• Jan 22nd 2013 at 11:30AM
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The 1965 Shelby Mustang GT 350 (Credit: Ford).
This week in 1965, a former race car driver with a sharp eye for business opportunities debuted his Frankenstein beast of a car: The Shelby Mustang GT350, a high-performance variant of the Ford Mustang, starting a long history of souped-up Mustangs that made fans drool.

The Shelby Mustangs offered way more power and race-car tuning than Ford could offer off the production line. As one of the car's first brochures pointed out: "You don't just make great cars. You breed them."

The Shelby Mustang was the result of a now iconic partnership that Ford had entered with the late automotive legend Carroll Shelby, who died last May. Though the car was often called a "Cobra," it is not to be confused with the Shelby Cobra, which was a Ford-powered, two-seat sports car also produced by Shelby during the same time. This was mostly a marketing ploy and a heinous way of confounding casual car fans. The two cars shared the Cobra emblem, same paint schemes and "Cobra" valve covers.

Carroll Shelby's general strategy was to put big engines into smaller, lightweight cars. And the Ford Mustang was his car of choice, tuning it to his legendary standards to create perhaps the ultimate pony car.

The Shelby Mustang began life as a stock Mustang. It was shipped to Shelby American in Venice, Calif., where it received high-riser manifolds, had its Ford Falcon rear axles swapped with heavy-duty Ford Galaxie rear axles, and was given larger rear drum brakes, among other modifications. The Mustang also employed a bigger 4.7L V8 engine, which, after modifications, produced a mean 306 hp.

All in all, this was one badass car. And it had to be, in order to truly embody the insane name of the vehicle. A Mustang Cobra? Think about how terrifyingly awesome that animal hybrid would be.

The Shelby Mustang remained in production until 1970, just 5 years after its debut. Though it disappeared from the automotive marketplace for a long while, the car was reintroduced in 2007 as the Ford Shelby GT500. And now, Shelby American says they're getting back into the business of modifying Ford models. At the North American International Auto Show last week, the company showed off a modified Ford Focus, called the Shelby Focus ST. The Shelby modifications will cost $14,995 on top of the $23,700 base price for the Focus ST.

Today, the Shelby GT500 remains a favorite of critics and car enthusiasts alike -- a worthy successor carrying on Carroll Shelby's legacy.

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