The 1966 Shelby GT350H Rent-A-Racer Mustang

A parked 1966 Shelby GT350H Mustang
Photo Courtesy of Hemmings Motor News

In 1965 the Shelby Mustang came to life with the introduction of the high-performance Shelby GT350. This powerful race-ready Mustang became an instant hit on and off the track.

In September of 1965, Shelby American General Manager Peyton Cramer struck up a deal with Hertz to offer the 1966 GT350H Mustang as a rental car. The program was a clever one for Ford and Shelby as it worked to promote the Shelby Mustang to potential buyers. As Ford puts it,

“The idea was to put high-performance, special-edition Shelby Mustang coupes into the hands of racing enthusiast-minded rental customers.”

That’s right; if you were a Hertz Sports Car Club member back in 1966 (and 25 years of age), you could drive off the rental car lot in a performance 306 hp Mustang fastback. Total cost: $17 a day and 17 cents a mile. Not a bad deal by today’s standards and not a bad deal back then.

1966 Shelby GT350H Facts

  • 1,001 Produced
  • Cobra 289 High-Performance V8 engine
  • Output: 306 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque
  • Total cost in 1966: $17 a day and 17 cents a mile

How Racing Enthusiasts Manipulated the System

As you can imagine, this venture was popular among the racing enthusiast crowd. It’s been reported that some renters took their rental cars to the track where they would remove the engine and put it in their personal race car. At the end of the race, they’d drop the Cobra engine back into the rental car and return it to Hertz. The idea was to avoid damaging the rental car while boosting the performance of their ride.

Other stories tell of rental car drivers taking the car to the drag strip for a weekend of racing. As such, many of the rental cars were returned to the rental company in need of repair. In a 2006 interview, Walter Seaman, Hertz Corporation division vice president, Worldwide Fleet, Maintenance, and Car Sales Operations, said,

“Forty years ago when Hertz had the program, it was [a] little less controlled. We were very careful with a very detailed check sheet when the car was rented and returned. There were some people who thought they were getting away with a lot of things, but they ended up reimbursing us for damage.”

Though the venture was successful for Hertz, it proved costly to keep the cars in the fleet.

What makes the Shelby GT350H Unique

The 1966 Shelby GT350H, based on the 1966 GT350, featured a Cobra 289 High-Performance V8 engine outputting 306 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque. Although most of the cars did not feature power brakes, a power brake booster was added to some of the vehicles per Hertz's request. It seems many drivers found the braking to be too difficult and complained to the company. A unique feature of the Shelby GT350H is wheel-center caps featuring the Hertz Sports Car Cub logo as well as Goodyear Blue streak tires. Other special features include functional fiberglass scoops used to cool the rear brakes, a red, white, and blue cobra gas cap featuring the Shelby emblem, a tachometer mounted on the dash, and Plexiglas rear quarter windows. Of note, about 100 of the 1966 Shelby GT350Hs did not feature the fiberglass hood found on regular GT350s. They featured an all-steel hood.

In all, only 1,001 of these fastbacks were built for Hertz in 1966. The makeup consisted of 999 units of the following colors: A majority in Raven Black with Gold (Bronze Powder) side and Le Mans racing stripes, 50 Candy Apple Red with side stripes, 50 Wimbledon White with side stripes (as well as several models with both side and Le Mans stripes), 50 Sapphire Blue models with side stripes, and 50 Ivy Green with side stripes. Two of the GT350H Mustangs were prototype models. Each of the cars was built in Los Angeles at the Shelby American Los Angeles airport facility.

The first 100 GT350H models were ordered with 4-speed transmissions. According to an article about the car in Mustang Monthly magazine, a San Francisco Hertz dealer complained that drivers were burning out the clutches. Hertz and Ford rethought the program after 85 of the cars were delivered and decided to run with automatic transmissions for the remainder of the build cycle. All of the 4-speed cars sported a Raven black exterior.

As with other Shelby Mustangs of the time, the GT350H was quick. According to a 1966 issue of Car and Driver magazine, the 1966 Shelby GT350H Mustang could do 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds. It could do a standing quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 93 mph. The top speed was 117 mph. Bottom line: this car was a serious machine both on and off the track.

A Piece of Mustang History

Over the years the 1966 Shelby GT350H Mustang has become highly sought after by collectors. Due to the harsh driving conditions they were subjected to by rental car drivers, many of the cars were taken out of commission years ago. There was a time when no one wanted to touch one with a 10-foot pole. After all, buying a used rental car wasn’t the thing to do. Well, years later the ones that are left are extremely valuable and easily net $150,000 or more in auctions each year. Those lucky enough to own one own a coveted piece of Mustang history.

In all, the car has grown in popularity over the years. It grew so popular the powers that be decided to bring it back for a new generation of drivers. Forty years after its initial introduction in 1966, Shelby got together once again with Hertz to offer up the 2006 Shelby GT-H Mustang. The car once again featured a black exterior with gold stripes. Keeping with tradition, the cars were fast both on and off the track.

Although the 1965 Shelby GT350 is what started it all, the 1966 Shelby GT350H is the car that delivered the message to the world. As can be imagined, the car is a favorite among Mustang enthusiasts worldwide.