Curb Weight2,800 LBS (Apx.)
Flashback to a few seconds before. I ease off the gas and turn into the fast right-hand kink to rotate the fastback on its old-school Blue Streak Goodyears, and then I'm back in it hard, holding the 1965 Shelby in the aforementioned drift over the blind rise and into the braking zone for turn one. The manual four-wheel discs take some leg muscle, but I get it slowed and down into third gear for the hard right-hander at the top of the hill. Turn in, rotate, throttle back to the floor, countersteer, and drive the GT350R through another epic four-wheel slide.
"It telegraphs slip angle," Rick Titus told me before I strapped in behind the Mustang's wood-rimmed steering wheel. "It's a slip angle car." Man, is it ever. Titus is an SCCA Endurance Road Racing Champion and the son of legendary Shelby Trans Am winning driver Jerry Titus.
The Original Venice Crew sounds like a forgotten rap group from the late 1980s, but it's so much more OG than that. Carroll Shelby and his crew began building his Cobras in a small shop on Princeton Drive in Venice, California, in 1962. And in 1965, Shelby American began constructing the 562 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustangs, converting "K Code" fastbacks into serious sports cars for the street and the racetrack.
A 17-year-old Cobra-obsessed Jim Marietta, fresh-faced from a Cleveland suburb, began working at the Princeton Drive shop alongside Peter Brock and Ted Sutton on Jan. 2, 1965. "I walked in and there were 289 Cobras, King Cobras, Daytona Coupes, Mustangs and GT40s," Marietta tells us. "The shop was very crowded. It was about 10,000 square feet with one rollup door and no lifts, just jack stands."
With Brock and Sutton, Marietta helped construct the very first GT350R (5R002) at Princeton Drive that year, and worked closely with Shelby's legendary drivers including Ken Miles, John Morton and Bob Bondurant. "We spent lots of time testing out here at Willow with Ken Miles," says Marietta. "A lot of it was spent experimenting with an independent rear suspension with a Ford engineer." However, ultimately the IRS was never homologated for competition. "Ford decided it was just too expensive to put into production," says Marietta. "And Ken Miles never really got comfortable with it at 10/10ths."
Brock and Marietta left Shelby later in 1965, after the operation expanded and moved into large hangers at LAX, but today with Sutton and the help of other ex-Shelby employees, including Jere Fitzpatrick who drove the original Dragon Snake, they're back building Mustang GT350Rs. They call themselves the Original Venice Crew, and they're starting with real 1965 K Code fastbacks just as they did over 50 years ago. "We agreed to build the "R" model that we envisioned in 1965 but couldn't due to time, expense and other constraints," says Marietta.
Each OVC Shelby GT350R will go into the Shelby Registry. There are, however, a few small modifications from the original cars to improve safety. OVC adds a dual-reservoir brake master cylinder, a bladder is placed in the fuel tank, and there's a master shutoff switch mounted to the roll bar. OVC will also build your GT350R with an independent rear suspension, adjustable coil-overs and rear disc brakes just as Marietta installed underneath that prototype five decades ago.
This time around, Shelby designer Peter Brock, most famous for shaping the Cobra Daytona, also had the opportunity to refine some of his original ideas, including a redesigned front valance, a refined Plexiglas rear window with less hump and Plexiglas quarter windows.
"The revised shape of the rear window improves the car's interior aerodynamics by promoting better airflow for driver comfort while the new front valance has a much closer identity with the original Mustang front-end while increasing the efficiency of airflow to cool the engine," according to Brock. "While these changes may look subtle, they combine with the new suspension to dramatically change the character of the car."
Purists can spec out their car with original look and a 9-inch solid axle with drums. Also, Brock's new designs and the IRS are not available on the FIA-approved version of the car, which is eligible for European vintage racing. The only other option is a set of mufflers.
OVC will build 36 cars to match the original production run, and they are street legal. The cars take seven months to build inside the Shelby facility in Gardena, California, about 20 miles south of the original Princeton Drive shop. The "shop" is the former location of the Carroll Shelby Engine Shop, and OVC has modeled it after the original Venice facility, even re-creating a desk for Ol' Shel with one of his famous Stetsons and music and news from 1965. The new location is less crowded than the original, and there are a couple of lifts, but the vibe is there. Car builders even work in white uniforms just as Shelby employees did in 1965.
The Mustang's spartan interior is also faithful to the original, with no rear seat or carpeting. The driver's seat is an old-school race bucket and the driving position is arms out. There are five-point harnesses, and the doors are hollow to save weight, fitted with Plexiglas side windows that are raised and lowered manually with a strap. You sit low, look out over the white scooped hood and blue stripes and manipulate the Borg Warner T10 four-speed with an original Mustang shifter, which is precise but has long throws. A starter button? Are you kidding me? This beast is fired with the original ignition switch and key.
Before you ask if they'll build you one with a Coyote motor, don't. Marietta says, "Absolutely not" before I can finish the thought. Under that fiberglass hood is a High-Performance 289 taken from the donor K Code Mustang, which is completely disassembled, put on a rotisserie and media blasted. All the original parts are sold off to other builders and restorers, OVC keeping just the body, engine block and shifter. Everything else is replaced.
First magnafluxed, the cast-iron small block is prepared by the Carroll Shelby Engine Company with a .30 overbore, 11.4: 1 compression ratio, a dual point distributor, aluminum heads hidden under black paint, a roller cam that's a little more aggressive than the original spec, a 750 cfm Holley double pumper and a "good" set of headers. Marietta says it makes 456 hp on 93 octane, which is about 50 hp more than the cars had in 1965. And it revs to 6,700 rpm, although I've been asked to short shift it today at six grand.
The car weighs about 2,800 pounds, and it feels small and light as I toss it around the track. There's no power steering, and it takes significant muscle to turn the Mustang's 8-inch-wide tires, which are mounted on period-perfect American Racing wheels. The steering response is linear, precise, and there's plenty of feel, but the 16:1 ratio could be quicker. This car is work to drive. After a few laps my biceps are bulging and my calf muscles are pumped. You have to respect the men that drove these cars at full race speeds for hours.
But the Mustang is well balanced and wants to be tossed around. The 15-inch Goodyears have plenty of sidewall, and the suspension is softly sprung. There's some roll, but its body motions are well controlled and it's easily driven with the throttle. On The Streets of Willow it's all third and fourth gear, and the small-block's thunder never falls below 3,000 rpm.
Into the braking zone for "The Bowl" on the far end of the circuit, the Shelby is at the top of fourth gear and pushing 140 mph. I leg that brake pedal with all I have, scrub the speed, and get the shifter up into third gear. It's a late-apex right-hander with a long, flowing exit. Feed throttle, edge of the track, 100 mph, 6,000 rpm. I snatch fourth gear, bury the gas pedal and navigate the blind "S" with a lift and a drift. The four-wheel independent suspension compresses hard on the other side, and it's back on the brakes and third gear for the tight left-hander. I pitch it in and power slide the Mustang one final time before shutting it down and heading for the pits. "Wow, it really is 1965 all over again," I tell Titus as I climb from the car.
They say you can't go back. Well, Jim Marietta and his old pals didn't get the memo. They've gone all the way back. And so far, the Original Venice Crew has taken five deposits and has 12 K Code Mustangs in stock ready for transformation. But building time machines isn't cheap in 2018. Each OVC Shelby GT350R costs $250,000. That's a big number, and it's $244,005 more than the original cars sold for in 1965, but it's also $750,000 less than collectors are paying for them today. Seems like it's worth every penny.