceptional example. Competition versions can hit the $1,000,000 mark. The 1966 models are a bit less expensive – figure around $150,000 for nice cars and $225,000 for one of the best.
1967-’68 Shelby Mustang G.T. 350
and G.T. 500
The Shelby G.T. 350 didn’t have a lot of competition when it was introduced for 1965. The 289/271hp “K” engine that powered the G.T. 350 was fully up to the job, especially after Shelby modified it. As the ’60s were drawing to a close, the other manufacturers had started to make their own muscled-up pony cars, such as Plymouth’s 383 big block ’Cuda, Chevrolet’s SS396 Camaro, and Pontiac’s Ram Air 400 Firebird. Even mid-sized cars were getting the hot rod treatment, and this expanded the competition to include GTOs, 442s, GS400s, and even Fairlane GTs. A small block, even one as powerful as the modified “K”, just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.
The 1965-’66 G.T. 350 was very popular with enthusiasts, but to the average buyer, they looked a lot like a stock Mustang. Shelby addressed that in 1967 with the addition of unique fiberglass bodywork, mainly in the hood, nose, side scoops, and rear deck/spoiler. When the Mustang’s engine bay became a little wider for 1967, Shelby realized he could squeeze a big block in there and get right back in the game. He chose a Police Interceptor 428 (conservatively rated at 355hp), which would be inexpensive to source and easy to maintain. The big block-powered cars would be known as G.T. 500s, while the small block was still called the G.T. 350. Production was 1,175 G.T. 350s and 2,048 G.T. 500s.
Today, 1967 G.T. 350s in good condition are right around $100,000, with excellent examples up near $160,000. The G.T. 500s start around $115,000 for nice cars and run up to about $175,000 for the best.
The 1968 Shelby had a much more visually striking front end, featuring an almost rectangular nose section topped off by a redesigned hood with twin hood scoops, which opened at the leading edge of the hood, and heat dissipating louvers at the rear. The standard engine in the G.T. 350 was downgraded to the regular production 302 cubic inch V-8 rated at 250hp, and the Police Interceptor 428 was standard once again in the G.T. 500. Midway through the model year, Ford released the legendary 428 Cobra Jet, which was rated at an absurdly low 335hp – it was actually closer to 400hp, and they soon made their way into the G.T. 500. The G.T. 500s that were powered by the 428CJ were designated as GT500KR, the KR standing for “King of the Road”. All 1968 and later Shelby Mustangs were made in Michigan under contract by the A.O. Smith Company. For the first time, the G.T. 350 and G.T. 500 were available in convertible form. Production was 1,253 G.T. 350 fastbacks (404 convertibles), 1,140 G.T. 500 fastbacks (402 convertibles), and 933 GT500KR fastbacks (318 convertibles).
The 1968 G.T. 350 fastbacks are currently in the $60,000 to $65,000 range in good condition, with the best topping out just over $100,000. G.T. 500 fastbacks start at around $100,000 for nice cars, and can get as high as $150,000. KRs run about $25,000 higher across the board. Convertibles run about $30,000 more than fastbacks in good condition, and up to $50,000 more for excellent cars.
1969-’70 Shelby Mustang G.T. 350 and G.T. 500
The Mustang was drastically restyled for 1969 with the new fastback model being one of the most popular designs in muscle car history. The 1969 Shelbys were probably the models that differed the most from the Mustang they were based on.
Once again most of the changes were made from the windshield forward. The 1969 hood features three forward facing scoops in the front and two reverse facing ones in the rear. Just for good measure, Shelby added two scoops on both sides of the car as well – one in the front quarter panel and the other slightly forward of the rear wheel. All G.T. 500s were powered by the 428CJ, but the KR suffix was dropped since there were no other big blocks available. G.T. 500s were once again offered as either fastbacks or convertibles. There were several hundred cars left unsold at the end of 1969, so Ford added a chin spoiler, painted a couple of stripes on the hood, and sold them as 1970 models.
This would be the last year for the Shelby Mustang for a number of reasons. Shelby was not very happy that Ford had assumed so much control over the program after the move to Michigan. Since Ford now offered its own in-house performance models, the Mach 1, the Boss 302 and the Boss 429, there was no longer a need for the Shelby versions. They were quietly killed off, with Ford and Shelby going their separate ways. Recordkeeping was pretty lax during the final two years, especially with the year-changing shenanigans, but it is estimated that there were 935 G.T. 350 fastbacks (194 convertibles) and 1,536G.T. 500 fastbacks (335 convertibles).
Currently, 1969-70 G.T. 350 fastbacks range from $55,000 to $90,000, depending on condition, and G.T. 500s run from $95,000 to $160,000. Once again, convertibles bring about a $30,000 premium over the fastbacks in good condition, and around $50,000 more on the top end.
Eric Lawrence has been the editor of the CPI Collectible Vehicle Value Guide since 1988, and has written monthly columns for various car enthusiast magazines since the early 1990s. He can be reached at ELawrence@BlackBookUSA.com.