The Shelby-built Trans-Am Mustang of John McComb, which sold for $400,000 in January 2013. Photo courtesy Mecum Auctions.
Chuck Cantwell is no stranger to fans of early Shelby Mustangs. As project engineer for the GT350 and its track-centric variant, the GT350R, Cantwell supervised the conversion of Ford’s youth-oriented sporty car into a legitimate contender in SCCA competition, then backed this up by creating a notchback variant legal for the popular Trans-Am series. On November 12, Cantwell and co-author Greg Kolasa will be at the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia, heading a discussion and signing copies of Shelby Mustang GT350: My Years Designing, Testing and Racing Carroll’s Legendary Mustangs.
Debuting in 1965, the Shelby GT350R earned SCCA B-Production championships in 1965, 1966, and 1967. According to SCCA regulations for its Trans-Am series, which began in 1966, the fastback models were classified as two-seaters, which (along with hood scoops and fiberglass body panels) made them ineligible for competition. To run in the Trans-American Sedan Championship (Trans-Am’s official name), a notchback Mustang would have to be developed, and Cantwell was once again selected to lead Shelby American’s effort.
A total of sixteen Trans-Am Mustang notchbacks were built for privateer teams, since Shelby American’s own racing efforts ended in 1965, and beneath the skin, all were essentially the same as the GT350Rs that had already proven successful in B-Production. To race in Europe, under FIA regulations, another four notchbacks were constructed, using road-going GT350 underpinnings. Once again, Cantwell and his team demonstrated their mastery of the rules, as Ford captured the over-2.0-liter Trans-Am championship in 1966 and again in 1967.
Trans-Am Mustangs proved competitive into 1968, with Jerry Titus and Ronnie Bucknum taking victory in the season-opening 24 Hours of Daytona. Titus delivered another win for Ford at Watkins Glen in August while Horst Kwech scored a victory at Riverside in September, but the remainder of 1968 Trans-Am over-2.0-liter wins went to Mark Donohue, driving a Penske-prepared Chevrolet Camaro.
While Cantwell and Kolasa’s book covers the entire range of early Shelby-built Mustangs, the discussion at the Simeone will focus on the Trans Am effort from 1966 to 1968. The program begins at noon, and while reservations are recommended, entry is included with regular Museum admission. For additional details, or to make a reservation, visit SimeoneMuseum.org/Events/Shelby-Trans-Years.