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A brief history of Hertz Rent-A-Racers from the Shelby GT350H to today

Published in blog.hemmings.com

The 1966 Shelby G.T.350H owned by Gino Lucci, featured in the February 2011 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines. Photo by Terry McGean.

It started when Carroll Shelby, ever the salesman, convinced Hertz to order 1,001 Ford Mustangs modified by his shop for a “Rent-A-Racer” program in 1966. The Shelby G.T.350H was born, and the legend grew almost as soon as the cars began hitting the track and dragstrip. It took 40 years for Hertz to try again, returning with another Shelby Mustang and adding a few more restrictions to the rental agreement. Since then, the Hertz special cars have come at a regular cadence, each one slightly altered from stock and produced in limited numbers, capped by the latest 2020 Hertz-Hendrick Motorsports Camaros. Here’s a rundown of all ten cars that wore the black and yellow paint scheme.

1966 Ford Shelby G.T.350H

Photo by Terry McGean.

The original was famous not just for serious performance in its day but for tales of cars getting rented just to strip them of parts. The February 2011 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines goes into detail about how roughly these cars were treated, and how they eventually ended up in private hands after retirement from rental service. Built with the K-code 289 V-8, tuned in Shelby’s Venice, California shop to 306 horsepower, these cars were nearly identical to the standard G.T. 350 except for the rear side glass on the rental. Most were equipped with automatic transmissions, but an upgraded suspension and quicker steering made these appealing for a weekend on the track. If you can find one of the 1,001 made today, it’ll cost upwards of six figures – a far cry from the original $17 a day rental fee.

2006 40th Anniversary Ford Shelby GT-H

2006 Ford Shelby GT-H

2006 Ford Shelby GT-H. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

Carroll Shelby and Ford rekindled their relationship in 2003, a new Mustang launched in 2005, and the Shelby name returned to Ford Showrooms a year later. Lining up perfectly for a 40th anniversary, Hertz also brought back the Shelby name with a new GT-H. Both the standard and the rental version sported various parts from the Ford Performance catalog: a cold air intake, exhaust, an engine tune that boosted output by 25 hp (19 in the regular Shelby GT), stiffer shocks and springs, bigger anti-roll bars, and a strut tower brace. 496 examples of the GT-H were built with an automatic. You could only get one with a manual if your name was Carroll Shelby or you were a Hertz executive. The Shelby GT came with a stick, but the limited run of 500 GT-H cars (to the standard version’s 10,000-unit production) makes the Hertz considerably more desirable.

2007 Shelby GT-H Convertible

2007 Ford Shelby GT-H Convertible

Same idea a the coupe, same 500-unit production run. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

It’s a natural progression to follow up a coupe with a convertible, and that’s exactly what Ford and Hertz did here. Aside from the folding roof, the upgrades are mostly the same, as was the identical limited production of 500 copies. The initial prototype was a 2006 model (the rest were 2007s) that sold in 2012 for $115,500.

2008 Chevrolet Corvette ZHZ

General Motors joined the limited-edition Hertz party in 2008 with this Corvette. It was part of Hertz’s “Fun Club” line of sporty rentals, with an initial run of 500. The ZHZ was largely unchanged from the stock Corvette, sporting the same 436 horsepower available from the LS3 V-8 with the optional dual-mode exhaust, with several Hertz cues inside and out.

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZHZ convertible

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZHZ Convertible

Photo via Mecum Auctions.

Notice a pattern here? Just like the Shelby, Chevy followed up the following year with a convertible variation on the yellow and black rental special. This time only 375 were built, making it one of the rarest Corvettes ever produced. But that rarity was only good for a used car sale price of $28,000 at Mecum’s 2014 Kissimmee auction.

2014 Hertz Penske GT

2014 Hertz Penske GT

Photo courtesy of Hertz.

This time around Hertz partnered up with Penske Racing, sponsoring a few races with both a Ford Fusion in the Sprint Cup (now Monster Energy) Series and Mustang in the Nationwide (now Xfinitiy) Series. The rental cars were part of Hertz’s new “Adrenaline Collection” offerings that included the Mustang GT, Chevrolet Camaro SS, Chevrolet Corvette, and Dodge Challenger R/T. Upgrades, mainly from the Ford Performance catalog, included a new exhaust, air intake, ECU tuning, 3.55 rear, Brembo brakes, Recaro seats, and the gauge pod from the Boss 302 Laguna Seca. Speaking of the Boss 302, that’s where the Penske gets its front styling, while the rear was from the GT500. One last continued theme was that of automatic transmission cars in the rental fleet, 140 in all, and 10 manual transmission cars that went to executives and VIPs.

2016 Ford Shelby Mustang GT-H

2016 Ford Shelby GT-H

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

To celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original Rent-A-Racer, Hertz and Ford got back together for another 140 cars. The 2016 GT-H was based on the stock Mustang GT, not the reborn Shelby GT350, and came with a Ford Performance exhaust and the Ford Racing Handling Pack (lowering springs, stiffer shocks, bigger anti-roll bars, and staggered wheels), plus carbon fiber front and rear spoilers.

2018 Hertz 100th Anniversary Edition Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2018 Hertz 100th Anniversary Corvette Z06

Photo courtesy of Hertz.

John D. Hertz didn’t join the operation until 1923, but the company with his name on it started as a small operation by Walter L. Jacobs in 1918, renting out Ford Model Ts. Hertz (the company) was later owned by Ford for several years, but turned to Chevrolet to celebrate its centennial. There’s nothing other than the visual that separates this Z06 from a stock example, but it’s unlikely anyone was disappointed with 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque (yes, paired to an automatic transmission). Only 100 were built, one for every year, making this 2018 model more scarce than the Corvette 65th-anniversary Carbon 65 Edition cars.

2020 Hertz-Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and SS

2020 Hertz Hendrick Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and SS

Photo courtesy of Hertz.

Like the Penske Mustang that came before, this pair of Camaros stems from a racing partnership: Hertz sponsors Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron’s Chevy. The Camaro SS comes with a cold air intake and exhaust, good enough for a 25-horsepower increase over stock, bumping output to 480 hp. All 200 examples also come with lighted door sills. And then there’s the ZL1, limited to 24 copies, in tandem with the number 24 Bryon’s racecar. And because 650 hp seems, like, so 2018, these cars come with a larger supercharger supplied by Callaway on the LT4 V-8. The result is 750 hp and an 11.0-second quarter-mile time (according to Callaway), not that you’d ever verify that number with a car that you don’t own and won’t have to buy new tires for. The other new twist with the most recent Hertz Special is a sweepstakes to win one of the SS models for your own garage.