Disclosure: I am a huge Mustang fan and I love experiencing old cars the way they were made. My time behind the wheel was limited.
When my dad taught me to drive he would always say “you need to learn how to drive stick. What if someone hands you the keys to a new Lamborghini and lets you take it for a spin, but you can’t because you don’t know how to drive stick?” Like any other teenager, I thought, “yea, whatever dad” but I kept working at it and perfected the art of releasing the clutch to his Ford F550 on an incline.
While his reason for why I needed to learn wasn’t taken seriously, never did I ever think I’d find myself on the Streets of Willow circuit in California, behind the wheel of the prototype 1965 Shelby GT350 competition model built by the Original Venice Crew.
A huge smile was spread across my face as I did my best to keep the 420 horsepower car on the proper driving line with the Mustangs large, thin wooden wheel. I hit the apex and pressed the throttle letting the cars 289 cubic-inch V8 roar to life and shifted the four-speed manual transmission.
The car handles incredibly well – especially for it being 53-years-old, heavy, set up for track use and completely lacking any driver assistance like power steering, ABS, or traction control. It takes a moment to become adjusted to non-assisted driving, but feels incredibly capable when you allow it to make full use of the sticky vintage race tires, its body roll, very willing motor, and its independent rear suspension.
It’s easy to see why Rick Titus, the race car driver for the day who took me for hot laps on Streets of Willow, prefers the car on the larger, longer, faster Willow Springs circuit just next door. It’s where his father Jerry Titus, campaigned a race-prepped Shelby GT350R – which Peter Brock helped design, and the then-17-year-old Jim Marietta wrenched on in 1965 along with Ted Sutton.
These are men who spent their days being cajoled, cussed out, and inspired by Carroll Shelby, building cars on a wing and a prayer in Shelby American’s impossibly cramped, 10,000-square-foot shop in Venice.
Some years ago, the men got together and had thought back to the design and development of the original cars; Brock never got a chance to sculpt the front end how he wanted and the car with the independent rear was never finished. That night, many unanswered “what if’s” became “why the hell not?”
Built by the Original Venice Crew, this one is as close to the real thing as you can get. The OVC began with the same 1965 Mustang, K-Code that came equipped with a 289ci engine. The K-Code also came with a Borg Warner 4-speed manual transmission that was the basis for the Shelby GT350 that year.
This time, however, Brock finally had an opportunity to refine and integrate some of the components originally deleted. These include a redesigned front valance, refined Plexiglas rear window and plexiglass quarter windows. The OVC Crew also incorporated a very special experimental Ford Advanced Vehicle independent-rear suspension originally intended for this model.
Of the 562 built in the 1965 model year, just 36 cars were officially designated as competition models; enthusiasts can identify them by the “R” in the Shelby “CSX” serial number.
“Much like Carroll Shelby’s original Cobra, the 1965 Ford Shelby GT350R changed the performance car landscape,” said Jim Marietta, the unofficial OVC spokesman and CEO of the Original Venice Crew, and owner of the prototype I drove. “When we reunited, we agreed to build the ‘R’ model that we envisioned in 1965, but couldn’t due to time, expense, and other restraints.”
During a walk around, he showed me the hand-welded plenums fitted over the gas tank filler in the trunk and fitted over the carburetor. He noted the person who created the original pieces in the 60’s is the same person making them now, using the same method and tools.
Marietta also pointed out some changes to the front end of the car as well as the rear window that Brock made to the fastback to aid aero and cooling, which lead to the use of a smaller, more efficient radiator.
“When Peter Brock says you should do something, you probably should,” Marietta says, breaking into a wry smile.
“You see this here,” pointing to the rear fender. “These are hand-flared. I did it myself. They’re a little rough, but that’s the way it was.”
With authenticity as the primary goal, the OVC is offering production versions of the 1965 Shelby GT350 “competition model.” Only 36 of these cars will be built, each at the Shelby facility in Southern California, just as Carroll Shelby and the OVC team did in 1965.
Prices start at $250,000, but ultimately, they are priceless. The cars come with the official Ford and Shelby backing, and a lineage that can’t be manufactured. For an additional cost, an FIA Legal car can be ordered.
As the story goes, back in ’65 the team was almost finished developing the IRS car when Shelby pulled resources away from it and relocated them to the Daytona Coupe and GT40 projects. The suspension was put on a shelf and forgotten about.
At some point, it was sold to a private owner. Duane Carling, the man behind the development work of the car’s IRS managed to track it down miraculously, and it was used to form the basis of the IRS on the car available today.
Customers can choose between the traditional 9-inch fixed rearend or independent-rear suspension. Additionally, because the OVC has a license with both Shelby American and Ford Motor Company, each OVC Mustang wears all of the authentic, original badges.
For more information about the OVC FIA Legal Shelby GT350 or the IRS GT350, see Original Venice Crew.