Jim Wicks is a brave, brave man. Last year, he handed me the keys to his 21,000-mile '70 Boss 429 and I almost melted the rare, never-been-apart Shotgun engine in the Oklahoma summertime heat (see "Driving the Legend" in the Dec. '09 issue). This year during his Mid America Ford and Team Shelby Nationals in Tulsa, Wicks offered up his 51,000-mile '65 Shelby GT350 for a drive test. Like the Boss 429, it's an unrestored survivor.
But Wicks is not one to put his survivor Mustangs on mothballs or trailers. Nor does he pamper them. When I arrive at the Southern Hills Marriott, 5S365 is sitting on the sidewalk as one of the event display cars. As Jim hands me the keys, I ask about getting the car off the sidewalk.
"Just jump the curb," he says. Right. Here I am climbing into an original '65 GT350, one of 562 built and one of only a handful still in unrestored condition, and the owner wants me to "jump the curb." I have visions of the side-exiting exhaust snagging the concrete and clanking onto the pavement . . .
Like all low-mileage survivor Mustangs, 5S365 has a story. Wicks knows little about the original owner, other than he purchased the GT350 from Portland Motor Sales in Maine on September 9, 1965, as a consignment vehicle from Tasca Ford. Over the next three years, the first owner put nearly 30,000 miles on the Shelby, including a cross-country move from the extreme Northeast to the extreme Southwest of Southern California.
"The second owner was a serviceman from San Diego," Wicks relates. "He bought the Shelby from a used car lot when he got out of the Navy in 1968. He ended up driving the car back to his home in Ohio. When he got married and started a family, a two-seater car just didn't cut it. But instead of selling the Shelby, he parked it in his dad's garage and walked away."
A decade later, Joe Hale entered the picture. Wicks tells us that most longtime Shelby collectors remember Hale. "He was the ultimate parts and car chaser, and everyone knew him. He had a photographic memory; if he walked through your garage, he could remember every part that you had hanging on the wall."
In 1982, while chasing a possible rare find in a neighborhood near Columbus, Ohio, Hale spotted an open garage and the familiar tail-end of a Wimbledon White Mustang fastback with Guardsman Blue LeMans stripes. He stopped to inquire and ended up talking with the father of the original owner of 5S365. "It's my son's car," the gentleman told Hale. "He keeps saying that he's going to do something with it but he never does."
Hale eventually partnered with a buddy to buy the Shelby. They got the car running and sent it out for paint touch-up. At some point, Wicks learned about 5S365 and expressed the desire to purchase the car if Hale and his partner ever decided to sell. That day came in 1984.
"I wanted the car but had to come up with the money," Wicks says. "At the time, I owned 5S298, which needed restoring, so I decided to sell it. Just the week before someone had asked about buying it, but when I told them the car was available, they said they needed to raise the cash by selling their '68 GT500KR. Within three days, the three of us swapped around those three cars and I ended up with 5S365."
Wicks recalls that the GT350 had 42,800 miles on it when he took possession. "I drove the wheels off of it," he says. "I added another 8,000 miles or so to the odometer before I stopped driving it."
Other than paint touch-up and a rebuild of the Cobra-ized 289 High Performance engine at some point in the past, the Shelby remains mostly original, including the standard-equipment 15-inch steel wheels. Wicks replaced the crusty factory side-exiting exhaust with a reproduction system from Jim Cowles at Shelby Parts and Restoration, adding that, like all glasspacks, the mufflers started blowing out within a year.
That's the first thing I noticed when cranking the GT350 on the Marriott sidewalk in Tulsa. The 289 fired immediately, sputtered for a second, then responded to my taps on the throttle with a loud racket from the exhaust pipes. With one exiting under my left ear and the other ricocheting off the side of the hotel, the Shelby generated a stereophonic symphony that only a '65 GT350 can make.
To my relief, the GT350 rolled gently off the sidewalk curb without dragging the chassis or exhaust.
For my first leg in the Shelby, I drove in the Mid America cruise to the Brady Arts District near downtown Tulsa, with my son, Matt, as my co-pilot. While waiting for the start of the cruise, I surveyed the interior for the Shelby-specific items-wood Cobra steering wheel, center-mounted instrument panel pod with tach and oil pressure gauge, and competition seatbelts. I had to show Matt how to secure his belt with the metal latch. Behind us was a flat fiberglass panel with a spare tire, under its original naugahyde cover, in place of the rear seat, which made the GT350 a two-seater for SCCA racing in 1965. Otherwise, the interior was stark '65 Mustang in black-just the way Carroll Shelby wanted it.
The cruise starts and it's slow going for the first few blocks. Turning onto 71st Street, I explain to Matt that there's nothing wrong with the clunking rear end; the noise is coming from the original Detroit Locker differential. Thankfully, the clutch releases easily and smoothly in the stop and go traffic, and even more thankfully the temperature gauge isn't inching toward "H" like the Boss 429 last year. Small-block 289s are certainly more forgiving in the heat than big-blocks.
The old Cobra wood steering wheel feels thin, hard, and overly large; I suppose I've been driving too many newer Mustangs with their thick rims and smaller circumference. The leverage is actually needed because, even with the GT350's "quick-ratio," the steering requires some effort. No power steering in a car like the '65 Shelby GT350. Rowing through the gears, I realize that I haven't driven a '65-'66 four-speed Mustang in a while and have forgotten about the factory shifter's sloppy feel and long throws.
In Wicks' survivor GT350, we've returned to 1965, as I'm reminded when I finally get a chance to push my foot into the Holley four-barrel, which unleashes 306 horsepower and a loud roar from the side exhausts. I half expect a motorcycle cop to pull us over for loud exhaust but realize that he's halting traffic for the cruise and enjoying the sights and sounds himself. It's not every day that you see a '65 Shelby on the street.
We arrive at the Brady Arts District and park the GT350 alongside the other 700 or so vehicles. The 289 Hi-Po is just warm enough to force a little fluid out of the overflow, but nothing like last year's hissing and belching Boss 429. Cruise participants wander by. A few realize that they're looking at a rare '65 GT350; many think it's just another old Mustang with stripes.
For the evening drive back to the hotel, we're unencumbered by traffic and afternoon heat. The view over the instrument panel is memorable-street lights dancing in the scooped hood with twin blue stripes. Wicks tells me later, "When I think Shelby, that's the vision I see in my head." It's a good vision.
Finally, we escape downtown and head for I-244. Coming onto the entrance ramp, I feel like Jerry Titus clipping the apex at Mid-Ohio as I ram the shifter into Third and floor it. Speed builds as the revs rise toward the 6,500 rpm redline, although I shift early because, after all, this is not my car. Even with 3.89 gears, the GT350 has long legs. In Fourth, the side exhausts roar until traffic in front of me forces me to lift and hit the brakes. Again, no power assist, but the combination of larger front discs and Fairlane rear drums hauls the GT350 down in adequate fashion.
At Interstate speeds, the GT350 is rough and ready. It's not a luxury car by any stretch of the imagination. The suspension is stiff, wind whooshes by the open side windows, and header heat rises off the floor pans. The car even smells fast. And did I mention that it's loud? At 65 mph and 3,000 rpm, the blown-out glasspacks drown out any attempt at passenger conversation.
As we roll into the Marriott parking lot, I am thankful to see Jeff Yergovich there to guide me to a spot in front of the hotel lobby. I'm even more thankful when he offers to park the car. I have no desire to jump the curb again.
Less than 24 hours after driving Wick's survivor '65 Shelby GT350, I found myself climbing into an '11 GT350 for a much different type of drive on the Hallett Motor Racing Circuit road course. The name may be the same, but the '11 GT350 is a totally different car than the original. If the '65 GT350 was a race car for the street, then the '11 GT350 is a street car for the racetrack.
Shelby American brought a pair of new GT350s to Hallett, one naturally-aspirated and the other supercharged. I drove the non-supercharged car, with MCA President Steve McCarley as my passenger/instructor. If you haven't driven an '11 Mustang GT, which the GT350 is based on, then you owe yourself a visit your local Ford dealer for a test drive. The latest Mustang is both comfortable and fast. Shelby takes it up a notch for the GT350 with a Ford Racing suspension, Baer brakes, and Borla exhaust, which sounds great both inside and outside.
I join my open-track session a bit late, but that works to my advantage because I have clear sailing in front of me, giving me an opportunity to press the Shelby hard without worrying about other cars in front of me. As I accelerate onto the track, I can't help but notice the power from the new 412hp 5.0-liter engine. It's totally different from the '65's 289 Hi-Po-smoother, stronger, and much quieter. McCarley offers driving advice-when to brake, when to turn in, when to accelerate. By the second lap, I'm more comfortable with the car and the track. The GT350's handling and braking is fantastic. I expected it to be good, but not this good. There's none of the harshness that you expect from a car that handles this well.
Although it's a totally different car, the new GT350 lives up to its name.