1965 Shelby GT 350 R
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Historic Race Car
1965 SHELBY MUSTANG GT-350 R COMPETITION FASTBACK
One of only 34 “Production” R-Models, this ex-Tommy Hamilton Race Car has been described as “The Winningest GT 350 R” by several Shelby experts. Just 36 total R Models were ever produced, 34 for customers and 2 factory prototypes.
In 1965 the Shelby American crew turned its attention to building the few, special competition cars that would campaign in the SCCA based on the production 1965 GT350. Shelby concentrated on those things which any conscientious racer building a production-based GT or sports car would do, improving handling, power and reliability and, by design, the GT350 R’s handling was not an issue.
Engines were blueprinted in Shelby’s engine shop while the heads were extensively modified by Valley Head Service. A race prepped version of the standard 715cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor on the Cobra high rise aluminum intake manifold was installed, with Tri-Y headers built by Cyclone dumping into straight, side exiting pipes handling the exhaust. Output ranged from 325 to 360 horsepower on the Shelby dyno. Front and rear fenders were flared for wider tires to accept American Racing 15 X 7” five-spoke wheels. The engines increased output dictated an oil cooler for reliability. It was mounted behind the special high capacity radiators and required more air flow which resulted in the R-models’ most distinctive feature – a new front body apron constructed from fiberglass with a deep air intake flanked by brake cooling air scoops.
Plexiglass side windows with aluminum frames saved 25 pounds over the stock side glass. A special Plexiglass rear window was formed which fitted the rear light opening with a two inch gap at the top to exhaust air from the interior and smooth air flow over the rear body – said to increase the R-models’ top speed by five miles an hour. A four-point roll bar was installed with a massive 34 gallon baffled fuel tank fabricated from the bottoms of two standard Mustang tanks.
When complete, the Shelby Mustang GT350 R was a turn-key race car that was ready to go straight from the Ford dealer where it was bought directly to an SCCA race weekend and compete at the highest level.
That brings us to the story of one of the most famous R Models of all, R533:
British Columbia’s Tommy Hamilton is one of the great, unsung heroes of 1960s sports car racing. Hamilton began racing relatively late in life, by 1967 he was a 40-year-old family man with a steady industrial job, but for a five-year period in the late 1960s, he was considered the best sports car driver in the Pacific Northwest. Carroll Shelby took notice of the up-and-coming driver, offering him a Factory drive with his B-Production Racing Team and Hamilton’s big break came in 1967 when Vancouver Ford dealer Brown Brothers Motors sponsored him in their brand new GT350 R, one of the most dominant cars of the era.
For the next two seasons Tommy Hamilton and the Brown Brothers’ #180 350 R were virtually unbeatable, capturing over 40 podiums and many wins in the process. Determined to provide maximum returns for his loyal sponsor, Hamilton was not content simply winning the Sedan or B-Production contests, so Hamilton changed the carburetion, intakes, wheels and tires, and soon qualified the Mustang in more prestigious races like A-modified, over 2-liter Sports Racing and Improved Production. In his first year of racing Hamilton’s Mustang captured both the International Conference B-Production and C-Modified Championship titles.
The 1968 season proved to be the high point of his road racing career as he went on to win five different West Coast championships with 5R533. While racing in two different series simultaneously, he handily defeated the competition in A-Modified, B-improved Production (International Conference) as well as the Canadian Automobile Sports Club A & B Production Championships, and finished first in the Royal City Sports Car Club 1968 Championship. This string of championships is truly a record performance for any Shelby built car racing in the period.
The Brown Brothers eventually sold 5R533 to Canadian Jeff Smith in 1972, who passed it on to Vancouver enthusiast Mike Stidwell in 1975. Stidwell began a restoration intending to put the car back to the original 1967 specifications, which was completed by the next owner, William D. Roush circa 1984. Roush competed in few vintage races throughout the Northwest before the car went to George Walters II of Sherman Oaks, California who replaced the Weber carburetors with the correct Single four-barrel set up as delivered by Shelby American. The car passed through two enthusiasts, Marty Yacoobian, Gene Schiavone and Ken Eber, National Director of the Shelby America Automobile Club in the late 1980s until it ended up with Dan Fitzgerald of New Hampshire. The car was shown at the SAAC-16 concours in Charlotte, North Carolina where it garnered a 1st place. Fitzgerald sold the GT 350 to Peter Rogal of Boston who commissioned the Shelby experts at Cobra Automotive to undertake a full-spec race preparation after which Rogal vintage raced the car for a couple of seasons.
In 2004 he sold it to Australian national Gary Fitzgerald, who demonstrated the car with Hamilton at SAAC 30 in 2005. It was here that Tommy Hamilton was reunited with Carroll Shelby and his Brown Brothers GT 350 R at the SAAC National Convention. Now in his late seventies, Hamilton completed a few “demo laps” donning a crash hat and deftly piloting his old car around the circuit, hitting 165 mph on the straight as if it was 1967. When Hamilton appeared with Carroll Shelby at a function that weekend, Shelby American Automobile Club Historian and 1965/1966 GT-350 Registrar Howard Pardee paid him a fitting tribute when he announced “Tommy Hamilton from Campbell River, British Columbia and his Brown Bros. Shelby Mustang -the winningest GT 350 R-model of all time with five championships in 1968, among other awards”.
Shortly after SAAC-30, I purchased R 533 from Fitzgerald and shipped it to Cobra Automotive of Connecticut to return it to its original 1965 Shelby specifications. It is now beautifully restored to its as-raced original livery and is fitted with a proper 1965 289 K Code engine, R-model gas tank, R-model oil cooler, R-model radiator, seats, period Lincoln-spec “big” brakes, correct Shelby tri-Y headers with correct R-model exhaust as well as wheels and tires of the type Tommy Hamilton raced on. During the restoration a considerable effort was taken to make a reliable and safe Shelby racecar that conforms to today’s strict “era correct” guidelines. Another advantage of #553's current "as-delivered" era correct specification is the ability to easily adapt it to road use if desired. With the addition of two glass-pack mufflers, a stock Ford engine driven cooling fan, and a valid registration #533 makes an exciting and infinitely capable road car. Even without these additions, keeping in mind my local police force is somewhat more lenient than in other communities as it applies to noise regulations, taking 533 out to get Sunday morning coffee is always the highlight of my week! I recently took 533 to the famous Milwaukee Mile race track for a few laps in front of the camera to get a video clip where people could see this old warrior in action. Please use the link at the bottom of this listing to check it out...it is worth it!
R-Model specialist Curt Vogt of Cobra Automotive described this car as “an exceptionally nice and quite correct car. Unlike many R-Models, 5R533 retains its original uni-body panels and has never been badly damaged. It is rare to find an R-Model with its original Ford VIN stamped inner fender aprons and original Shelby VIN tag as 5R533 has. Many street cars don’t even have this”.
Another nationally known Shelby expert has offered a similar appraisal saying, “In my opinion, of the 34 Production R-models built there are only about half a dozen left as original as 533.” Despite its incredible competition history this car has always remained a largely original car, having escaped the all-too-common major disfigurement of many old racecars.
The significance of the R Models was recognized by collectors very early. In the early 1970’s, when most 1960's race cars were simply discarded as they were no longer competitive, people realized how special R Model GT350's were and started collecting them. These cars have unquestioned historical significance, double-digit production numbers, and worldwide appeal. Just like famous pre-war Grand Prix cars, Shelby GT350 R Models have the right credentials to be among the most sought after collectible performance cars for decades to come.
Considering its racing history, originality, correct specifications, quality of the period correct preparation and real potential for future appreciation, nobody can deny that a historically significant R Model such as 5R533 - of which less than 10 exist - are undervalued in today's market. More than just a museum piece, or one of the many vintage race cars that either aren't competitive today or are inherently unsafe, a special R Model is welcomed with open arms at any vintage race venue anywhere in the world. Better still, they are tough as nails and win!
Whatever your collecting goals, there is no question the opportunity to acquire Shelby history like 5R533 is rare indeed. Serious buyers are welcome to contact me for full details or a visit to view this incredible car.
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