/ 19 May 2024

Mustang: A raw, classic muscle car

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Hear me roar: The Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, which I had the pleasure of driving, has a body which is in top condition and an impressive engine bay, despite being 60 years old. Photos: Niki Louw

Mustangs have been objects of desire among those passionate about cars all over the world for generations. 

This car has gained a reputation for a powerful roar, tough appearance and rebellious character, which has made it a popular choice in films and TV shows over the decades. 

The current generation of Mustangs continues to record promising sales figures and fans around the globe can’t seem to get enough of the cars. 

The legendary Carroll Shelby took the popular sports car and worked his magic to create a vehicle that embodies American muscle in the truest sense.

We had the opportunity to spend some time with arguably one of the most iconic models, the Mustang Shelby GT350. 

Shelby’s tale has been extensively covered. It’s one of an impoverished kid with a desire for speed, and it was the foundation for the thrilling film Ford v Ferrari, but we’re going to focus on the car in this article. 

The Mustang was introduced in 1964 at the New York World Fair and it was an immediate hit. The first batch of Mustangs to arrive in showrooms consisted of 22 000 units, which were immediately sold out. 

The brand had anticipated success but not the level of public interest. It was a more affordable sports car than most, which looked and sounded the part, and the public became obsessed. So much so that 400 000 units were sold in its first year of production, which greatly exceeded expectations. 

Side note — more than nine million Mustangs have been sold globally, partly thanks to this model’s contribution, since Ford wanted it to be a Mustang that would offer more. 

So, there was no better man for the job than the creator of the Cobra, Daytona and GT40, Caroll Shelby. 

Less than a year after the Mustang’s 1964 debut, Shelby created and sold the first GT350, offering a more refined and powerful option for Mustang enthusiasts with deeper pockets.

The GT350’s naturally aspirated V8 produced 228kW and the roar was addictive. It was a racing car for the road, with an estimated 0 to 100km/h time of 5.4 seconds, helping to define Ford’s racing pedigree. 

It was more aggressively styled, featuring a functional bonnet scoop and racing lines, which made it stand out from standard Mustangs. 

It was so daring that it became a popular target for police at the time. 

Besides the Shelby-tampered engine, the steering was improved, and 15-inch wheels were added with improved tyres to ensure the GT350 would outperform the standard Mustang in every way. 

It also became a reasonably successful track racing car and the famed Ken Miles spoke highly of it. It won the Class-B championship for three years in a row after its debut. 

The car pictured here is a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 — one that is tearing up our roads with American noise and savagery. 

Immediately upon entering the GT350, you get a sense that this car could have got you into some serious trouble at the time of its introduction. 

Its Mustang-branded seats, although soft, have a rather supportive structure, but once the key turns, you instantly realise what all the fuss is about. 

The overwhelming roar of the naturally aspirated V8 comes to life, leaving no smile upside down. It’s a truly glorious noise that is only improved by a throttle blip or three. 

The ride quality reminds you that this car is 60 years old, with noticeable bumps and a ridged chassis that yearns for smooth, paved corners.

This Shelby sports a three-speed automatic gearbox, which allows you to make noise for longer within the rev range. Because of the low number of gears, the ratios are long, allowing you to sit in the optimum torque band for longer. 

Add a naturally aspirated V8 to the equation and you find the power in the higher revs — but it does take a few seconds to get there. 

However, the noise it produces beneath you will provide entertainment at any speed.

The brutish V8 has undergone a slight detune, transforming it into a more sensible daily driver. As is, it produces 171kW and 300Nm and, considering its weight, it still moves like you can’t believe for a 60-year-old. 

Despite its age, its brilliant body condition and impressive engine bay leave you in awe. 

If the Shelby GT350 was on the posters in your room growing up, and you fancy owning one, this car is available at Vintage Cars South Africa for R1 350 000. Considering a new BMW M2 will set you back R300k more, this legend becomes that much more tempting. 

I have spent my fair share of time in classic cars but the Mustangs of old encapsulate the rawness of classic muscle cars. 

The vibration and shaking the motor produces, paired with the roar of the exhaust, is an experience you won’t find in modern sports cars. 

It’s a car that remains an icon and it’s an experience that I’ll cherish for years to come.