Mustangs of Future Past: Original Venice Crew and Revology Recreate the GT350
Two decidedly different takes on a similar theme of Shelby high performance pony cars
John Morton blips the throttle as he manhandles the Mustang's large, thin wooden wheel. He sets up the car into the wide, right-hand sweeper traced by small orange cones with the nonchalance of a man who's turned a car in anger hundreds of thousands of times. We hit the apex, and he pours on the throttle, unleashing all of the V-8's 289 cubic inches and working over the four-speed manual as we barrel down the short front stretch of the Streets of Willow circuit.
Morton prefers Big Willow, the track next door to Streets at the famed Willow Springs facility about two hours northeast of Los Angeles. It's easy to understand why. It's a much faster, longer circuit. It's where years ago he tested a car just like this and raced a car just like this. A Mustang built in Venice Beach, California, near the shores of the Pacific. A GT350R much like this one.
The new/old car Morton is hustling around Streets might as well be one of the race-prepped Shelby GT350Rs Morton and others like Jerry Titus campaigned at Willow, Riverside, and elsewhere across the country, and men like Peter Brock helped design and the then-17-year-old Jim Marietta wrenched on in 1965. Built by the Original Venice Crew (OVC), this one is close to the real thing but with new independent rear suspension.
Authenticity was a primary goal of the Venice Crew. They decided to offer 36 recreation cars, the same number they built back in the day.
Back at the staging area, our own race ace Andy Pilgrim is about to strap into a GT350 Mustang, built by Revology, that looks very much like the Wimbledon White and Guardsman Blue-striped OVC machine Morton and I are in, only without the roll cage, race seats, and other old-school high-performance flourishes. Instead, the Nappa leather inside is sourced from the same supplier Porsche uses, the floor is swathed in plush wool carpet, and the headliner is done in Alcantara. It has comfortable bucket seats, and a navigation/infotainment system complete with a backup camera. Pilgrim pushes the stop/start button, and its Ford Performance-prepped 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 with 435 horsepower mated to a Tremec T56 close-ratio six-speed manual clears its fuel-injected throat.
Automotive industry veteran Tom Scarpello, who spent the better part of two decades primarily at Ford and Nissan in various roles including manufacturing and product planning, founded Revology Cars in 2014 out of Orlando, Florida, with the goal of creating a series of Mustangs with modern conveniences while celebrating the past. The approach is resto-mod at its core, but much more than that, Scarpello's vision as "Chief Revologist" has been to create a company that takes a world-class, assembly-line approach to building cars he learned during his career. The official stamp of Shelby Automobiles and Ford makes Revology all the more legit.
When it comes to being legit, you can't be much more in Mustang circles than folks like Morton, Brock, and Marietta. These are men who spent their salad days being cajoled, cussed out, and inspired by Carroll Shelby, building cars on a wing and a prayer in Shelby American's impossibly cramped, 10,000-square-foot shop in Venice.
"When Peter Brock says you should do something, you probably should,"
One night during a good round of bench racing, the guys started reminiscing about the three dozen GT350Rs they built back in '65. Corners were carved. Brock never got a chance to sculpt the front end how he wanted. Then there was the car with the independent rear they never got to finish. It was a huge success at the track, but it could have and should have been better. What if they did it all over again how they really wanted to do it? "What if" became "why the hell not," and the Original Venice Crew was formed.
Authenticity was a primary goal of the Venice Crew. They decided to offer 36 recreation cars, the same number they built back in the day, using the same 1965 K-code Mustang they built up (higher spec 289 V-8 and front discs) as the base car. Finding the donor cars hasn't been easy, but so far they've located a couple. OVC, which builds the cars at the Shelby facility in Gardena, California, drops in a reworked version of the 289 pushing about 420 horses with a four-speed Borg Warner manual as the gearbox. Prices start at $250,000, and although that isn't chicken feed, like Revology they have the official Ford and Shelby backing and a lineage that can't be manufactured.
Marietta, who wasn't even out of high school when he scored that fateful job at Shelby, has become the unofficial OVC spokesman, though he's quick to say it's a team effort. About seven guys work on a car at any one time, and it takes about four months to complete one. He walks us around OVC's 98i-coded GT350R and calls out several details. "You see this here," he says, pointing to the rear fender. "These are hand-flared. They're a little rough, but that's the way it was."
He shows us the hand-welded plenums fitted over the carb and the gas tank filler in the trunk, and the changes to the front end and rear window that Brock made to the fastback to aid aero and cooling, which helped lead to the use of a smaller radiator. "When Peter Brock says you should do something, you probably should," Marietta says, breaking into a wry smile.
"You see this here," pointing to the rear fender. "These are hand-flared. They're a little rough, but that's the way it was. "
You can get your OVC Mustang with the solid axle or the aforementioned independent rear. Duane Carling is the man behind the development work of the car's IRS. It's a magnificent-looking piece of engineering we saw a couple of weeks before the track day. As the story goes, back in '65 the team was almost finished developing the IRS car when Shelby pulled resources away to the Daytona Coupe and GT40 projects. The suspension was put on a shelf and forgotten about. It was eventually carted off to longtime Ford racing partner Holman Moody with other assets after Ford ended the Shelby Mustang program in 1969 and later sold to a private owner. Carling tracked down the gentleman who had it and sent him a letter inquiring about it. Miraculously, he shipped what he had out to Carling, who used it to form the basis of the IRS on the car we're ripping around in at Streets.
Morton and I pull in, and it's Pilgrim's turn to take the Revology GT350 out. Mustangs like this are a rare thing for him to drive, and he hadn't been in a car quite like it since his days running Pontiac Trans Ams in the mid '90s. "On track with a solid rear-axle car, you don't so much dial in a turn with the steering wheel until you're done with a corner." Pilgrim says. "It's more start a chain reaction with a slight amount of steering wheel turn, and then you see where you end up. Fun stuff!"
"It's more start a chain reaction with a slight amount of steering wheel turn, and then you see where you end up. Fun stuff!"
It took a minute for Pilgrim to get used to the grabby, non-ABS brakes (being far less experienced with such brakes, I would later lock them up coming into Turn 2), and he would have liked a little less power in the hydraulic steering (Revology says that's doable), but he found the car pulls surprisingly hard to more than 7,000 rpm and sounds great with its Borla track exhaust, the Coyote making mighty thawwwwwacck racket at full chat. He also dug the six-speed. (Automatic is also available.) "The modern Mustang GT six-speed gearbox has a traditional-style gearshift lever and a solid industrial shift action," he notes. "Forget the current slick Miata and Civic shifts, this is old school."
Revology indeed makes them to be old-school cool, but new-school chic. Scarpello freely admits the 1966 GT350 recreation Pilgrim and I are delighting in around Streets isn't a purebred track car, but it more than holds its own on the circuit after some hardcore lapping. It also has plenty of power for its 3,225 pounds, as much power to weight as a Ferrari F430 according to Scarpello. Starting at $189,000, this car and the rest of the Revology Mustang lineup are built using as many off-the-shelf parts as possible, some of which are (gasp!) sourced from General Motors. "The No. 1 goal is to have a car that you can drive every day with all the amenities," Scarpello says. "It's like a modern car, and it's really cool that it looks like something it isn't. " Scarpello is busy stacking his team with mainstream auto industry veterans like himself. As a low-volume manufacturer as defined by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015, Revology has the ability to build and sell brand-new licensed reproduction classic Mustangs as long as the engines are emissions certified. The company can also sell rolling chassis replicas under existing state laws or resto mod an original Mustang to Revology spec. At present it takes about six months to build a car to order, but they're looking to get that time down as they ramp up production.
Back out on the track, Pilgrim and I take turns jumping in and out of each car, relishing each lap. The OVC GT350R proves to be anything but a fussy museum piece. Each one has a VIN from the donor car, so they are also certified as street legal. But given its heavy, nonpower-steering and race-car setup, the track is where this Mustang should gallop.
"Driving around Streets is quite the workout," Pilgrim admits. "I was determined to win the battle of wills with this very capable, 2,780-pound animal.
"Once familiar with the handling, I started really working the independent rear suspension, making full use of the sticky vintage race rubber, body roll, pitch, and very willing motor. It was at this point I really started to appreciate it. The fun factor was off the scale."
Exactly. To be able to uncork the GT350R's guttural V-8 roar, work its notchy four-speed, push on its massive brakes, feel the heat, and inhale the gas and rubber fumes, was fun beyond measure. And Revology's mixology of time-machine looks, new model details and craftsmanship, and its fast and fun nature out on the track proved every bit as enthralling.
When we weren't in the cars, we gathered around the sheetmetal campfire, swapping stories and learning about the OVC and Revology teams. It was one of those days you never want to end. And as I waved goodbye to Marietta and Carling while they loaded 98i onto the trailer, the sun sunk low on the horizon over the desert expanse of Big Willow just like it did in 1965, when John Morton blew by at 160 mph