RM Sotheby’s is offering this rare GT350 R at their 19th annual Arizona sale 18-19 January – the original GT350 R that was featured in the famous 1965 Cobra Caravan.
In 1965, Shelby American packed up a rotating cast of six cars—a Cobra Daytona coupe, a GT40, 289 and 427 Cobras, and a “stock” GT350 and this GT350 R—and took them on a 12-city tour they called the Cobra Caravan, held between mid-1965 and early 1966. Frustrated by the lack of attention and PR provided by Ford after winning the GT World Championship, the Caravan was Shelby’s very public way of making sure the country knew what they were capable of. Of course, the 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans the following year would be publicity the world never forgot.
Among the exotic Shelby Cobras of the Caravan, the Wimbledon White GT350 R, no. 5R213, could have looked a little demure, at a glance not too different from a regular fastback Mustang, or even the production GT350. However, it was a different beast in most every way.
The price tag of $6,000 was about $1,300 more than a standard GT350, and double that of a regular 289 fastback with a four-speed, hinting at the massive improvements made for track use. The Shelby-built, 289-cu. in. V-8 made a rumored 350 bhp, yielding an amazing power-to-weight ratio in the lightened 2,550-lb. car. A long list of competition parts was highlighted by the unique deep front fiberglass air scoop, fully race-ready interior, oversize wheel openings, Plexiglas side windows, 34-gallon gas tank, headers, competition exhaust, 15 × 7-in. American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels, and riveted aluminum rear louvers. A modern test yielded a 5.5-second 0–60 time and 13.6 seconds at 104.4 mph in the quarter-mile. This, in a car built for handling.
After the Caravan, on 28 June 1966, 5R213 became part of a package of five similar cars—out of the 36 factory-produced GT350 competition Mustangs—to go to Peru through importer Benito Lores (along with another Mustang and two Cobras), where a group of gentlemen had the idea of racing each other in Alpine-style rallies in identical cars. Its only well-documented appearance is in the first running of the Caminos del Inca (Inca Rally) in 1966 with owner Julio Martinetti and co-driver Víctor “Coco” Cárdenas, where it finished in 6th place with a time of 28 hours, 5 minutes, and 22 seconds after 3,000 kilometers of brutal South American roads. It then joined the stable of Shelby Mustang owner, racer, and importer Bratzo Vicich, in Lima, and was raced further by both men, possibly well into the 1970s.
Amazingly, 5R213 survived its ordeals intact, because when Arkansas collectors Richard Cohen and Gary Nufer bought three of the five Peruvian GT350s from Mr. Vicich in 1984 (one was wrecked and another may still be in South America), it remained in substantially original condition, if apart and in need of restoration. The mid-Eighties, however, were not an easy time to bring quantities of suspect old cars into the U.S. without the Drug Enforcement Agency trying to sift through their pieces, so Vicich managed to finagle at least one of the three onto a military cargo plane, collecting $75,000 (lost in Las Vegas immediately thereafter) from the new owners in Miami. The car later resided in the collections of Corey Lawson and the noted Shelby enthusiasts, Len and Linda Perham, before its acquisition by the present owners.
While its previous restoration was of good quality, noted marque specialist John Brown of Thoroughbred Restorations, a Pebble Beach Concours Best in Class-winning restorer, spent the last three years restoring and further refining the car to his immaculate standards, with an overall appreciation for authenticity. Even the cylinder heads were completely rebuilt by Larry Ofria of Valley Head Service in Northridge, California, who originally built the heads for Carroll Shelby when the cars were new. Accordingly, the Mustang in its current presentation has won all three of the most significant awards possible for a GT350: Gold Concours at SAAC 42 in Indianapolis, Gold Concours at the Mid-America Shelby Nationals in Tulsa, and an MCA Gold at the Grand Nationals in Kansas City, all in 2017 – the “Triple Crown” for a GT350.
With both colorful period race and ownership history, and being the Cobra Caravan GT350 R, as noted in period Ford documentation, this is truly a unique example, unlike any of its counterparts. With excellent provenance and authenticity to match, it is little wonder collectors have fought to get this car into their collections for over 40 years. It is, quite simply, the finest GT350 R available today – and it will not take a military plane to get it.