Rediscovering the 1967 Shelby GT500 Mustang

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When Carroll Shelby reflected on his career, the one car he was most proud of building was the 1967 Shelby GT500. What makes this car so iconic?

The 1967 Mustang GT500 is a high-performance variant offered by Ford and produced by Shelby American. There were 2,048 GT500s made, with most using a 428 ci (7.0 L) V8 Big Block engine, dubbed the “Le Mans Cobra, ”producing 335 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. (It was assumed to be much higher).

More than any other Shelby, the 1967 Mustang GT500 has captured Americans' love affair with classic pony cars. The epitome of power and performance, the car has an impressive legacy. Whether it is the famous “Eleanor” portrayed in Gone With Sixty Seconds or the ‘67 Super Snake that sold for a staggering $2.2 million a few years ago, the GT500 has always been in a league of its own. No car Carroll Shelby ever produced has earned his praise like this one. People paid attention when the grandmaster announced that the ‘67 Mustang GT500 stood above the rest as a legacy of his life’s work. What is it about the 1967 Shelby GT500 that makes it so unique? How could one car so capture the love and admiration of an adoring public that it ascends to the rare air of automotive excellence? Let’s rediscover the 1967 Shelby GT500 to find out.

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The 1967 Shelby GT500 Is Born

Ford redesigned the Mustang for 1967, making it larger than previous models. The new features gave the car an aggressive facelift, but the increased dimensions also served another purpose, making the car capable of handling a big-block motor for the first time. While the regular production car could be equipped with the 390 ci V8, Ford carried over the GT350 variant, but it knew that a high-performance 289 ci V8 would not be enough to ensure Mustang’s dominance. With other car companies promoting much higher displacements (426 Hemi and Pontiac’s 428 V8), Ford added the GT500 to the lineup. To ensure its legacy, Ford asked Carroll Shelby to equip the new specialty car with a powerful enough motor to convince the public that the Mustang was still a muscle car superstar.

Shelby’s team wanted to use a 427 ci V8 that had powered the GT40 to victory in the Le Mans road race (beating Ferrari in ‘66 and again in 1967) but knew the race engine was unsuitable for passenger car use. Ford had experimented with a 428 ci V8 (first appearing in 1966), and Shelby thought it would be the engine to use. While the engine needed to be modified slightly, Shelby’s team was up to the task, and the extra space in the motor compartment allowed room for the higher-performance engine.

The new engine had a bore and stroke of 4.13 X 3.98, which Shelby coupled with a pair of 600 CFM Holley four-bbl carbs and an aluminum intake manifold. While the new 428 V8 shared the exact external dimensions of its 427 racing predecessor, the two engines differed. The 428 V8 was designed for daily use, meaning it was less noisy, burned less oil, and, most importantly, cost about $1000 less to make.

Shelby called the new 428 V8 powerplant the “Le Mans Cobra,” imprinting the spirit of the famous race car in the minds of the American public. (The wins at Le Mans were still very fresh in the minds of consumers). The new GT500 quickly became a public relations bonanza for Ford Motor Company. Even though that was not the case, the carmaker was happy to promote the engine as a better version of the 427 Le Mans winner. When Car and Driver tested the new GT500 in February of 1967, the review stated, "Somebody is telling a little white half-truth.”

The Ford “Cobra” engine was officially reported to produce 335 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. There was a consensus that Shelby might be fudging a bit (another little white lie), and most owners who drove the car thought it was over 400 hp. While the reasons for the lower power numbers will likely never be known, it was a common practice for the day to underreport to help keep consumers' insurance premiums down.

Every 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 began as a 390 V8 Fastback sent to Shelby American for modifications. The hood and trunk lid were pulled and replaced with fiberglass components. (The hood had a functional air scoop, while a specially designed lip spoiler was installed on the rear). Shelby American was no stranger to the benefits of fiberglass to reduce weight and improve the speed of a muscle car. Side scoops were installed to provide airflow for cooling the rear brakes, and matching scoops were placed strategically on the upper body to channel the car’s aerodynamics. The extensive use of fiberglass helped balance the additional weight of the new engine and ensured that the GT500 could still power down the track.

The GT500 was mated with a four-speed manual gearbox or a three-speed C6 automatic transmission. The rear axles varied between 3.50:1 to 4.11:1 and featured upgraded suspension components designed to make the car more comfortable as a daily driver. The car also retained many customer amenities that Ford owners demanded, like power brakes, power steering, and even optional air-conditioning.

The GT 500 also included several safety features beginning to emerge on production vehicles. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) mandated four-way emergency flashers, a shock-absorbing steering column, and dual-circuit hydraulic braking systems. The GT500s came equipped with optional shoulder-mounted seat belt restraints (which would eventually lead to the three-point seat belts we enjoy today) and was the only production car with a padded roll bar installed. High-beam headlights were placed into the center of the grille (although a few states required them to be placed toward the sides to meet state law).

The interior of the GT500 included all the features one might expect in a Fastback Mustang. While the rear seats were cramped (they always have been), and the shoulder harness made getting in and out a hassle, Ford spent most of its efforts on making the car as comfortable for the driver as possible. A wood-trimmed steering wheel and faux wood accents highlighted the gear shift knob. The instrument panel consisted of two large gauges (a 140 mph speedometer and an 8,000 rpm tachometer).

Once the modifications were complete, the GT500 Shelby Mustang exuded a robust appearance. Still, the initial reviews expressed disappointment that it didn’t move down the track much faster than any other stock Mustang. The 0 - 60 mph time was about 6.5 seconds, with a quarter mile time of 15.0 at 95 mph. (The production 390 V8 had a time in the low seven seconds). Compared to its competition, the 1967 Dodge Charger 426 Hemi was a touch faster at 6.4 seconds.

The Super Snake Debuts

As you might imagine, Shelby couldn’t resist producing a couple of test car prototypes of the GT500, with the bonafide 427 V8 GT40 racing engine. Called the “Super Snake,” the engine produced 650 hp and had a top speed of over 170 mph when Carroll Shelby drove the car in a promotion for Goodyear’s new Thunderbolt tires. Only two Super Snakes were produced, as Ford deemed that there would be no interest in the car (the race motor had obnoxious engine sounds and tended to rattle drivers' teeth, not to mention the nearly $8k price tag). When one of the prototypes totaled, the remaining Super Snake fetched a cool $2.2 million at a Mecum auto auction in 2019.

The Value Of The 1967 GT500 Today

A total of 2,048 units of the 1967 Shelby GT500 were made (including one convertible 0139 and one coupe sports car, dubbed Lil Red, which was discovered in a Texas field in 2018). The GT500, the overwhelming favorite among young consumers, outsold its GT350 counterpart by nearly two to one. (2,048 to 1,175). Most of the ‘67 Shelby GT500 models were automatic since Americans turned away from manual transmission cars.

Since most of the GT500s met untimely deaths on the drag strip or street, these vehicles are scarce today. The valuation of a 1967 Mustang GT500 in today’s market is about $150,000, depending on factors like mileage, condition, and history. While owners shouldn’t expect “Super Snake” returns from their investment, these cars are worth the money it takes to purchase and restore them. What’s even better, they are a blast to drive.

The GT500 would continue to be made until 1970 (although Ford assumed production after the 1967 model, replacing Shelby American).

After 1970, it would take almost thirty-seven years before the SVT GT500 would appear, reviving the iconic 500 moniker. (Shelby Mustangs did make a comeback in 2005 when a V6 variant was produced). Shelby announced just recently their new Mustang Mach-E GT.