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.
We were not surprised that Shelby and Unique Performance picked the R-Model GT350 as their next continuation car. The GT500E (Eleanor) has been a stunning success; otherwise, there would not have been a grand opening to attend. Unique Performance's new plant, called the Texas Shelby GT500E Continuation Facility, is 30,000 square feet, located in an industrial complex off I-35 north of Dallas.
Fordophiles who would question the "Shelbyness" of the current continuation series should think back. The '68-and-later Shelby Mustangs were built at the A.O. Smith Company in Ionia, Michigan, but were still authentic Shelbys.
Original R-Models can fetch a quarter of a million dollars. The "estimated investment" is $93,000 for the continuation GT350SR.
Many of the street GT350 models were turned into racing models by their owners, yet there will always be a distinction. Each Competition model had an "R" in its Shelby VIN, hand-stamped into an aluminum manufacturer's plate and pop-riveted to the driver-side inner fender panel over the Ford VIN. You could expect no less from the continuation model. All cars are numbered. The R, for Race, has become so popular with collectors that this time around the R has become part of the name. The adjoining S in SR stands for Street. Thus, SR stands for Street or Race.
Our first question, upon realizing the car was not a clone of the illustrious racer, was: "Will the SR get around a race course faster than an original R-model?"
There were two people in the room who should know: Shop Manager Dave Reed and General Manager Bobby Mikus.
"It would blow the doors smooth off it, no contest," Dave blurted out.
"Well, would you like to take one on? I mean an original 1965 GT350 Competition, if we could find a willing participant?"
"Yes sir, I sure would. I would bet my paycheck on it. Print that."
Mikus concurred, although he didn't offer to wager his paycheck on the outcome. Obviously, the two have pride in their work. We turned to Scott Black, the PR guy for the project, who was also in the room.
"Scott, why don't we throw down the gauntlet?"
"Where is the SAAC convention next year?" he asked.
The contemporary SR takes advantage of the latest technology, and thus should be much faster around a road course. Look at the specifications, starting with the standard 410hp 347 and the Tremec five-speed. Under the hood of the prototype is an optional 408, based on the 351, pumping out 475 horses.
An SR against an R-model, continuation versus vintage, would make a great match-up. Whether the course will be twisty or have long stretches, and whether the SR will have the 347 or 408, remains to be determined. If you want to encourage such a race or have any questions about this newest continuation Shelby, contact the folks at Unique Performance, 800/418-4543.
'65 Shelby GT350SR SpecificationsGeneral Specifications* Shelby 347ci engine, 410 hp* Tremec T5 five-speed transmission* Holley 650 double-pumper carburetor* Aluminum driveshaft* Griffin radiator* JBA/Shelby tuned side exhaust system* Hurricane A/C system* Fuel Safe tank, 16 gallons* 8-quart oil system* Canton road-course oil pan* Currie 9-inch differential with Posi-traction* 3.89:1 gears* 31-spline axles
Interior* Shelby performance racing seats (leather upgrade)* LeCarra 15-inch wooden steering wheel* Custom JME/Shelby gauges* 160-mph speedometer* 2-inch rollbar assembly, 4-point w/horizontal bar* Seatbelt (4-point upgrade)* Eclipse radio with four speakers* Omega GPS tracking system
Exterior* Side quarter glass (upgrade)* Rear OEM glass (R glass upgrade)* Racing side mirrors* Wheels: Front 235x15; rear 255 Goodyear Eagle II on R-styled wheels* R-styled nose, hood, and side scoops
Suspension* Total Control front and (optional) rear suspension* Total Control subframe connectors* Power rack-and-pinion* KYB gas shocks* Shelby traction bars* Four-wheel disc Baer brakes