The name Carroll Shelby comes up again and again for car fans. He made an international name for himself as the first American to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Afterwards he was directly or indirectly involved in various sports car developments. His own company, Shelby American, exists since 1962. This is where the legendary Cobras were created as Roadsters and Daytona Coupés. The Ford GT40 learned to run here and also the first model generation of the Ford Mustang received the necessary sharpness to be successful in GT racing. In fact, the Mustang was originally little more than a racy-looking but too heavy and underpowered car. After a proper diet and the installation of new engine and suspension components, the GT350 was ready to be a veritable sports car. For racing drivers and teams, the GT350R derived from it was also offered as a pure racing car.
From pony car to race car
Almost only the silhouette remained from the normal Ford Mustang as a Fastback Coupé. And although the car seemed more massive and sedate when parked next to a Cobra, it easily kept up with it on the track. Under the hood, the Shelby team installed the identically built 289cc V8 engine that was also used in the Daytona Coupé and the GT40. On the body, a front section made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic, a hood with air scoop, riveted rear side windows and a specially shaped Plexiglas rear window with vent in the upper section provided differentiation possibilities from the normal GT350. Lightweight American Torq Thrust wheels with Goodyear Blue Dot tires sat in the wheel wells. Inside, there were bucket seats and a rollbar. In addition, Shelby moved the spare wheel to the location of the rear seats. Only 34 examples of this wild racing version were produced.
Publicity-boosting dealer tour
That the efforts for a lighter and stronger Mustang version had paid off, various racing drivers proved. Beside numerous racing victories Shelby won the B Production Championship of the SCCA with the GT350R three times in succession. In addition, there were races with the Daytona Coupé and the GT40. As is well known, these also often ran off victorious. However, it annoyed the company boss that his great successes were hardly known anywhere in the world. The reason for this was the publication cycle of three months of automotive literature, which was still customary at the time. However, if a major racing victory only reached potential customers a quarter of a year later, this could hardly be used for advertising purposes. So the imaginative entrepreneur devised a new way to publicize his successes.
The Cobra Caravan
Together with his US dealer network, Shelby set up a four-week tour of 12 cities, during which the successful racing cars would be on public display. The sales outlets were simply to make sure they also had a few Shelby models on display. Some of them used the tour as a promotional opportunity to have Carroll Shelby hand over the keys to new car owners. He was on hand at almost every stop on the tour and was accompanied by a special truck, the Cobra Caravan. From the outside, the trailer proclaimed “America’s First International Competition Champion” in black and red letters on white and blue paint. The trailer’s two-story, enclosed body always contained at least four vehicles. In addition to a 427 Competition Cobra and a Daytona Coupé, these included a GT40 and a Shelby GT350R.
History of 5R213
The GT350R presented there was the car with chassis number 5R213. This had been completed by Shelby on November 10, 1965. Originally, the dealer Tasca Ford in East Providence, Rhode Island, had ordered this car. However, by this time, demand for the GT350R was already very limited. So Shelby had the words “SCCA B Production Champion” painted on the front fenders and put the car on the Cobra Caravan. After the dealer tour, the GT350R went to Tasca Ford after all, and then to three more Ford dealers in the northeastern United States after the christmas holidays. On June 28, 1966, Benito Lores exported the car and four sister cars to Peru. There, five private racing drivers had ordered them to compete in hill climbs and endurance races.
Restored three times
Interestingly, 5R213 was apparently not pushed too hard in the process. In 1984, car collectors Gary Nufer and Richard Cohen found the car and were able to bring it back to the US. It was complete and nearly undamaged. After two more owners, Jay Bentley had the GT350R restored for historic racing purposes by Cobra Automotive in 1998. Six years later, new owners Corey Lawson and Bruce Serene provided a concours-level restoration. After work was finished, they won First Place in the Popular Vote Class at SAAC 30. Two more owners later, John Brown’s Thoroughbred Restorations shop added another level of perfection. The car went on to win gold at the SAAC 42 Concours in Indianapolis, the Mid-America Shelby Nationals Concours in Tulsa and the MCA Grand Nationals in Kansas City in 2017. Now, Mecum Auctions will auction the car in Indianapolis between May 14 and 22.
Images: Mecum Auctions