A 5,000-pound object heading straight at you gets your attention quickly. Especially when it has a closing speed of around 80 mph and is completely out of control.
The collision with that spinning SUV made an unlikely starting point to my odyssey to create a spiritual street successor to Shelby's iconic '65 GT350 R-model. At the time, I was traveling on a southern California freeway in an '06 Mustang GT, and my evasive maneuver wasn't quite evasive enough. In that split second, my beloved car was history.
As I lay in the hospital bed, I vowed I would get another Mustang. Only this one would be cooler and faster. I bounced between Shelby, Saleen, and Roush; talked with friends in the business; and drove several examples of each. While each car had its strengths, the driving impressions-and the heritage-made the choice obvious. My next Mustang would be a Shelby.
I eventually located '07 Shelby GT No. 4896 on a trader website. It was 75 miles from home with the color combo I wanted (white with grey leather). It also had the optional center gauge cluster and an owner who was an unfortunate casualty of America's economic crisis. The car had barely 1,000 miles on the odometer when it was repossessed.
I preferred white because I wanted to replace the original silver stripes with blue to play off the vintage Shelby white/blue color scheme. A comparison with a friend's '65 GT350 revealed that the newer Performance White is much stronger than the original Wimbledon White. That made the '65's stripe color too soft to properly contrast with the modern white, so Salinas Collision Repair's Gary Bloxham and striping guru John Clements showed me a number of blue stripe samples. The choice was made, and they re-striped the car.
Shelby American Motorsports,...
Shelby American Motorsports, located in the old Mod Shop at Shelby's Las Vegas headquarters, is a full-service speed shop that can handle engine and suspension mods, among other vehicle improvements.
Later, I met Jim Owens, then Shelby American's vice president of marketing. (Editor's note: Jim has since returned to Ford as the Mustang Consumer and Enthusiast Marketing Director). By now, my concept of "cooler and faster" had jelled into something I called "Project GT-R," and we started discussing a special build. The target was to create the aforementioned GT350 R spiritual successor by making the S197 Shelby as light and responsive as possible while maintaining overall drivability.
Owens put me in touch with Gary Patterson, Shelby American's vice president of operations. He was also intrigued, so I put together a detailed design brief that highlighted the envisioned mechanical and cosmetic modifications. Subsequent conversations covered every area of the car: brake and suspension, engine performance, and cosmetic alterations from the Shelby Performance Parts catalog.
Because the original GT350 R was all about lighter weight, my vision for the GT-R focused on what I call balance-acceleration, cornering, and braking, all working in concert with each other.
Project GT-R's targeted flywheel horsepower was 410-425, especially if it could be mated to a six-speed transmission. Patterson said Shelby was considering a six-speed conversion program and asked if I would like to have my car serve as the test bed. The "yes" came without hesitation.
Our Shelby GT served as a...
Our Shelby GT served as a test-bed for SAM's five-speed to six-speed conversion. Here, Phil Brown and Carl Seigfried prepare the new Tremec six-speed for installation.
During a visit to the Shelby factory in Las Vegas, Shelby American's vice president of production Gary Davis helped choose the final components. Both Garys knew I drove the car daily and over a variety of road surfaces, so they recommended keeping the stock suspension and adding a Watts link. Brakes would be Shelby's Pro-Plus system with Baer aluminum six-piston calipers, ceramic compound pads, and 14-inch rotors.
To reduce weight, I would supply Centerforce's lightweight flywheel, clutch, and pressure plate. We would also use the GT500 Super Snake's one-piece aluminum driveshaft, and the factory Shaker 1000 stereo would be replaced by Shelby's Kicker system. Wheel selection remained up in the air, as did how to add power.