The tiny shift knob's only big enough to accommodate four of your fingers, leaving your pinky's tender inner flesh nothing to clench but the rectangular lever's jagged billet aluminum edge. Although prudent gear shifting instead of fervent gear banging would avert scuffing away at your outer epidermal layer, the notion of waiting those extra milliseconds between each ravenous surge of acceleration merely for pain relief is downright absurd. Why yes, it takes something truly evil to corrupt your senses and sensibilities to the threshold of self-torture and dementia, but the 585hp Shelby Mustang GT350SR is that splendidly wicked impetus.
Unique Performance is at it again, following up the phenomenal success of its first Shelby continuation car--the GT500E--with the GT350SR, a modernized version of the original '65-67 GT350R. However, that's just the nipple on the tire tread, because while Mustangs are what made the company famous, Unique's passions envelop the entire musclecar spectrum. Consequently, Unique has teamed up with Chip Foose and Year One to offer a limited-edition line of musclecars and, as no surprise, a run of '69 Camaros is the first in the series. Even more obvious for cars that involve Shelby and Foose are the six-figure-plus pricetags they command. Nonetheless, learn what goes into building one of these vehicles or spend some time experiencing them first-hand, and that sum seems way too cheap. So take out a second mortgage on the house, cash in on your 401K, and don't worry about your wife taking off. After rolling around in one of these, you'll be able trade her in for a hotter, thinner replacement.
A Unique Story
The question of what makes some yokels from Northern Texas qualified to build high-end musclecars and justified in charging top dollar is a reasonable one to ask. If 10 pages of stunning photography isn't proof enough, here's a condensed version of the company's history. As unlikely as it may seem today, the birth of the venture that would eventually become Unique Performance wasn't intended to be a money-making business. Since his days in high school, Doug Hasty sent his projects out to Unique Automotive, one of the most prominent hot-rod shops in the Dallas area, owned by Bobby Mikus. Doug's friends and business partners Richard Kearby and Chris Layne joined in on the action and started shipping their projects to Bobby, as well.
Eventually their cars began dominating the shop, and the trio convinced Bobby to sell his business to work exclusively on their projects, renaming the place Unique Performance. "We set up a new shop, and it was really built to maintain our own private collections," says Doug. Then came the GT500E, a car Doug built to emulate the Shelby Mustang named Eleanor from the film Gone in 60 Seconds. "My father was real instrumental in everything I've done with automobiles, and this is one of the last ones he worked on. He passed away two months before it was finished, and we took it out to a few shows once it was done in his memory. The response was overwhelming, and people started asking me if I could build one for them."
Carroll Shelby, who just so happened to be considering a continuation project, caught wind of the GT500E and asked Doug to send it out to his Las Vegas facility for his engineers to look over. Shelby suggested some tweaks, fine-tuned some details, and the 10-15 cars he originally thought of producing turned into 475. "I said 'no thanks, I have a full-time job,' but he persuaded me to get into the business," says Doug. Within four years, the company has grown from 4 employees to 115, and has drawn plenty of attention along the way. Last April, a GT500E convertible sold for a world-record bid of $550,000 at the Barret-Jackson Palm Beach auction, and the Shelby continuation cars have become a huge hit with enthusiasts. So if industry legends like Shelby and Foose are putting faith in Unique Performance to uphold their reputations, that should be plenty of assurance for the customer.
Only once in the history of man has the phrase "like nothing you've ever seen before" not been cliche. When we proclaim that the Unique Performance shop is like nothing you've ever seen before, consider it the second. The bustling 30,000-square-foot assembly facility is like a scaled-down OEM assembly line, but with pristine vintage musclecars instead of plebeian late-models, and hot rodders in lieu of unionized little old ladies. At any given time, roughly 15-20 cars await as technicians scramble to fit them with racing seats, coilovers, stereo systems, big-brake kits, nitrous bottles, and big blocks. In the distance, the faint hissing of paint guns and the scratching of sandpaper resonates. Vice President of Operations Bobby Mikus sums it up best: "We're a full-scale restoration shop in a production-line environment."
The final assembly plant is just one of many facilities each vehicle visits. The first stop is a storage yard where over 100 Mustangs and Camaros sit in ruins, feeding the constant demand for donor cars. Unique Performance purchases them like most people, by responding to print and online ads. The company is also contacted by owners of potential donors itching to clean out their barns or clear out their fields. Contrary to what most people think, Unique doesn't snatch up the few remaining examples of nice fastback Mustangs and '69 Camaros. The company takes the decrepit piles of garbage no one else wants to touch. That keeps the cost of acquisition low, and makes donors much easier to find. "Early on in the project we took a lot of flack, but we're not getting that anymore," says Doug. "These are cars that have not been put on the road and would probably sit there and rust to a point where they couldn't be restored. A lot of people see the kinds of cars we're taking apart and bringing back and realize we're actually doing something good for the vintage car world."In the grand scheme of it all, it really doesn't matter what condition the cars are in when they arrive. From the storage yard, cars are sent to a separate dismantling facility where they are stripped down to the bare shell. The subframes, rearends, suspension, motors, drivelines, interiors, and body panels are all tossed. Since all those parts will be replaced anyway, the only item that matters is the hull of the car, which is then media blasted before being put on a dolly and shipped to another facility in Las Vegas. There, the bulk of the bodywork--which takes about 650 hours--is completed before being sent back to Unique's headquarters for paint and final assembly. Granted, it's a long and arduous 10-12-month process in which most of the car is replaced, but at the end of the day, these are real cars with real VINs, not kit cars the DMV won't let your register. Moreover, considering the fastidious detail that goes into each car, the production capacity of six to eight cars per month is very impressive, and the six-month waiting list isn't terribly unreasonable. In reality, as a build-it-yourself undertaking, cars of this caliber would probably take decades to finish or would be aborted due to loss of interest.
While the GT500E was inspired in part by the Eleanor movie car and in part by the Shelby GT500, the new GT350SR is more of a purist's musclecar based on the original GT350R. Built by Shelby to compete in SCCA B/Production from '65 to '67, the "R" variant boasted more power, a stiffer chassis and suspension, and race-prepped brakes and tires compared to its street counterpart, while weighing over 200 pounds less. As a dedicated race car that won its class for three consecutive years, the GT350R is one of the rarest and most decorated Mustangs of all time, while the street version is one of the most popular musclecars to clone. That long list of credentials made it a natural candidate for Shelby and Unique Performance to recreate.
With nearly 40 years having gone by since the original GT350, the new car had heaps of technology on its side to meet goals of improved performance and streetability. The base powerplant is a Shelby-built 331ci small-block putting out 410 hp. A 475hp 408 is optional, and both mate to a Tremec T5 five-speed transmission. The big hoss, however, is a Windsor-based 427 all-aluminum small-block. With CNC-ported Brodix aluminum heads, a healthy hydraulic roller cam, and ultra-trick Weber-style throttle stacks with EFI, it cranks out 585 healthy ponies. The added grunt is dispersed through a Tremec TKO five-speed that is hydraulically actuated for lighter pedal pressure. An aluminum driveshaft and a Currie 9-inch rearend with 3.25:1 cogs and a limited-slip differential send the power the rest of the way.
Those would be impressive figures for a drag car, but the GT350SR is by no means a straight-line-only machine. Out back is arguably one of the most advanced suspension setups for Mustangs of this vintage. It combines a Watt's link, torque arm, and lower trailing arms, all anchored in place by a tubular steel cradle that bolts to the rear subframe. Each link is adjustable in length for fine tuning, and the rear coilovers are laid down almost parallel to the ground, which is said to reduce unsprung weight. Up front, the factory MacPherson strut arrangement is ditched for a set of tubular upper and lower control arms and coilovers. Subframe connectors and a strut tower brace further fortify the chassis. Stopping duties are performed by 13-inch slotted and cross-drilled rotors with two-piston Baer calipers at the bow, and 12-inch rotors with single-piston calipers at the rear. Making the best use of the impressive hardware is a set of 17-inch Shelby R-style wheels wearing BFG 245/45R17 and 315/35R17 tires front and rear.
The list of features mentioned thus far make for a very good car, but it's the bonus items that make this a great car and a bona fide track star. Shelby high-bucket vinyl seats hold you in place as you carve out lines with the LeCarra 15-inch wooden steering wheel and power rack. A Canton road-race oil pan keeps the motor well-lubed, while the Fuel Safe 16-gallon fuel cell and four-point rollbar add extra measures of safety. A full slew of Shelby gauges report the vitals, and the fiberglass front clip and quarter-panel flares pare weight and add visual kick. Options abound as well, including leather-wrapped seats, a five-point quick-release harness, Plexiglass quarter-windows, a 22-gallon fuel cell, functional front and rear brake ducts, a trunk-mounted battery, and a full-size spare that can be showcased beneath a Plexiglass rear window.
By now, the idea of the GT350SR being even somewhat streetable seems like a joke. Sure, it pushes the limit of a street car, but it at least does a good job at trying to be civilized. A Sony four-speaker stereo, to which a 10-disc CD changer can be added, is standard, as well as A/C. Although we can't imagine why you'd need an alternate form of entertainment while driving this thing, a DVD system is available, as is a GPS tracking system. Just in case you don't want to hear the JBA side pipes and Spintech mufflers as loudly, Unique Performance can even throw in a sound-dampening package.
Regardless of how it's ordered, each GT350SR gets its own Shelby serial number that will be listed in the Shelby American World Registry. That means a few different things. First of all, it's a gesture that the continuation cars are recognized as genuine Shelby vehicles. Secondly, it prevents someone from trying to pass off a continuation car as one of the original Shelbys built in the '60s. And finally, it prevents someone from building a car in their garage and claiming it's a continuation vehicle.
Inevitably, there will be whiners who say these still aren't real Shelby cars. Well, get over it. Just like Shelby hopped up unfinished Mustangs back in the '60s, Unique Performance is doing the same thing under the direction of the man himself. Only, this time around, the cars must be completely restored and rebuilt. The Shelby Registry's okay with it and the creator of the original GT350 is okay with it, so perhaps you may want to take a hint. Prices start at $109,000.