1967 Shelby G.T. 500, owned by Gary Barnes and featured in the August 2012 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines. Photos by Matthew Litwin and Terry McGean.
After two years of selling the Shelby G.T. 350 Mustang, Shelby American sought to broaden the appeal of its upgraded pony cars. When Ford announced a significantly revised Mustang for 1967, Carroll Shelby saw his opening, dropping Ford’s 428-cu.in. Police Interceptor V-8 between the fenders of a significantly restyled Mustang fastback. The result was the Shelby G.T. 500, a kinder, gentler supercar that marks its 50th anniversary in 2017.
Shelby’s first modified Mustang, the G.T. 350, hit the streets in 1965. Beloved by racers and masochists, it was broadly panned by those needing a car for more than just track duty. Critics complained the suspension was far too stiff, the Detroit Locker differential was too noisy (terrifyingly so, some would say, as it sounded like the axle was shearing every time the diff unlocked) and the side-exit exhausts were deafening. The clutch was too stiff for day-to-day driving, and perhaps worst of all, the G.T. 350 looked too much like the Mustang on which it was based.
The G.T. 350 was softened for 1966 to make it more livable on the street, but that still did nothing to set the car apart, appearance-wise, from production Mustangs. That changed with the introduction of the 1967 Mustang, which retained the original’s wheelbase but grew in overall length, width, and weight. Enlisting the help of Ford stylist Charlie McHose, Shelby American tasked him with designing a fresh look for the Shelby G.T. 350 and its new stablemate, the G.T. 500.
Up front, the 1967 Shelbys received a new fascia, new grille and new, longer hood. Perhaps the most notable change was the relocation of the high beams to the center of the grille, where they resembled driving lamps (but, as Shelby would soon learn, conflicted with certain state laws relating to the minimum distance between headlamps, necessitating a change for 1968). The longer hood (and longer fascia to accommodate this) was no accident; Shelby himself believed that extending the car’s front end made it look faster, even when parked.
The new Shelby models received a functional air scoop just aft of the doors on the quarter-panel, and this was used to direct cooling air to the rear brakes. Where the Mustang fastback received a louvered cover on its C-pillar, the Shelby featured a second scoop, intended to vent cockpit air without creating turbulence. The duck tail rear spoiler was apparent in profile, too, and from the rear the most noticeable change was the use of the Mercury Cougar’s low and wide taillamps, mounted in an all new rear fascia topped by a new decklid. From the front, side or behind, it was now impossible (or at least difficult) for an enthusiast to mistake a Shelby for a Mustang.
Ford wanted more power for its 1967 Mustang, so a big-block 390-cu.in. V-8 was added to the factory option list, replacing the K-code 289 as the top engine. Shelby took this one step further, knowing that the 390 and the 428 Police Interceptor shared a common block (with the 428 receiving a larger bore and a longer stroke). The Shelby version of the engine received a cast aluminum intake manifold topped by a pair of 600-CFM Holley carburetors and an oval, finned air cleaner housing (to match the finned aluminum rocker covers), but retained Ford’s stock exhaust manifolds. Power was (conservatively) rated at 355 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, and transmission choices were either Ford’s Toploader four-speed manual or its heavy-duty C-6 automatic.
Underneath, the Shelby G.T. 500 began with the Mustang GT’s suspension, but substituted adjustable Gabriel shock absorbers, stiffer front springs and a stouter front anti-roll bar. Power steering and power front disc brakes were standard, as were 15×6 Ford steel wheels with Thunderbird wheel covers. Optional wheels included a 15×7 Kelsey-Hayes “Magstar” five-spoke, or a 15×7 10-spoke Shelby aluminum wheel.
Inside, all G.T.500s began with the Mustang’s deluxe interior (in black or parchment), upgraded with a roll bar (which also provided mounting points for the inertia reels used on the dual shoulder belts), a three-spoke wooden-rim steering wheel, a 140-MPH speedometer, an 8,000-RPM tachometer, and supplemental oil pressure and ammeter gauges. A Cobra badge on the steering wheel and passenger-side dash reminded occupants of the car’s origin, and outside, a rocker stripe (technically an “above rocker” stripe) and Cobra badging let pedestrians (or other drivers) know this was no ordinary pony car.
Those wanting more thrust in 1967 could check the option box next to Ford’s 427-cu.in. V-8, but priced at $2,000 over the cost of the G.T. 500, very few buyers went this route. In mid-year 1968, Shelby introduced a third engine option for the G.T. 500, Ford’s new 428-cu.in. Cobra Jet V-8, which featured improved cylinder heads, a beefier bottom end, a high nodular iron crankshaft, stronger connecting rods, and a high-performance camshaft. A single 735-CFM Holley four-barrel sat perched atop the intake manifold, and a functional ram air system ensured the carburetor had no trouble breathing. Dubbed the G.T. 500 KR (for King of the Road), output was rated at 335 horsepower (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but widely accepted as somewhere north of 400 horsepower.
The G.T. 500 continued on into 1969, but by mid-year Shelby had grown tired of fighting with Ford’s management (and accounting department). Wanting to turn his attention to his African big game reserve, Shelby lobbied Ford to release him from his contract. Reluctantly, the automaker agreed, but the change left 789 Shelby Mustangs either just completed or in process. Dealers didn’t want any more 1969 Shelbys, so an audacious plan was hatched to re-VIN the cars as 1970 models.
Altering a VIN is a criminal offense, so Shelby American enlisted the help of the FBI to oversee the operation. Only the windshield VIN tags were replaced, meaning the fender (and other) VIN tags were one digit off due to the change in model year. To make the 1970 models visually different, the cars received black stripes on the hood and a black chin spoiler.
After a 35-year absence, the Shelby GT500 name was revived by Ford in 2005, when a new ultra-high performance Mustang was shown at the New York Auto Show. The new GT500 entered production in 2007, and remained in Ford’s lineup throughout the remainder of fifth-generation production, which ended in 2014. The automaker has since introduced a new track-focused GT350 based upon the sixth-generation Mustang, and rumors of a new GT500 have been circulating for months. The introduction of such a top-tier Mustang would be a fitting way to celebrate the GT500’s golden anniversary.