This first-ever 1965 Shelby GT350R prototype could become the most-expensive Mustang ever
Just months after the 1968 Ford Mustang that starred in Bullitt sold for an astonishing $3.74M to set a record high for the iconic pony car, another Mustang may soon give it a run for its money—literally. Mecum paused its Glendale (Arizona) Auction proceedings on March 11 to announce that the 1965 Shelby GT350R prototype known as “The Flying Mustang” will be offered at its 2020 Indianapolis sale in May.
“This is the only Mustang that Ken Miles ever drove… probably the winningest Mustang ever… the car that was built to make the Mustang a performance car,” Mecum president and founder Dana Mecum told the auction crowd and a national television audience on NBCSN. “If there’s ever a car that could surpass what the Bullitt car sold for, you’re looking at it now.”
Mecum described the GT350R prototype as “Daddy Rabbit,” since it is the first R-Model (serial #SFM5R002) and is the father of the 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake and the Bullitt Mustang. He said bringing 5R002 car to auction has been an 18-month process. “Nobody ever [expected] that this car would ever be offered for sale. It’s the main attraction of a collection—one of the greatest main attractions Mecum has ever offered… This is the exact car [that] put performance in the Mustang… Without this car there was no Super Snake; without this car there is no Bullitt.”
Colin Comer, Hagerty marketplace expert and author of The Complete Book of Shelby Automobiles: Cobras, Mustangs, and Super Snakes, says the GT350R prototype has historical significance that puts it at the top of the Mustang podium. It is the first of 36 that were campaigned on the track.
“Of the important Mustangs that have come to auction, 5R002 in my opinion is the most significant in terms of its contribution to automotive history,” Comer says. “It’s the one that helped Shelby give the Mustang the performance image it retains to this day, as well as turned Shelby American into a bona fide manufacturer.
“An important distinction too is that 5R002 was discovered amazingly intact, unlike some other important competition cars that have been reconstructed from a few insignificant parts and some pixie dust. This car was all there, and it was widely viewed in its as-found state, so everybody knows it.”
GT350R 5R002 was introduced to the public on January 27, 1965, at California’s Riverside International Raceway. Two weeks later, with Miles at the wheel, it became the first Shelby to win a race when it finished first at Green Valley Raceway near Dallas. The car scored more than 10 first-place B-Production finishes during the 1965 SCCA season alone, driven extensively by Ken Miles, Bob Bondurant, Chuck Cantwell, Peter Brock, and Jerry Titus.
According to Mecum (and the factory invoice that’s included in the car’s documentation), on March 31, 1966, Shelby American sold 5R002 (“test car—as is”) for $4000 to Bill Clawson of Dearborn, Michigan, an engineer in the Ford Performance Division, led by Ray Geddes. Geddes was instrumental in negotiating the sale, convincing Ford to pay part of the purchase price, as well as transport and delivery costs. He also arranged for Ford to secretly provide sponsorship while Clawson raced 5R002, as documented in the numerous receipts and working notes Clawson kept on file and that now accompany the car.
Clawson sold the car in 1968 to Dale Wood and Russell Fish of Texas, who dominated the SCCA Southwest Division with 18 B Production wins through 1969. In 1970, Luis Blanq-Cacaux of Monterrey, Mexico, purchased 5R002 and trailer for $3850 and campaigned it for two years before parking it. The car was discovered by Mark Gillette of Dallas in 1989. After two more owners, it was displayed at the Shelby American Museum in Boulder, Colorado, for 14 years. In 2010, dedicated Shelby collector John Atzbach bought 5R002 and showed the car in “as is” condition at the Quail Motorsports Gathering, which was celebrating 45 years of the Shelby Mustang. It has was later restored and won Best in Class at the 2014 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Comer isn’t predicting that the GT350R prototype will surpass the Bullitt’s $3.74M price tag, but he isn’t betting against it, either.
“Anything is possible,” Comer says. “I would love to see it challenge Bullitt’s sale price, and I think it could easily come within spitting distance. When you consider that one of the 35 other original Shelby GT350Rs in good condition will cost you about $1 million, and the 1967 Super Snake, a car with no competition history whatsoever, sold for $2.2 million, what is the most-important factory-competition Shelby Mustang worth?
“If you offered me a choice between the Bullitt and The Flying Mustang, I know which one I’d pick. Bullitt is more of a cultural icon than a car, but 5R002 is more important in the history of the Mustang and Shelby brands. Every one that followed hung onto this one’s cape. It’s a significant competition car, and one thing all of the most valuable cars in the world have in common is competition history.”
The Shelby prototype is part of the larger John Atzbach Collection headed to Mecum’s May 12–17 Indianapolis Auction. Atzbach is well-known collector and Shelby authority, and his collection includes the most extensive accumulation of Shelby artifacts known to exist, as well as an array of historic and significant Shelby Mustangs. Among the cars on offer are the only production factory supercharged 1965 GT350, the first production 1966 GT350, a factory supercharged 1966 GT350, the first 1966 GT350 convertible, and the final 1970 Shelby GT350, as well as an independent competition 289 Cobra and two Lamborghinis.