Photos by Howard Koby
Willow Springs Raceway was built in 1953 as one of the first purpose-built road courses in the United States. Back in the day, people wondered why someone would build a racetrack on a barren so-called wasteland out in the desert well beyond Los Angeles.
The track was designed and built by California racer Bill Pollack, land-owner John Mathewson and John Hart, an actor who spent one season as the Lone Ranger in the television series when Clayton Moore was involved in a contract dispute.
Almost all of the track, which featured major elevation changes and very challenging corners, could be viewed from the pits.
In mid-February, the Los Angeles Shelby American Automobile Club rented Willow Springs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Shelby Ford Mustang GT350’s first victory, recorded half a century earlier with Ken Miles driving at Green Valley Raceway in Texas.
The original 1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R was conceived and designed by Peter Brock, though at the time Brock had limitations from Ford. Those limitations included “time to produce”and “cost to create” and led to concessions. Brock knew that while the car they build was great, it was not the best they might have done.
Fast forward several decades. The Original Venice Crew, as that Shelby American team came to be known, got back together for a reunion and decided to build the car they couldn’t so many years before, a car with an independent rear suspension like Brock wanted.
So Brock, Ted Sutton, Duane Carling, and Jim Marietta got two K-Code ’65 Mustang fastbacks and used them to create the Shelby Mustang Competition Model GT350”R” as Brock had originally designed them — without concessions.
But with a fiberglass hood, repositioned front suspension, Plexiglas rear window, Plexiglas door windows, roll bar and, as the team originally intended, an IRS (one car, the other got the old live axle).
This brilliant automotive endeavor was masterfully executed at Brock’s garage in Henderson, Nevada.
While completion of the project went down to the wire with many all nighters, the two iconic ponies where galloping around the Willow Springs racetrack bright and early on a Friday morning for test runs and looked fantastic challenging the 2.5-mile road course with beautiful rolling hills as a backdrop.
The picture perfect Shelby celebration weekend included a reunion of the original members of the Shelby American Team, open track time for Ford Mustangs and Ford-powered vehicles old and new, a Los Angeles Shelby American Auto Club car show featuring Mustangs, Cobras and Special Interest vehicles (with trophies awarded to all classes), and a banquet with the OVC discussing the 1965 Mustang project with Master of Ceremonies Randy Richardson, president of LASAAC, and joined by William Deary of The Carroll Collection, a museum which is a tribute to the automotive genius of Carroll Shelby.
Oh, and remember how Ford wouldn’t allow an IRS on the original GT350? Well, 50 years later, such a setup is a standard production on the 2015 Ford Mustang.