I ‘Rented’ A Shelby GT350 Hertz For A Saturday Drive In San Diego
Photography by Andrew Golseth
The first car I recall driving was my grandfather’s 6-cylinder “autotragic” 1964 ½ Ford Mustang convertible. I must have been all of 12 years old when Grandpa Steve let me hop in the driver’s seat. I struggled to keep my derriere on the edge of the bucket while reaching for the accelerator and simultaneously pulling myself up on the massive wheel to see over the dash.
The transmission jerked on upshifts and lazily held onto higher gears when slowing down. I can still remember the oh shit feeling when I applied brake pressure, commanding the bottle cap brakes to halt the pale yellow Ford. It took both feet on the wide pedal to stop the 2,500-pound drop top.
It was, in all honesty, a pretty awful car to drive, especially at the age when I required help turning the power-steering devoid wheel around the country club parking lot. With that said, that drive was a seriously influential experience in shaping my automotive obsession. Naturally, it also left me with a retained affection toward classic Mustangs. The car pictured here is obviously not my grandfather’s, though admittedly I wish he’d had this one instead—if he’d stabled a GT350 instead of that tired convertible, I would’ve tried to schmooze him into leaving the car in my name… but I digress.
That was a long time ago, and I’ve since driven a number of classic Mustangs, but I’d never driven a Shelby. I’m not even sure how many authentic GT350s I’ve seen due to all the white and blue painted “Shelby” scripted tributes prancing around, but I do remember the first time I saw a real GT350: the Wimbledon White/Blue Le Mans striped ‘65 belonged to one of my mom’s college friends, and it was very likely the only authentic GT350 in Springfield, Illinois (probably still is). My mother was lucky enough to log some wheel time in her ex-boyfriend’s beloved Shelby—something I’ve always been a tad jealous of. “I loved that car! It had 5-point harnesses and it really hauled ass,” is a direct quote from mom.
Although always undeniably cool, I’d always sort of viewed the GT350 as a hopped-up Mustang fastback, not much else. Having never driven one until now though, I didn’t realize how misaligned my presumptions were. That happened when I was handed the keys to this 1966 Shelby GT350 Hertz last weekend.
This isn’t just any Hertz either: it’s said to be within the top 10% of the GT350 market, and it certainly looks it. Everything about this car—down to the smallest detail—is clean and correct with the exception of the 5-speed manual transmission. When owner Jeff Phillips first acquired it, he asked the restorer to reinstall the original slush box for the sake of originality. But after wheeling the “rent-a-racer” around for a bit, Jeff realized the car was just too much fun with the manual.
After driving the Yenko, Jeff invited me back to the car barn to saddle up the GT350. So this past Saturday I made my way north to Solana Beach to meet Jeff at 7am amidst the heavy fog of a cool fall morning. The weather was no bother though, as the coal and gold finished racer looked menacing with its warm sealed beam lights spearing the thick haze.
After snapping some empty road shots in the eerily quiet beach town, the rising sun began to burn off the marine layer. Next, we stopped by the Solana Beach Amtrak Station for some more illuminated photos. As the morning light poured over the sharp lines of the sinister Shelby, I had a moment of renewed appreciation for the iconic design.
Mustangs are not rare by any means. With over 9 million made since 1964, you can’t drive down a road in America for more than a few minutes before running across one from some era. But this car, this shape, this is truly something to behold. The airfoil profile of the fastback roof, finished in these colors, in Shelby trim; it’s just a tasty auto-entrée every palate should have an appetite for. Chevy loyalist or manic Moparist, I refuse to believe anyone honestly dislikes the GT350.
Jeff then had me drop him off back at the garage so he could take another vehicle to Cars & Coffee, and that’s when he let me have a go in his prized pony. Needless to say, this was the most nervous I’ve ever been driving a Mustang as most of those I’d piloted before weren’t this clean, nor this valuable. Thankfully, there was no threatening traffic to fret about as I made my way through the winding roads towards Rancho Santa Fe.
Right off the bat, I’ll just say that this car drives far better than I expected it to, in every aspect. The brakes don’t just work; the feel is perfectly responsive, everything feels dialed-in, and, uncommon to most “muscle” cars, it’s overall a very reassuring package to rely on.
The Shelby-tuned suspension sets the car down to the perfect squat, but the ride is far from over-sprung or harsh. There’s no play through the original wood-rimmed Shelby helm either—from top center to lock-to-lock, steering is tight and nicely weighted and isn’t much hassle at a complete dig thanks to its relatively light curb weight. I didn’t push the car very hard through the bends but what I felt was nothing short of surprising performance. I didn’t whip it into full gallop, but it felt brisk and eager to try for it. The car simply feels like it wants to move, even if it isn’t fast by modern standards. It’s certainly not slow. The sensation of forward velocity is enhanced tenfold at wide open throttle: the 289 small block’s audio comes off as unusually sophisticated and precise, unlike a lot of loose tolerance domestic V8s of the era.
This is, without question, the nicest “Mustang” I’ve ever driven, all around. Now, I know technically the GT350 isn’t a Ford, but it’s still apples to apples. This is a Mustang-based Shelby product. But here’s the real catch: it’s more than that. In all seriousness, this isn’t some hyperbolic nonsense formulated to praise a rare and expensive classic I was fortunate enough to spend some time with: this car is genuinely great to drive.
It doesn’t merely feel like a modified Ford fastback. It feels, dare I say it, refined and more than a one-trick pony. It’s borderline more sports car than muscle car, at least as far as comparing it to its typical Detroit rivals. That said, you still get the ensemble of trademarks you get driving a Mustang—the looks, the feel, the view down the long, unmistakable hood, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s a familiarity factor only certain cars carry. The Volkswagen Beetle, an old Mini, or a classic ‘Stang, they all have one thing in common: universal love from both inside and outside of car culture. Everyone has a story with a Mustang, even regular people who aren’t into cars. So, it’s no surprise I found myself making friends at stoplights and intersections smiling back at random motorists who were giving their thumbs-up of approval and/or trying to snap a smartphone pic.
Upon arriving at Cars&Coffee, I was bombarded with enthusiasts. “Is it real?” was the most common inquiry second to, “Can you pop the hood?” After escaping the surrounding fan base, I met up with my friend Erik, who generally doesn’t care for most American machines, and offered to give him a ride in the Shelby. Of course, he ecstatically accepted, because who’s going to put their nose up at a GT350?
We took a spirited drive around a quick back road loop and parked at the sole RSF gas station for some more photos and time to admire the GT350. That’s when Erik stated, “If I had to pick one muscle car, it’d be this. Not a Cobra or a Stingray—I’d have a Hertz. This just perfectly embodies the era, inside and out.” It’s a bold statement, but I’m hard-pressed to argue.
Unfortunately, I had to return the car to Jeff at some point—though, I did consider violating my “rental agreement” to take an extended trip to Mexico, but my conscience got the best of me. On my way back to the garage, grinning ear-to-ear completely smitten with this car, it dawned on me how lucky some enthusiasts had it in 1966. To think there was a time when you could walk into a Hertz and borrow one of these babies for $17 per day, plus $.17 per mile, is absolutely bonkers—almost as crazy as getting paid to photograph, drive, and write about one.