The original Shelby Mustang is considered by many to be the "Holy Grail" of American muscle cars, revered for its influence on popular culture as much as it is desired by collectors for its undeniable speed and style. Needless to say, they're tough cars to get your hands on.
Enthusiasts at Barrett-Jackson's Collector Car Auction this week will have the rare opportunity to watch several of these highly coveted vehicles from the 1960s cross the docket at the WestWorld events facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Shelby's auctioned will include a 1967 GT500 once owned by former Van Halen frontman (and Cabo Wabo Tequila founder) Sammy Hagar. Also on the docket is a GT350 from 1965, the first year Ford solicited the expertise of Carroll Shelby to design a high-performance variant of the "pony car" that would change the course of the American automotive industry. Prices could reach seven figures for some of the vehicles.
"The '65 is definitely the rarest," said Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson. "They rarely pop up, and when they do we hop on them." Jackson said the original Shelby Mustangs—which were produced between 1965 and 1969—are always in high demand at his auctions.
The '65 Mustang on Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale docket has all the original Shelby parts and body shell with an extensive record of upkeep and ownership. Credentials like this are a rarity on the classic car circuit and Jackson doesn't expect the car to sell for cheap.
"People tend to hang onto these cars," said Jackson, noting that many are passed down through generations. This increases the likelihood of there being a thorough record of the car's history—compared to classic cars that are frequently bought and sold—another reason why the cars tend to sell for such large amounts. Jackson has seen some ‘65 Mustangs sell for up to $1 million.
Before the Shelby Mustang, there was the original Mustang, introduced by Ford at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. They became an instant success, gaining popularity with the Baby Boomer generation for its compact size and affordable price.
"The Mustang was a game changer when it first came out," said Jackson. "Ford has a track record of iconic cars—the Model T, Model A and T-Bird—but the Mustang was the greatest success of them all."
For the 1965 production year, Ford reached out to Carroll Shelby, a former race car driver turned automotive designer, and asked him to create a Mustang equipped for the race track. (Ford and Shelby previously collaborated on the Cobra.) Ford began shipping white-shell, Mustang 289 fastbacks to Shelby American's Los Angeles operation, which were then modified and reborn as the Shelby Mustang GT350.
The rest, you could say, is history.
At the time, the Chevrolet Corvette was the car to beat on the racetrack, but that all changed after Shelby got his hands on the Mustang.
"The Shelby Mustang smoked the Corvette, despite not having all-wheel drive or power steering," said Jackson. The racing appeal of the Mustang was something of a marketing tactic to sell race cars to everyday drivers. "The saying was ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday'."
After its success on the racetrack, it wouldn't take long for the Shelby Mustang to become one the most influential cars on the consumer market. The Mustang design is considered by many to have paved the way for subsequent iconic muscle cars like the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Dodge Challenger.
The following year Shelby would ditch the Mustang name and release the 1966 Shelby GT350. However, the cars continued to be constructed by Ford, using Mustang parts, before arriving at Shelby.
"Shelby American's success in racing the Shelby GT350 in 1965 built such a strong reputation that they were often referred to simply as a Shelby. But they are still deemed to be a variation of a Mustang," said Jackson.
Barrett-Jackson is set to auction off a recently restored '66 GT350 with its original engine and factory specs (minus the 4-speed transmission). According to Jackson, who races Shelby Mustangs himself, these cars can still perform on the track, reaching speeds up to 120mph.
In 1967, Ford would begin producing regular Mustangs that were larger and heavier than in previous years. That same year Shelby got ahold of the new models, added a substantial amount of horsepower, and introduced the GT500, which would enjoy similar success both on the racing circuit and consumer market.
Several GT500s will cross the docket in Scottsdale, including the substantially longer-bodied models from 1969, which would closely resemble the style of American muscle cars produced in the decade to come.
The auction portion of Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale event began on Monday and will continue through this Sunday. And it isn't all about American muscle. Barrett-Jackson auctions feature an expansive docket of nearly every type of collector car imaginable, from vintage race cars to pre-war classics and antique European sports cars.
The Discovery Channel and its sister network, Velocity, is broadcasting the event live all week.