The look is timeless: a muscular body with single round headlights; vents on the hood and rear quarter panels adding a touch of sinister; two bold Guardsman Blue stripes running from tip to tail over a pristine Wimbledon White paint job — stripes that look better here than on Cunnigham Automobile’s racing cars in the 1950s, where they first appeared. It’s the positively beautiful, 100 percent American 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350. No other Mustang in history will ever look this good again.

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The front of the car particularly makes current Mustangs seem too heavily laden. A simple, long grille rests atop the thin, shiny chrome bumper; the single round headlights are encased in pure white surrounds; the lines in the body are long and lean; the fastback design slopes strongly; the iconic two-piece 15-inch Crager cast magnesium wheels have chrome outers. All of the design aspects of the car were kept simple and purposeful without any superfluous elements, giving the GT350 a clean look that, at the same time, oozed American aggressiveness and muscularity.

But no amount of beauty in the sheet metal can compensate for a dearth of performance, and that’s where the GT350 delivered the substance of its goods — under the skin. First and foremost, the GT350 was created to perform, and it received the Midas touch from the famous Carroll Shelby, who was asked by the Ford Motor Company to produce a racing version of the Mustang for the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) circuit. Shelby took the stock ‘Stang and gave the GT350 race-focused suspension, bigger brakes, more responsive steering and a locking differential. The new suspension virtually eliminated the body roll of the stock car and set it right for racing. An aluminum four-speed manual gearbox was added, along with 4-barrel carburetors, new headers, new intake manifolds and a more robust exhaust system. Shelby also killed the rear seats to save weight and added a lightweight fiberglass shelf.

No other Mustang in history will ever look as good as the 1965 Shelby GT350.

Power came from a 4.7-liter K-Code V8 with an output of 271 horsepower, modified to produce a very healthy 306 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque; the 2,789 pound car pounced to 60 in 5.7 seconds with a top speed of 134 mph. The result was a light, quick and downright beautiful GT350. Shelby knew that if he was to link his name to the Mustang, it would have to be truly special, and his aim was on the mark.

GT350s are typically referred to simply as “Cobras”, which also happens to be the name of the famous AC Cobra, built by Shelby American during the same era; just like the car with which it shared the Cobra name, the GT350 bore the now famous Cobra emblem. 562 GT350s were built in 1965, 36 of which were designated as “R” versions dedicated exclusively to racing.

The GT350’s reputation expands far beyond its production numbers, despite the fact that it was only mildly successful when it was sold. Today it’s one of the most coveted American cars for collectors because of its rarity, crisp design, performance and racing pedigree. (In 1965, Shelby GT350s reigned on the SCCA race circuit, winning four of the six division championships.) No other Mustang can boast the pervasive genes the GT350 bequeathed to its descendants, and it’s a well-accepted fact that the purity of the first car’s design and racing intentions will likely never be duplicated again. Every performance-minded ‘Stang throughout the last fifty years owes its existence to the rip-roaring, big brother GT350.