It could be argued that every Mustang holds a unique history worthy of respect. Within this mindset, certain models clearly have special significance for their rarity, styling, or performance, while others were milestones on a more personal level; first cars, first dates, honeymoons, and more. Yet beyond all, there are a smattering of cars throughout Mustang's 42-year history that hold a significance which simply cannot be overstated. If you've guessed that the latter applies to the car spread before you, you would be right, as this is none other than numero uno among Shelby Mustangs, the very first GT350.
Known in Shelby circles today as 003 by virtue of its SFM5S003 VIN, it is also recognized as the GT350 street prototype and the car that saw duty for much of Shelby American's early advertising and promotion.
To accurately relate the beginnings of the Shelby Mustang, it's important to explain a bit of background. After agreeing to produce a specially-modified high-performance version of Ford's new ponycar, Carroll Shelby and company received several regular-production Mustangs to serve R&D duties. The Shelby American World Registry relates that two coupes were used to evaluate suspension packages, while two white fastbacks were used for paint and styling exercises. We don't know where these cars ended up, but we do know that none became actual Shelby Mustangs.
As plans formalized, Shelby took delivery of three more white fastbacks that would serve as the first GT350s. Two were destined to be race models, and one would serve as the street prototype. This machine, not identified as 003 until months later, was actually finished first and immediately began serving innumerable photographic and press duties.
After some six months of use by Shelby American, the street prototype was free to be sold, and an internal memo from Project Manager Chuck Cantwell indicated the car should be officially tagged as SFM5S003. Of note are some early photos of 003 showing an 001 identification number hand-lettered on its firewall during the first few months at Shelby American. Later, when the first three GT350s were simultaneously affixed with their VIN tags, little emphasis was placed on assuring the numbers matched the hand-lettered notation, which at times has resulted in considerable confusion over the true identities of both 003 and 001.