Screen Cars: Shelby GT500

Hollywood

Without question, the Shelby GT500 from "Gone in 60 Seconds", also known as Eleanor, is one of the coolest Mustangs ever made.

You might prefer the chase scene in "Bullit" to the one which served as a climax for the 2000 remake of "Gone in 60 Seconds", and that’s just fine. But the fact is that the 1967 Shelby GT500 from the more recent film is screen’s most iconic Mustang. And with all due respect to the 390cu-in V8-powered dark green Mustang GT from Bullit, the 1967 Shelby GT500 really is just a more badass Mustang, no matter how you feel about the movie that made it famous.

The 2000 film is of course a remake. The original, which marked the first time that a car received a star opening credit, was made in 1974. In the original, the star was a 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 slightly modified to look like the 1973 model. In the movie, a group of car thieves steal a large number of cars, each given a code which was a woman’s name. The Mustang was called Eleanor, and the final 40 minutes of the film is a car chase with said Mustang. It is the longest car chase in movie history. The remake cut down the length of the chase, but it is still quite long, and a slightly more coherent plot is substituted for the reduced chase time.

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By 1967, Carroll Shelby had been involved with Ford for a number of years, and had started building special Mustangs soon after the hot new model debuted. Early Shelby Mustangs were all GT350 models, and modifications focused more on weight saving and handling than cranking out more power. They did produce more than the stock 289cu-in V8, but the difference wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it would be when the GT500 debuted in 1967. This same year, Ford made some changes to the Mustang, and it became bigger and heavier. This undid some of Shelby’s efforts with the GT350, although he would continue to sell it.

At the same time, Carroll Shelby wanted to make a Mustang which was not only faster than stock, but also actually usable on the road. The GT350, though street legal, was never really at home anywhere but a racetrack. 1967 also saw Ford offering the 390cu-in V8 for the Mustang GT, and as this used the same block as the 428 Police Interceptor engine, Shelby had an easy time swapping the smaller plant out for the bigger one. It officially produced 355 hp, except it really didn't. As we mentioned earlier in this series with the Trans Am, this was an era when automakers could get away with underrating engine output, and the 428 is said to actually have produced at least 410 hp.

What is often forgotten about the GT500 is that it wasn’t really particularly faster than the GT350, it just wrapped that level of performance in packaging which made it work on the street. The energy crisis would eventually neuter the Mustang as it did every American performance car of the time, and it would be a very long time indeed before Shelby would again lend his name to a Mustang. But the Shelby Mustang would return in 2006, with the GT500 nameplate being revived in 2007. The current car is very much made in the spirit of the old one, churning out a positively insane 662 horsepower in a usable street car.

Unsurprisingly, it stands as the fastest production Mustang ever. But the ’67 GT500 which was the second car to be named Eleanor was not exactly a stock example of the car.

Technically, the car used for the movie wasn’t an actual Shelby, but a ’67 Mustang Fastback which was extensively modified. The result is a car which looks convincingly like an original GT500 with some aftermarket bits bolted on. The movie car did not have a 428 engine, but the 351 used in its place was modified to produce the same 400+ horsepower as the Shelbys had in 1967. We also know from one part of the movie chase scene that the car’s modifications include a nitrous oxide system, which is triggered by a button bearing the words "Go Baby Go". The car is undeniably cool, and in 2009, Hot Rod magazine would name it the #19 on its list of the most influential cars in the world of hot rodding.

Their reasoning in nominating the film car was that Eleanor was just so special that it was something even non-car people could appreciate. That’s saying quite a lot. But the unfortunate reality was that, if we’re really honest, it was a pretty stupid movie; just one that had cool cars. And that, in the end, can make all the difference in the world - at least to car guys like us, anyway.

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