History and Overview of the Shelby Mustang

An Overview of the Popular Performance Mustang

Red Shelby Mustang GT500 in a parking lot

Dennis van Zuijlekom/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Chances are, you've come across a Shelby Mustang either on the street, at a local auto show, or during a visit to a Ford dealership. The Shelby Mustang is synonymous with Mustang performance. Shelby Mustangs, both old and new, are highly sought by collectors.

1964, the Beginning

It all began when automotive legend Carroll Shelby was approached by Ford and asked to make the 1965 Mustang, a performance racer. Ford saw the success Shelby had found with the Cobra, and hoped Shelby could breathe some performance into the new Mustang. Shelby and his company, Shelby American, accepted the job and began work on the very first Shelby Mustang in August 1964. On January 27, 1965, the first Shelby Mustang — a 1965 Shelby GT350 in Wimbledon White — made its public debut. By February, the race version of the car (the Shelby GT350R) won its first SCCA race while competing against the likes of Corvettes and other powerhouse cars. It wasn't long before people began to associate the name Shelby with Mustang performance. In all, 562 GT350s were released in 1965.

1966, Rent-a-Racers

In 1966, Shelby took the Mustang to a new level. Because of its popularity as a race-day performer, Hertz rental car company purchased 1,001 of these "rent-a-racers," named GT350H, which ended up at rental car locations all over the country. This was big business for Shelby and gave the Shelby Mustang exposure across the U.S.

1967, Eleanor

Eleanor appeared in 1967. The name references Nicolas Cage's 1967 Shelby GT500 clone featured in the movie remake of "Gone in 60 Seconds." In the original movie, a 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1 played the part. The original Shelby GT500 was the first American car to leave the factory with a roll bar. In addition, it featured a big-block V8 engine. This car is a favorite among collectors.

1968, Ultimate Shelby

In 1968, Shelby released what many consider the "ultimate" Shelby Mustang. The original 1968 Shelby GT500-KR (King of the Road) produced 360 hp courtesy of a 428 cubic-inch Cobra-Jet V8 engine. The car was also available as a convertible.

1969, Shelby and Ford Part Ways

Shelby continued to produce Shelby Mustangs every model year until 1970. In the summer of 1969, Shelby terminated his partnership because of differences with Ford. A 1970 Shelby Mustang did make its way to buyers, although the car was actually a carry-over from the previous model year that was legally marked with 1970 vehicle identification numbers.

2006, Shelby Returns

Many years passed before Shelby made a new Mustang. When Ford completed the Fifth Generation Mustang redesign, Shelby jumped on board to create the 2006 special-edition Shelby GT-H. The car, which made its debut at the 2006 New York International Auto Show, paid homage to the original 1966 Shelby GT-350H. Like the original, the car featured a black paint job with gold racing stripes. Approximately 500 were built for Hertz rental car locations across the country. Once again, renters looking for a true sports car had the option of renting a Shelby Mustang.

2007, Modern Shelby

In 2007, Shelby put out two new Mustangs: the 319 hp Shelby GT and the 500 hp Shelby GT500. Both cars were an immediate success. That year, Shelby also introduced a special Terlingua Mustang package for V6 Mustangs.

For the 2008 model year, Shelby brought back the King of the Road Mustang. The 2008 Shelby GT500KR produced 550 hp and was limited to 1,000 units. In collaboration with Shelby Automobiles, Ford bills it as the fastest production Mustang the company has ever made.

2009, More Power and a New Look

In 2009, the GT500KR and GT500 Mustangs returned, although the Shelby GT Mustang was removed from the lineup.

In January 2009, Shelby revealed the 2010 Shelby GT500 Mustang. This refined car, based on the 2010 Ford Mustang, features 40 more horses, offering up 540 hp and 510 pound-foot of torque. That makes this GT500 one of the most powerful production Mustangs ever.

In November, Shelby introduced two new Mustangs at the 2009 SEMA Show in Las Vegas: 2010 Shelby SuperCharged and SR Mustang Packages.

In December 2009, Carroll Shelby announced he was changing the company name back to Shelby American.

2010, a Classic Returns

In January 2010, Shelby announced it would bring back its classic Shelby GT350 Mustang for the 2011 model year. The car featured 500-plus horsepower and took many styling cues from the original Shelby Mustang.

In a restructuring of Shelby American, Amy Boylan decided to leave her role as company president as of April 23, 2010.

2012, 50th Anniversary Edition Mustangs

On Tuesday, January 10, 2012, Shelby American revealed three new special-edition Shelby Mustangs at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The cars, which were limited to 100 units each, were created to celebrate the company’s 50th year in business.

Shelby American spent much of 2012 celebrating its 50th Anniversary. The company also celebrated the launch of their Shelby 1000. The car, which debuted at the New York International Auto Show on April 5, 2012, boasts a 5.4L V8 engine capable of producing a jaw-dropping 1,100-plus horsepower. 

On May 10, 2012, the world lost automotive icon Carroll Shelby. He passed away at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. The cause of death was not disclosed.

2013, GT500 Named Most Powerful V8 in the World

Shelby American broke new ground at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show when the company revealed a modern-day Shelby "pocket rocket" named the Shelby Focus ST. The car is one that the late Carroll Shelby wanted to build before his passing and a worthy successor to his "pocket rocket" GLH.

On April 27, 2012, Ford Motor Company revealed the official horsepower and torque figures for the 2013 Shelby GT500 engine, showing the new Shelby GT500 was capable of producing more than 650 horsepower. 

On July 26, 2013, Shelby American announced its plan to discontinue production of their post-title Shelby GT350 Mustang package at the end of the year.

2015, Third Generation

The third generation of Shelby-branded Mustangs hit the market starting in 2015. The Shelby GT featured more trendy, aggressive styling and newer technologies, including carbon-fiber components. 

The 2015 Super Snake — so-called, despite the retirement of the GT500 model designation — also used newer components, as well as a redesigned grille and more obvious Super Snake branding inside and outside the vehicle.

2017, Anniversary

In January 2017, Ford announced a special-edition 50th-anniversary release of the Super Snake, limited to just 500 production units. The pony car featured special trim and minor performance enhancements.