In the moments following the record sale of one of two ex-Steve McQueen and Bullitt film cars, a weathered and battered Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390, we wondered if another Mustang could ever match its final price of $3.74 million. We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Just half a year later, 1965 Shelby GT350R serial number 5R002—the first of two Shelby Mustang team prototypes for the 34 subsequent production Shelby GT350Rs—has sold for $3.85 million, resetting the world-record Mustang sales price. Any time bidding reaches the seven-figure range for a Ford Mustang variant, it’s a big deal, but in this case, it was really no surprise.
When Ford launched its Mustang sports coupe in 1964, the pony car was heavy on style but light on performance. Trying to shrug off the Mustang’s “secretary’s car” image, Ford went to Carroll Shelby, who was already stuffing the brand’s 289- and 427-cubic-inch V-8s into British AC Ace roadsters to create the hot-selling, race-winning Shelby Cobras, and who later turned around Ford’s abysmal GT40 program.
Shelby set his ace race and development driver Ken Miles on the project, along with engineer Chuck Cantwell, who Automobile magazine spoke with several years ago. “The object of the GT350 program was to beat the Corvettes in SCCA racing,” Cantwell told them. “So we had to first get a car the SCCA would accept as a sports car.” Or, as our sister publication HOT ROD once said, turn a “gentle little colt into a roaring, snorting stallion.”
In Shelby’s Venice, California, shop, Miles and Cantwell had a 350-hp, 289-cubic-inch Ford V-8 built up while a laundry list of modifications were made to the Mustang fastback. Key to the car’s performance was removing weight and to that end, the interior was stripped, lightweight metal panels were riveted in place of the glass rear quarter windows, and the side windows were replaced with acrylic. A deep front air dam was made out of fiberglass to direct more cooling air into the engine bay, while the wheel openings were modified to fit 15×7-inch American Racing Torq Thrust wheels wearing competition tires. A large-capacity 34-gallon fuel tank was also added for endurance races, while competition exhaust, suspension, and braking systems rounded out the major changes. As the first Shelby GT350R built, this particular car is said to have details that are unique to it, as well as the history of tens of thousands of development miles at Shelby.
In the end, Shelby GT350R chassis 5R002 was a 2,550-pound racer capable of mid-5.0-second zero-to-60-mph times and 13.6-second quarter-miles. Jerry Titus, writing for Sports Car Graphic, would be the first to test the car with Ken Miles. The test so impressed Shelby and Miles that Titus would go on to pilot this very car and its irregularly numbered successor, 5R001, in the 1965 SCCA season, winning the B Production Drivers’ Championship. But it was Ken Miles himself who gave 5R002 its first-ever win in Texas, and who was behind the wheel for the jump with all four Torq Thrust wheels off the ground at the same track. The leap gave the car its “Flying Mustang” nickname, later rolled into a nifty Shelby advertisement.
Titus ran 5R002 once more in early 1966 in Texas, where Miles had been successful a year earlier, but ended up finishing second behind Pedro Rodriguez, then already a Formula 1 driver and successful sports-car racer, in another Shelby GT350R. From there, 5R002 was sold to a Ford Performance Division engineer based in Dearborn, Michigan, who raced the car with an experimental Ford GT40 engine to good success. By 1970, the car would wind up racing in Mexico with a new owner, before being resprayed in gray primer and left outside to rot in 1972. An American found the car in 1989 and brought it back to the U.S., where it was displayed in a museum and passed among a few owners before winding up with John Atzbach, who restored the car in 2010 to its original glory. Since then, the car has been displayed at events such as the National Shelby Convention, The Quail, and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, along with being used as a promotional car in various Ford marketing campaigns.
In the past, we’ve seen the market for most production 1965 and 1966 Shelby GT350R models taper off quickly around the million-dollar mark. RM Sotheby’s sold a 1965 example for $990,000 at its 2012 Monterey auction, then failed to sell another at its 2018 Scottsdale event with an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,200,000. In this case, clearly the original is GT350R is still the greatest.