At Speed In Classic Recreations’ Pro-Touring 1966 Shelby GT350CR

 

With the Mustang already proving to be a sales juggernaut by the tail end of 1964, Ford wanted to capitalize on its Total Performance mantra and get its new pony involved in sports car racing. The SCCA’s B-Production class was where the Blue Oval wanted the Mustang to compete, but the car wasn’t compliant with the regulations. Ford’s go-to performance guru Carroll Shelby met with SCCA chief John Bishop to sort out what it would take to make the Mustang eligible for motorsport.

The criteria was quite specific. The car needed to be a two seater, and while the car could have either race-spec suspension or a race-spec motor, it could not have both. And, in order to homologate the car, they company would need to build at least 100 of them for sale to the general public. Thus, the original Shelby GT350 was born – a Mustang purpose-built for corner carving.

While anyone familiar with the original Mustang Shelby GT350 can tell at a glance that the Classic Recreations GT350CR is something out of the norm, the company's fabrication efforts seek to compliment the original car's style rather than attempting to reinvent it. Flared fenders provide clearance for the bigger wheels and tires, while the molded rocker panel with its integrated exhaust outlets and custom hood's heat extractors give all the tweaks a purposeful look. Engel said they chose to keep the back end clean because "66 Mustangs look strange with spoilers," an assertion we tend to agree with.

In the decades since, automotive technology evolved by leaps and bounds, but the allure behind those original GT350 Mustangs has never faded. Classic Recreations addresses both of those developments with this, their Pro-Touring 1966 Shelby GT350CR Mustang. The Oklahoma-based coach builder has modified and custom-fabricated, high-performance vehicles for over a decade and half, with many of their efforts aimed specifically on reimagined versions of the early GT350 and GT500 Mustangs.

The Pro-Touring GT350CR scores a set of American Racing’s new forged wheels measuring 18×9 at the front and 18×11 in the rear. The BFG Rival performance they’re wrapped in, combined with the Wilwood six-piston brakes at all four corners, gives this Mustang the grip and stopping power to be a thoroughly entertaining car to put through its paces at the autocross or a technical road course.

But among the array of variants offered by Classic Recreations, the idea behind Pro-Touring GT350CR might be the most squarely focused on the intentions of those original factory-produced cars (i.e. road course prowess) while also adding the benefits of modern high performance hardware. We took to the winding roads of the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles to put their latest creation through its paces, and sat down with the founder of Classic Recreations, Jason Engel, to get the lowdown on the build.

The Pro Touring Formula

We wanted to something that had a resto-mod look that wasn’t over the top, but also served a purpose. — Jason Engel, Classic Recreations

A quick glance at this GT350CR is all it takes to realize this is something beyond your garden-variety GT350.

“I believe in form and function – you’ll hear that 20 times a day in my shop,” Jason explained. “We wanted to something that had a resto-mod look that wasn’t over the top, but also served a purpose.”

That mission statement is evident in the bodywork itself, which borrows some of its aesthetic from their Eleanor-style GT500CR as well as Shelby’s more recent CS6 and CS8 Mustangs. The latter is most obvious in the hood design, which incorporates a pair of functional heat extractors.

“We wanted to the hood to look modern and cool without overdoing it,” Jason added.

The front end of the Pro-Touring GT350CR gets a similar treatment to Classic Recreations' GT500CR, but maintains a unique appearance since this molded splitter is applied to a factory-style GT350 front fascia. The company’s Jason Engel tells us that getting the custom hood right was one of the most challenging parts of the build, as they wanted to give it some modern style without going overboard and losing the continuity of the car overall. Detroit Speed headers feed exhaust gases to a truly independent dual exhaust system with no X- or H-pipe in the mix, which runs through Magnaflow mufflers that exit just in front of the rear wheels through cutouts in the molded rocker panels.

The theme of form and function continues with the flared fenders that provide clearance for the forged American Racing wheels, which measure a meaty 18×11 inches in the rear and 18×9 inches up front. Those rollers are wrapped in BFG Rival rubber measuring 315/30-18 out back and 265/25-18 for the fronts, providing autocross-caliber grip to this vintage pony car.

They also provide clearance for the thoroughly modernized braking system. A far cry from the hardware installed on the original cars, the GT350CR gets its stopping power from Wilwood six-piston calipers at all four corners, which clamp down on slotted and cross-drilled rotors.

The Shelby gets serious stopping power by way of Wilwood six-piston calipers at both the front and rear. Though the brake pedal lacks linearity in terms of the pressure required for scrubbing off different amounts of speed, once we got used to the system it was clear that the brakes were more than up to the task of barreling down demanding mountain roads.

The Shelby gets serious stopping power by way of Wilwood six-piston calipers at both the front and rear. Though the brake pedal lacks linearity in terms of the pressure required for scrubbing off different amounts of speed, once we got used to the system it was clear that the brakes were more than up to the task of barreling down demanding mountain roads.

Since the 5.2-liter V8 isn’t available as a crate motor, we wanted to do something a bit different from typical Coyote swaps. — Jason Engel, Classic Recreations

To bolster the Shelby’s corner-carving prowess, Classic Recreations enlisted the help of the folks at Detroit Speed, who provided their Aluma-frame front suspension and Quadralink rear setup here, which is paired with Detroit Speed sway bars and JRI dampers. Detroit Speed’s power rack and pinion steering system replaces the factory box, while a Flaming River steering column offers tilt steering wheel adjustability.

But perhaps the most notable modernization lies under the hood, where Classic Recreations installed a Coyote 5.0-liter V8. Combined with a Voodoo 5.2-liter intake manifold and custom ECU tuning, this direct injected, naturally aspirated mill generates 500 horsepower while providing instant throttle response, high revs, and the rock-solid reliability of Ford’s latest high-performance powerplants.

The Coyote V8 can present some fitment issues for those unfamiliar with installing these physically large motors in old-school engine bays, but Classic Recreations is already quite familiar with the hurdles involved. Jason tells us that Detroit Speed or Mustang II chassis components are needed to make the swap work. Detroit Speed's headers were also used in this application to ensure clearance with the crossmember.

1966 GT350CR Shelby Specs

Brakes: Shelby/Wilwood 13×1.1-inch rotors w/ four-piston calipers and Shelby/Wilwood 12X.81-inch w/ four-piston

Suspension: Front and rear coilovers w/ oversized sway bars

Engine: 427ci crate engine, 545 horsepower or Coyote 5.0-liter (optional)

Exhaust: BBK ceramic-coated long-tube headers w/ 2.5-inch mandrel-bent dual exhaust and Magnaflow mufflers

Fuel Injection: Fast EZ EFI 2.0 Fuel Injection

Rearend: Fab 9 9-inch w/ 3:70 gears and limited-slip differential

Tires: Z-rated high-performance tires, 245/35/18 (front) and Z-rated high-performance tires, 275/35/18 (rear)

Transmission: Tremec manual transmission or 4R70W automatic (optional)

Wheels: G.T.350CR 18×8-inch, aluminum (front) and G.T.350CR 18×9-inch, aluminum (rear)

“Since the 5.2-liter V8 isn’t available as a crate motor, we wanted to do something a bit different from typical Coyote swaps,” Jason told us. “Working with Lund Racing for the tune and using Detroit Speed headers, we found that the Coyote responds really well to these specific tweaks.”

Along with those Detroit Speed headers, the GT350CR utilizes a true dual 2.5-inch exhaust system with no H or X-pipe, which leads to a pair of Magnaflow mufflers that exit through the molded rocker panels just before the rear wheels, giving the car a distinctive growl that’s authoritative and surprisingly unique without being obtrusive at cruising speeds.

“We’re pretty adamant about wanting our exhaust systems to be fun but not be obnoxious to live with on a day to day basis,” Jason explained.

This all sounded promising to us, but we wanted to know what it all added up to in practice. And, with that, we grabbed the keys, fired up the motor, and headed for the hills.

On The Road

Even before getting in the GT350CR the car elicited enthusiasm from onlookers who couldn’t take their eyes off the Shelby’s beefed up bodywork and modernized rolling stock. While Classic Recreations’ tweaks to the bodywork give this car a unique presence among the number of vintage Mustangs that one might see cruising around Los Angeles, their wise choice to err on the side of subtlety means that this Shelby still cuts the iconic figure of the original cars while adding a dose of drama to the equation.

Inside, the adjustability of the well-bolstered Sparco seats as well as the Flaming River steering column means that even taller drivers like your author can find a comfortable seating position in this pony car, a trait which cannot always be said of vintage vehicles, Ford or otherwise.

While the interior maintains a mostly stock look overall, there's a number of welcome creature comforts added to the mix here, like the Sparco sport seats, the Flaming River tilt-adjustable steering column, and Kicker audio system with a touchscreen JVC headunit that features Apple CarPlay functionality.

After determining the criteria that the electrical systems prefer in order to bring the motor to life (clutch in with the gearbox in neutral), the GT350CR turns over as effortlessly as any modern vehicle would. Clutch effort leans toward the heavy side but is acclimated to after just a few minutes behind the wheel. Classic Recreations also offers the Pro-Touring GT350CR with a 4R70W automatic transmission in place of the Tremec manual gearbox installed here as a no-charge option, but we prefer to row our own anyway.

Around town, the mixture of old and new technology shows both its virtues and drawbacks. For instance, the meaty Hurst-style shifter oozes old-school cool, but its relatively long throws and the interior real estate it requires means that the JVC touchscreen head unit installed here is difficult to access most of the time. It’s good thing then that the Magnaflow exhaust system sounds fantastic, though the cost of those badass side pipes is the constant aroma of spent fuel while cruising around at low speeds.

While old-school shifters like these can be a bit more cumbersome than modern short-throw units, the physicality involved in their operation gives the driver of a GT350CR an added sense of involvement in the car’s operation, helping the car maintain the vibe of an original GT350 while adding modern improvements.

The Detroit Speed suspension setup with its JRI dampers keep the GT350CR’s road manners taut around town without feeling punishing over imperfections in the pavement, and once we got out to some open roads on Angeles Crest Highway, the benefits of the heavily revised chassis setup become even more evident. Armed with the copious grip of the wide BFG Rival tires, the Mustang’s lack of body roll and brake dive encourages the driver to push the car harder both in the bends and when the road straightens out.

While the Wildwood brakes provide ample stopping capability, the electric-pump assistance on hand here isn’t particularly linear in its application, so the pedal effort required to scrub speed for an upcoming corner can feel like a bit of guessing game for those who’re unfamiliar. Still, the overall tuning of the Classic Recreations Pro-Touring 1966 GT350CR Shelby Mustang is screaming for track time at the autocross or your local road course, where we have no doubt it would be endlessly entertaining since it is properly equipped to handle the job.

Adding not only to the sense of occasion but also to the car’s road course drivability are the five-point racing harnesses. While they might make quick getaways more difficult, it’s a small price to pay for the added safety as well as the improved driving experience of not having to brace yourself against the steering column every time you stomp on the brakes for an upcoming corner at track speeds. All of the GT350CR's vitals are easily monitored by way of the Classic Industries gauge cluster.

Pricing for the Pro-Touring GT350CR Shelby Mustang starts at $169,000, and each car is built to customer spec from Classic Recreations’ wide array of available options, which include a fuel-injected, 545-horsepower Ford Performance aluminum 427ci V8, the aforementioned automatic gearbox that can be paired with this Coyote 5.0-liter, and a host of aesthetic tweaks.

But as solid a package as this Pro-Touring GT350CR is, Classic Recreations is a company that’s not content to rest on their laurels.

“I really think a supercharged version of this car would awesome,” Jason said. “That TVS blower puts this motor at 670 horsepower right out of the gate. There are some other color combinations that I think would work really well on this car too – expect to see some very cool stuff at this year’s SEMA show.”

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About the author

Bradley Iger

Raised by wolves in the far reaches of Orange County, California, Brad is no stranger to the driver's seat, as it is wolf custom to get their offspring up to race pace as early as possible. When not being pulled over in six figure supercars, Brad can often be caught complaining about the DJs in various dive bars around Northeast Los Angeles.
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