Jerry Heasley
April 1, 2004

For whatever it's worth, we were the first to view the GT350SR. Technically a Shelby, being a product by Carroll Shelby himself, the "continuation" Shelbys are built by Unique Performance in Farmers Branch, Texas, where we traveled last October 18 for its Grand Opening. CEO Doug Hasty, with partners Richard Kearby and Chris Layne, own Unique Performance.

Shelby is Shelby, and this is what he deems the continuation of the fabled '65 GT350 Competition, perhaps better known today as the R-Model. We expected to see a white '65 fastback with blue skunk stripes in the spitting image and mechanical clone of the original '65 R-Model. Instead, we found a modern-day rendition.

Workers in the shop were still crawling inside and underneath the vehicle to finish it off. With both doors open, we noticed air-conditioner vents under the center and one at each end of the dash on either side. These days, keeping the driver cool is vital.

Obviously, Shelby would take advantage of technology rather than simply copying what he had done in 1965. Still, the car had the look of the original, inside and out.

For example, an R-Model wouldn't look right without its fiberglass front apron panel in place of the bumper. It's there. The optional rear window is Plexiglas (saving 20 pounds over glass) and opens at the top for ventilation, just like the original. The doors have standard roll-up windows. In 1965, Shelby saved weight with aluminum-framed plastic side windows that were raised and lowered with pull straps.

Inside, the wood wheel is de rigueur, along with round gauges in easy view. Seats, covered with either vinyl or optional leather, are vastly improved, offering side bolster support. The back seat, of course, is replaced with a fiberglass panel topped by the spare tire.

Manufacturers call such builds "retro;" for example, Ford's two-passenger Thunderbird. Shelby, since he starts with actual vintage cars, calls them "continuation." You can't build a new car these days without an impact-absorbing bumper. Technically, this car is a '65 model, and under no such regulations.

Looking back over the legendary Shelbys, perhaps none was more glorious than the '65 R-Model. Of this car, the Shelby American Automobile Club wrote, "[It was] the first time a manufacturer offered a strictly for-racing competition model which could be purchased from a dealer and which would require nothing after delivery."

Ford lost money on every one of the 36 units built in 1965. The market for such a vehicle was extremely limited, but no matter. It accomplished its mission to win on the track. That the GT350 R-Model ever saw the light of day was due to an unusual set of circumstances in the grand scheme of auto making. Ford had just introduced its new Mustang the previous spring. Met with smashing success, Ford bolstered the lineup with a fastback, which, although still a four-seater, had more of the look of a two-passenger sports car. Ford hired Carroll Shelby to turn the fastback into a "sports car" to challenge the Corvette in B-production SCCA road racing and bring a higher-performance image to the Mustang name.

Thus, the R-Model Shelby became a splendid amalgamation of parts and tricks to turn the Mustang into a winner on the track. Subjected to Shelby's magic touch, and mostly campaigned by professional drivers, the competition-prepared Shelby Mustangs tore up B-production. The season culminated with the ARRC (American Road Race Of Champions), made up of the top three cars in each class from the six regions of the country. At the 1965 race at Daytona, an astounding 10 GT350s were invited. Mustang took the title, with Jerry Titus driving.