Ah, the Shelby Mustang. Surely one of the most iconic muscle cars of the 1960s, and one that resides at or near the top of the desirability list for most classic car enthusiasts.
Born in 1965 out of a concern that Carroll Shelby’s friend and father of the Mustang, Lee Iacocca, had that the Mustang was not sufficiently sporting enough, Shelby’s modifications to the Mustang transformed it into a legitimately snarling, road and track beast.
Unbeknownst to either man, they had, in the process, created an automotive exemplar that would see several future iterations spread across nearly sixty years, and stand throughout as the very personification of American muscle. But it was those 1960s models that really pulled at the heartstrings with their no-frills, no-nonsense approach to speed.
In past incarnations of this column, we’ve examined some exceedingly rare models of 1960s Shelby Mustangs, from the 1966 GT350 convertible to the 1969 GT500 convertible. While both were indeed very scarce, with only single-digit production numbers for the former, the pair are fairly well known amongst muscle car enthusiasts.
For this chapter in the Rare Rides saga though, I’ve chosen a Shelby that many of you, including some die-hard fans of the marque, might never even have heard of.
So, without further delay, allow me to introduce you to the 1969 Shelby de Mexico GT350.
The Shelby Mustang story begins when the first version of the Shelby GT350 made its public debut on January 27, 1965. It was based on the 1964 ½ Ford Mustang, a car that, upon its release, fundamentally shifted the paradigm of the automobile industry by achieving a record-breaking 418,812 sales by the end of its first model year.
Directly addressing the Mustang’s shortcomings that so bothered Iacocca, Shelby’s team, located in a garage on Princeton Street in Venice, California, bestowed 528 Mustang Fastbacks with a new heart, consisting of a 289 cubic-inch K-Code V8 engine equipped with a Holley four-barrel 715 cfm carburetor, Cobra Hi-Rise manifold, cast-aluminum valve covers and oil sump, a larger radiator, and tubular Tri-Y exhaust headers feeding short side pipes.
Other improvements consisted of a four-speed, Borg-Warner T10 all-synchro transmission with close ratios, a ratchet-type limited-slip differential, a quick-ratio steering rack, oil coolers for the differential, semi-elliptical leaf springs, a beefy rear axle, more robust anti-sway bars, Koni adjustable shock absorbers, Kelsey-Hayes front disc brakes, and a trunk-mounted battery for better weight distribution.
A fiberglass hood with functional scoop and hold-down pins, a revised grille, and 15-inch Kelsey-Hayes mag wheels shod with Goodyear high-performance Blue Dot tires completed the package.
1965s were only offered in Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue rocker panel stripes and call-out. Roughly thirty percent of the cars that left the Shelby garage came outfitted with the matching Le Mans-style racing stripes across the top.
Thirty-four GT350 “R” models were also built, which complied with SCCA racing specifications and were therefore ready to race straight out of the box.
The GT350 indeed turned the sporty Mustang into a proper performance car, with Shelby’s modifications allowing for a 0-60 burst in 6.8 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 15 flat at 91 mph. Quite heady performance for the time.
1966 was largely a carryover year for the GT350, with changes being limited to several new colors, and some slight mechanical and aesthetic changes. 1967, however, was anything but.
Ford had completely restyled the Mustang, making it both larger and heavier. Carroll Shelby took this as an opportunity to do what he originally envisioned with the ’65-’66 cars, and make the Shelby’s aesthetics markedly distinct from their lesser Mustang brethren.
Shelby outfitted the ’67 GT350 cars with bespoke fiberglass body pieces, including a gorgeous, elongated nose, a hood with twin functional scoops, and four body side intakes located at the quarter windows and along the car’s flanks ahead of the rear wheels.
A fiberglass tail featured an integrated spoiler and sequential turn-signal/tail lamps borrowed from the Mercury Cougar. Twin, round, high-beam headlights were mounted in the center of the grille (they were later located in the grille corners to comply with differing state laws.)
The GT350 continued to be powered by the K-Code, high-performance 289 cubic-inch V8 with the Cobra Hi-Rise intake manifold, while a new model, the GT500, with a FE Series 428 cubic-inch Police Interceptor V8 with dual 600 CFM Holley four-barrels sitting on top of a mid-rise aluminum manifold, was added to the Shelby lineup.
It was around the time of the refreshed cars’ releases that Carroll Shelby entered an unusual new partnership.
Eduardo Velázquez was a successful automobile parts distributor in Mexico in the 1960s. By mid-decade, he was selling quite a few repair and replacement parts for Mustangs in the Mexican market, and became aware of the improved performance that Shelby’s Cobra parts could yield to a standard Mustang. Parts like shock absorbers, suspension components, camshafts, pistons, manifolds, accessory tachometers, and steering wheels.
Determined to become the lone distributor of Shelby parts for all of Mexico, Velázquez brokered a deal with Shelby American’s parts manager, Timothy Foraker, that enabled him to achieve that goal. Within a year, Velázquez would become the single largest supplier of Shelby parts and accessories worldwide.
Seeking to build a promotional vehicle that he could enter in Mexican sports car races and display all the Shelby American parts he had for sale, Velázquez procured a red 1965 Mustang 289 notchback from a Ford of Mexico dealer (fastback and convertible Mustangs were not available in Mexico, leaving the notchback as the sole configuration sold there.) He then transported it to Carroll Shelby and Lew Spencer’s Hi-Performance Motors in Los Angeles, where it was outfitted with every performance part Shelby had on offer.
The car was returned to Mexico, where Velázquez set up a racing concern and entered the Mustang into several competitions. A win at the 1966 Mexico Toluca Road Race with Juan Emilo Proal behind the wheel was accompanied by five first places, three second places and one third out of seventeen races entered.
Carroll Shelby became aware of and impressed by Velázquez’s successful efforts, so he had Timothy Foraker set up a meeting between the two men in Los Angeles.
Velázquez recalled; “When I was shown into Carroll’s office I was taken aback by the earthiness, simplicity, and the intelligence of Shelby. We became friends immediately and we had a long conversation [about] the way we distributed to the Ford dealers in Mexico, our terms, shipping policies, the most accepted products, and even how we approached the parts managers, to convince them of the value of our products.”
So quick and firm was the bond between the two men that a home-cooked meal shared at the Shelby residence that evening would ultimately lead to the pair forming a company, Shelby International, S.A, also colloquially known as Shelby de Mexico, together. Its purpose would be to create modified Shelby Mustangs sold via Ford of Mexico dealerships.
Beginning in 1967, select Ford of Mexico Mustang GT notchbacks were selected to undergo transformation into south-of-the-border Shelby GT350s at the new Shelby de Mexico facility in Nuevo León.
169 cars with 289 V8s were bequeathed high-performance cams and lifters, aluminum hi-rise intakes, and Holley 715 cfm carbs with Cobra aluminum air cleaners. Koni shocks, stiffer springs, Shelby 10-spoke 15-inch aluminum wheels, performance tires, performance Tri-Y headers, Ford dual-point ignitions, a fiberglass hood and decklid, Cougar taillights, and GT350 rocker stripes added further performance and panache.
Inside, a Shelby tachometer and wood-rimmed steering wheel were installed, along with GT350 dash emblems.
Thus, aside from being notchbacks instead of fastbacks, and lacking the American Shelby upper side scoops, the Mexican Shelbys were, for all intents and purposes, dyed-in-the-wool GT350s.
Another 203 Shelby de Mexico GT350s were built in 1968 to this same spec.
By 1969, Shelby American’s status as Ford’s hot rod shop had changed considerably since the agreement between the two firms began back in 1965. After the second generation GT350 and GT500 were released for the 1967 model year, Ford had resolved to take over most Shelby design decisions, and deemed that Shelbys needn’t be track-oriented anymore, since the Boss 302 had become Ford’s primary race Mustang.
Thus, when Ford released a bigger, wider, and heavier redesigned Mustang for 1969, Carroll Shelby had little to do with the Shelby version, aside from doing a bit of advising and having his name slapped on the tail panel of the new car. The once glorious partnership had been essentially reduced to a licensing agreement.
American ’69 Shelbys were still based on the then-current Mustang platform, but received extensive body modifications to further differentiate them from standard Mustangs. With its front section elongated by four inches, a full-width, recessed grille encompassing the dual headlights, and a rear dominated by Thunderbird taillights and pass-through, center-mounted twin exhausts poking out through the bumper, only the roof, doors, and quarter panels remained from the standard Mustang GT.
It was a love-it-or-hate-it look, and many gravitated towards the latter sentiment.
Meanwhile, down in Mexico, decisions needed to be made as to what to do about the 1969 Shelby de Mexico GT350.
Since all the modifications that were done to the body of the American version were produced in-house from Ford instead of at Shelby American, there would be no way for Velázquez to have them imported to Mexico for installation on his cars.
What’s more, the M-code 351 Windsor V8 that now inhabited the engine bay of American GT350s was not produced by Ford of Mexico at the time, so an alternate powertrain would likewise have to be created.
Faced with the prospect of having to produce something significantly different from the American GT350, Velázquez and his team of designers, engineers, and mechanics decided to embrace the challenge, and create something truly bespoke from both a mechanical and aesthetic standpoint.
Notchback ’69 Mustang GTs were procured, and outfitted with Ford 302 cubic-inch V8s built in Hermosillo, Mexico. To these lumps were added all the requisite Shelby parts that had been installed in Shelby de Mexico GT350s in the past to bump up performance, including the aluminum bits, headers, and Cobra intakes. A Borg-Warner four-speed backed up the powerplant.
Likewise, all the aforementioned, past Shelby suspension parts were put to use in ’69 as well, such as Koni shocks and stiff springs.
On the exterior of the 1969 car, Shelby de Mexico team did some really interesting things.
Without the availability of the parts to elongate the nose, Shelby de Mexico opted to stick with the standard 1969 Mustang GT front end, not a tragedy by any means since this was the same aggressively styled fascia that would grace the American Mach 1, Boss 302 and 429 models.
For the first time, though, prospective buyers could outfit their Shelby de Mexico with a host of options, including a range of pinned hoods. Choices consisted of the standard GT sheetmetal, or Shelby de Mexico manufactured fiberglass “shark gill” and “scooped” hoods, the latter featuring NACA ducting.
Other buyer decisions were a front splitter, standard Mustang or Shelby taillights sourced from the 1965 Thunderbird, a choice of wheels, Ford drum or Shelby sintered front disc brakes, a rear spoiler, six exterior color options including Red, White, Black, Gold, Acapulco Blue and Emerald Green, and black or white interior colors.
Undoubtedly, the most prominent and memorable design element of the 1969 Shelby de Mexico, though, was the roof.
In an attempt to give the 1969 Shelby de Mexico GT350 its own identity, the designers added a fiberglass piece to the rear of the roofline that included twin flying buttresses that sloped down to meet the rear fenders. The entire roof was then covered in the owner’s choice of black or white-grained vinyl.
It was an unusual look, borrowing somewhat from the then-current Dodge Charger a bit.
In all, 306 examples of the 1969 Shelby de Mexico GT350 left the Nuevo León garage. It would prove to be the last significant batch of Mustangs that the firm modified.
A pair of fleeting final efforts by Shelby de Mexico, such as a Windsor-powered GT351 and a Shelby version of the Ford Maverick powered by a 302 marked the end of the company’s modification days, and thereafter, they solely concentrated on luxury models by other marques.
Most Shelby de Mexico GT350s met untimely deaths in Mexico due to racing accidents and the exceedingly hot Central American climate that ravages everything from paint to upholstery.
It is unknown exactly how many Mexican Shelbys still roam the earth, but they are assuredly very scarce, making them one of the world’s most interesting and unusual Rare Rides.