When Ford launched the Shelby GT350 in 1965, the pony car market gained a new perspective. The GT350 was ready to hit the track at any given time and without modifications, but it was also streetable. However, the stiff suspension and the rear-seat delete prevented it from being a proper daily driver and Ford thought that this kept an important number of customers away.
Domesticating A Racecar
As a result, they decided to make the GT350 less of a brute for 1966. The coupe received a back seat so others could come along and enjoy the ride, while the stiff Koni shocks and Detroit Locker differentials became additional options.
FoMoCo also added an optional automatic transmission, full exhaust pipes for a quieter engine, rear quarter glass, and opened up the color palette to include blue, red, green, and black alongside the Wimbledon White only paint offered in 1965. The 1966 GT350 was still hot and could still do 60 mph in a scant 5.7 seconds, but it now had a more human face.
Ford’s predictions were correct and the more socially acceptable GT350 attracted nearly 2,400 buyers in 1966. But these figures also included the 1,002 units sold to the Hertz Rent-A-Car company. Dubbed GT350H, the Hertz Shelby went on to become the Mustang that eliminated the necessity of owning a sports car. And this is how it became the iconic gold-over-black car it is today.
Late in 1965, Shelby American general manager Peyton Cramer presented the rather unusual idea to Hertz officials, and the company requested delivery of a prototype. A Wimbledon White GT350 was repainted black with gold striping and received an “H” next to the GT350 lettering on the sides.
Hertz requested a second prototype in November and then placed an order for 1,000 cars. The deal included that after the rental-car lives of the Mustangs were finished, they were returned to Ford, who planned to refurbish and sell them to the public as the GT350H series.
As much as 80 percent of the total run was delivered to Hertz in Raven Black body paint with gold Bronze Powder stripes, a color combination that helped make the GT350H an icon among other Mustangs. However, as many as 200 models were finished in typical Mustang colors, including green, red, blue, and white.
A few also were built using steel engine hoods in place of Shelby’s fiberglass lids, while some were fitted with Cragar rims instead of the more familiar Magnum 500 wheels. Unlike the standard GT350, most Hertz models were equipped with three-speed automatic transmissions. Also, like all GT350s with automatics, the Hertz models were fitted with a 595-cfm Autolite four-barrel carburetor. Four-speed manual versions had the 715-cfm Holley four-barrel.
Hertz’s rates for the Shelby GT350H were $17 a day or $70 a week, plus 17 cents a mile in the New York Area. This made renting the Hertz Mustang quite affordable and it is why many were wrecked in their first few months as rental cars.
Also, some cars were rented and used by the drivers as production class cars at SCCA racing events, a fact discovered after a few cars have been returned to Hertz with evidence of roll bars being welded in. According to Carroll Shelby, some customers even went as far as to take the 306-horsepower, 289-cubic-inch Hi-Po V-8 out of the rental and drop it in their own race car to boost performance. Some actually returned the rental to Hertz with mundane, standard 289 engines instead of the Hi-Po.
In a 2006 interview, Walter Seaman, Hertz Corporation division vice president, said that the GT350H was a big, yet expensive success for the company. “Forty years ago when Hertz had the program, it was a little less controlled. We were very careful with a very detailed check sheet when the car was rented and returned. There were some people who thought they were getting away with a lot of things, but they ended up reimbursing us for damage.
After all was said and done, Shelby bought the entire Hertz Shelby run back at a big discount. Although not very popular after their retirement, due to the harsh driving conditions they were subjected too by rental car drivers, the GT350H has become highly sought after by collectors.
Nowadays, well maintained examples are extremely valuable for a former rental cars and fetch more than $150,000 in auctions. The GT350H became so popular in the 2000s that Ford and Hertz got together again and rolled out the Shelby GT-H Mustang in 2006. The high-performance model was followed by a similar car based on the sixth-generation Mustang in 2016.
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