Carroll Shelby – the Venice Years

By 1962, Carroll Shelby could have easily rested on his many laurels, having already packed more action and success into his first four decades of life than most people do in eight. A skilled pilot and Army Air Corps flight instructor on some of  America’s most effective bombers and attack aircraft during WW II, Shelby approached postwar life full-bore as an entrepreneur, finally finding his true calling by winning his first race at the wheel of an MG TC. Never looking back, Shelby rose through the ranks quickly, becoming America’s top sports-car driver of the 1950s and ultimately the winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours for Aston Martin, co-driving with British legend Roy Salvadori.


A nagging heart condition may have temporarily slowed Shelby down when he finally hung up his racing helmet for good in 1961, but his energy and penchant for entrepreneurship soon found him in business in Santa Fe Springs, California with a fledgling race-driving school and importantly, the cashflow to be gained as Goodyear’s West Coast distributor for racing tires with 11 states under his territory. Initially, Shelby rented office space at his friend Dean Moon’s hot rod shop. In true Shelby fashion, the irony was delicious – Moon was not only a pioneering California speed merchant, he also just happened to be Shelby’s direct competitor as Firestone’s racing-tire distributor on the West Coast! Needless to say, Goodyear was unimpressed and new premises were soon required for Shelby.


Shelby’s early days at Dean Moon’s shop are extremely important to racing history and car manufacturing, as the place where the ideas for the A.C. Ace-derived, Ford V-8 Cobra were formulated and refined. When the first Cobra – CSX2000 – was cobbled together at Moon’s and Shelby was lining up magazine tests and articles to promote his new four-wheeled baby, Moon and his crew went through a couple dozen boxes of SOS scouring pads and polished the car for its debut, as no time remained to actually paint the car as planned. By some accounts, Shelby and Moon flogged that first Cobra almost mercilessly around the nearby oilfield roads, thankfully managing to keep the car intact for plenty more tests in a succession of paint colors, lending the mistaken impression to many that Cobra production was already underway.


Demand for Cobras was strong from the start and soon, Shelby was able to secure larger premises nearby at 1042 Princeton Drive in Venice, the former home base of Lance Reventlow’s promising but recently-disbanded Scarab racing enterprise. A side benefit of deal allowed Shelby to secure the services of Phil Remington, who would immediately play a pivotal role in Shelby’s racing successes that were soon to come with the Cobra, Mustang GT350, and Ford GT40. Thankfully, Shelby had a young photographer on his small but growing staff named Dave Friedman, who beautifully documented the rise to glory of Carroll Shelby Enterprises, now renamed Shelby American, at the time of the move to Reventlow’s former premises and throughout its most active and successful years. Further expansion dictated additional premises for Shelby American, just across the street from the Princeton Drive headquarters on Carter Avenue, Venice.


Those early days in Venice would see Shelby American building a fanatical pool of talented hot rodders, fabricators, and racing drivers who came from far and wide to join forces with Shelby. At Princeton Drive and Carter Avenue, the early 289 Cobras were assembled, finished, and prepped for sale to customers or for the Shelby American team to compete in SCCA sports-car events in California and soon, all over the United States and in Europe. At those early premises, the Shelby American legend was born, with construction of the original 289 Cobras and the eventual 1965 FIA World Champion Daytona coupes undertaken there. Following Shelby’s closer alliance with Ford Motor Company, the necessary improvements to the promising but troubled Ford GT were led by Ken Miles and Phil Remington for Shelby there as well, setting the stage for victory over archrival Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.


Another Shelby icon would emerge from the Princeton Drive works in Venice – the all-conquering Mustang-based GT350. Ford’s new Mustang debuted as a mid-1964 model at the New York World’s Fair and originated the sporty “ponycar” automobile genre. While it was destined for massive sales far beyond even the most optimistic forecasts of Ford Motor Company’s product planners, long-lasting success was anything but guaranteed. Tying the new car’s image to the company’s all-out, “Total Performance” campaign underway during the 1960s, Ford Vice-President Lee Iacocca called in a favor from famed racer and Cobra builder Carroll Shelby to develop a special new version of the Mustang. Intended from the outset to unseat archrival Chevrolet’s dominant Corvettes in SCCA road racing circles, the new Shelby-massaged Mustang was also meant to confer the docile but promising new ponycar with an unbeatable racing image in the minds of visitors to Ford dealer showrooms.


While Shelby initially derided the Falcon-based Mustang as an attractive but mild-mannered “secretary’s car,” he and his team at Shelby American quickly set to work, thoroughly re-engineering the Mustang into a fire-breathing high-performance car. In fact, the GT350, as the car was named, could go from the showroom to the track with some tuning and racing tires, race, and win with a good driver behind the wheel. Downright wild and essentially a racecar for the street to satisfy racing-homologation rules, the GT350 was a totally integrated package from top to bottom with virtually every part massaged by Shelby American.


The GT350 was based on special Mustang fastbacks shipped from the factory in plain white paint riding on steel wheels. Ford’s 289 cubic inch V-8, in “High Performance” 271-HP tune was included, along with an alloy case T/10 4-speed manual transmission and Ford’s bulletproof 9-inch rear axle with the Detroit Locker mechanism. Once delivered to Shelby, the GT350’s 289 V-8 received an additional horsepower boost, with the addition of a high-flow 715 CFM Holley four-barrel carburetor, aluminum high-rise intake, “Tri-Y” exhaust headers, and a free-breathing dual exhaust system exiting in front of the rear wheels. The front suspension was lowered, and the front chassis structure strengthened with the addition of an “export brace” and “Monte Carlo” bar. A thick front stabilizer bar, “over-ride” rear traction bars, Koni shocks, plus unique front disc and rear drum brakes system upgrades completed the major performance elements of the GT350.


The GT350 was visually distinguished from its basic Mustang roots with twin Le Mans stripes in Guardsman Blue on most examples from nose to tail, a fiberglass hood with hood scoop and hold-down pins, and exhaust outlets just ahead of the rear wheels. Rear brakes received special cooling ducts fed by side scoops just ahead of the rear wheels. Interior appointments included a racy wood grain steering wheel, competition-type seat belts, a tachometer, and a simple fiberglass shelf in place of the rear seat. On the track, the GT350 immediately accomplished its mission and decimated the opposition – mainly Corvettes – to secure three straight SCCA B-Production championships for Shelby and Ford from 1965 through 1967.


According to the Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC), just 562 of these potent performers were built for 1965, followed by 2,378 only slightly more civilized GT350s for 1966. The first 50 GT350s were built at Shelby’s early Venice, California premises, including SFM5S047, the fourth-from-last GT350 assembled there and the iconic car we are thrilled to offer for sale. Its provenance is impeccable at the vanguard of Ford’s “Total Performance” campaign of the 1960s and it stands as one of the earliest – and finest – pieces of Carroll Shelby history today. The product of the only person to win at Le Mans as a driver, team owner, and team manager, its pedigree is incomparable.



Presented today by Russo and Steele, in outstanding restored condition to original specifications, this GT350 is acknowledged by the Shelby American Automobile Club Registry as one of the very first group: “Date received at Shelby American in Venice12/23/64, date work started 2/8/65; date work finished 2/23/65, clearly recording the very early production of this very special Shelby.  The Venice facility where Carroll Shelby and his Shelby American Team developed and built Cobras and GT40’s, also housed the early GT350 program. The GT350 program was designed to only produce enough cars for SCCA homologation compliance, a minimum of 100.  Early prototypes, in both race and street model form, were built alongside their more prestigious stablemates with a cadre of unique and special parts and evolutionary/developmental construction techniques, making the very early “Venice built GT350’s” the most highly coveted by Shelby collectors and aficionados.


The restoration of 5S047 shows clear indicators of a keen attention to detail and accouterments of the Venice built cars, known affectionately by enthusiast’s as “two-digit cars”. The first 50 GT350s were built at Shelby’s early Venice, California premises, including SFM5S047, the fourth-from-last GT350 assembled there and the iconic car we are thrilled to offer for sale. Its provenance is impeccable at the vanguard of Ford’s “Total Performance” campaign of the 1960s and it stands as one of the earliest – and finest – pieces of Carroll Shelby history today.



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