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SHELBY NOTCHBACK RACERS

This web site is dedicated to the Trans Am race cars of Shelby American, 1966-1968. And in particular, car #23, owned by me. But the story of my car alone would not suffice, so included here is the story behind all of the cars S-A built in 1966-1968 for the greatest American Roadracing series ever.

1966: The Trans Am begins.......

In 1966, the Sports Car Club of America announced it would recognize sedans as a National Championship category for the first time. Eligible cars fell under the provisions of the FIA Appendix "J," Group II and classes were based on engine displacement: A Sedan, 2000cc to 5000 cc; B/Sedan, 1300cc to 2000 cc; C/Sedan, 1000cc to 1300 cc; D/Sedan, under 1000 cc. The SCCA planned two concurrent racing series for these sedans - one amateur and one professional - each leading to a national championship. The amateur series included over 50 SCCA sanctioned national events throughout the United States, culminating with an invitation to the American Road Race of Champions (ARRC) for the top three finishers in each class in each of SCCA's six geographical divisions.

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1967: The glory year

The 1967 Mustang notchback Group II sedan was Shelby American's competition model for 1967. The same rule that allowed the the 1965 GT350 to compete in SCCA's B Production class - no rear seats - effectively kept the Shelby Mustangs out of the Trans-Am series. It didn't matter that by 1967 you couldn't buy a Shelby Mustang without a back seat. The die had been cast in 1965.

All of this was just fine with Ford, who liked the idea of Carroll Shelby racing something readily identifiable to the public as a Mustang. Ford had left the Trans-Am to the independents in 1966 and they almost threw it away. Shelby literally pulled the fat out of the fire for Ford at the last race of the season, when Jerry Titus drove a Shelby­prepared car to win the Riverside event - and to earn enough points to give Ford the manufacturer's championship. Their appetite thus wetted, Ford was eager to participate in the 1967 series and cash in on the publicity. The SCCA quickly realized they were on to something and they expanded the Trans-Am to twelve races. They saw manufacturer support as the key to the series' success and did everything they could to seduce marques like Ford, Chevrolet and Mercury. The manufacturers, in turn, saw the Trans-Am as the perfect vehicle to market their new Pony cars.

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1968: The agony of defeat

By the end of the 1967 race season, there was no question that the Trans-Am series had hit the excitement button of motorsports fans across the United States. Several factors in the series contributed to its steady increase in popularity. One was the high degree of product recognition of the cars competing in it. Race fans had no trouble equating the cars they drove everyday with Jerry Titus' Mustang, Dan Gurney's Cougar or Mark Donohue's Camaro. The SCCA was wise enough to realize that if they allowed competitors to modify their cars to the point where they were no longer instantly recognizable, the average fan would lose interest in direct proportion. This was one reason why NASCAR stock cars remained so popular. A second factor was that the concept of "sports car" was changing - and the Trans­Am series hastened that change. Prior to 1965, sports cars were thought of as primarily two-seat, open-cockpit roadsters with wire wheels. Most came from Europe, the Corvette being the notable exception. Then Carroll Shelby introduced the GT350. The original Mustang was no sports car but when Shelby created the GT350 he extended the sports car envelope enough to allow more latitude. The Trans-Am stretched it even further.

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© 2007 Walt Boeninger - all rights reserved