I hit the gas pedal in the Shelby GT-H, and it’s not just loud, it’s thunderous, totally obliterating the jazz on the (not bad) stereo. In sport mode, with the car accelerating to redline in every gear, I finally see the imminent necessity of backing off (stop signs, dogs, things like that). Coming down, there’s a little electronic blip of the throttle that’s not there in “Drive.” Why? Because it sounds cool, and along with the music already there from the tuned exhaust, it’s quite a cacophony.
The GT-H is a legacy car, with an interesting history. Come back with me to 1965, when the Beatles and the Stones were still ruling the radio, and we were going "all the way" with LBJ. Carroll Shelby’s GT350, a hot version of the Mustang fastback, was competing in the marketplace with his now-iconic AC Cobra.
That fall, Shelby and American General Manager Peyton Cramer inked an unlikely deal with Hertz to supply some of those 306-horsepower GT350s—which weren’t selling all that well—to Hertz as rental cars. You had to join the Hertz Sports Car Club, but then you could drive off in a 289-powered GT350H for $17 a day (plus 17 cents a mile). A lucky few could, and did, take their rentals to the track on Saturday, then back to Hertz on Sunday night. After all, zero to 60 in 6.6 seconds was pretty quick back then.
Some 1,001 GT350Hs were produced, and the survivors are deeply coveted. And that was that. Until now. The heritage GT-H celebrates the 50th anniversary of the GT350H, and it’s also available as a rental at 11 Hertz locations—for $399 a day. Blame inflation.
Also inflated is the performance. The GT-H has 25 horsepower on a standard 5.0-liter Shelby GT350 (for a total of 435) and Ford Racing goosed the go power with a cold air intake, X pipe cat-back muffler kit and a performance calibration. Also added are look-good features like the Hertz-evoking gold Le Mans stripes, side scoops, painted brake calipers and 17-inch performance tires. And badges. Tons of badges.
Carroll Shelby’s signature is on the glove box, with a Shelby serial number. We’re told the GT-H is “Powered by Ford,” and the Cobra logo (but not the actual name) makes an appearance, too. “GT-H” is stamped on the floormats, sill plates, headrests, wheel caps—even the windshield fluid reservoir.
The 350H was initially sold with a manual transmission, but after a lot of clutches got burned out they became automatic-only. That’s also true of the GT-H, though I’d prefer a manual. Still, in sport mode this car shifts faster than I could hope it to, and it doesn’t stint on revving the engine.
Shelby’s hood adds functional air intakes and extractors that make the car 30 percent cooler than a stock Mustang. All that gear makes the hood impossibly heavy, though—work out before lifting it.
The interior is retro, with a big round tach and speedometer (labeled for “groundspeed”) in front of the driver. The nicely shaped front buckets offer plenty of travel for tall drivers (and the wheel usefully telescopes and tilts), but in typical Mustang fashion, rear-seat passengers are expected to be legless. I measured an inch of space back there when the seat was in my driving position. The trunk is OK, but not large. Visibility could be better, especially when backing up (though the camera helps).
I only had the GT-H for a day, then returned it to my local Hertz dealer. They were excited to have it, because I live outside the Shelby’s usual haunts. Right now you can get one in Charlotte, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Myers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Big markets get 15 cars each; smaller ones just five. In the fall, Detroit and Chicago will lose their cars to warmer southern states.
The casualty rate of the GT350H was fairly high, and they were pariahs in the collector market for a while because they were assumed to have had a hard life. Let’s hope the GT-H is spared similar abuse, though it wasn’t built to potter along. When I drove it in traffic it felt like a caged beast.
By way of a contrast, I also spent time this week with another Ford product, a ruby red Explorer Platinum. I appreciated how quiet the Explorer was—especially in contrast to the GT-H!—but a few other things confounded. Unlike the majority of SUV buyers, I don’t like sitting up high, “above the traffic.” I found it difficult to see the corners when parking, for one thing. Aiming a car by feel is never ideal.
The Sony-enhanced sound system sounded great, the seats were comfortable, and the Explorer was good for moving cargo. The 365-horsepower V-6 has plenty of passing power, but you pay for it with 16 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway. By the way, the GT-H is likely worse—the regular Shelby version of the Mustang delivers 14 mpg in the city and the same 22 on the highway. The GT-H has more power, and there’s no free lunch. But then, you're renting the car, not buying it. A weekend's blast won't set you back too much, even if you have to return the car full.
By the way, the GT-H is not an isolated incident; back in 2013, Hertz offered the Penske GT, which also offered a host of performance upgrades, including a quad-tip exhaust, tuning upgrade, new 3.55 rear gears and big Brembo brakes. No news on how many of those got wrecked. The GT-H is part of Hertz' "Adrenaline Collection," which also includes the Dodge Challenger R/T (why not the Hellcat?), the Camaro SS and two versions of the Corvette--Stingray and convertible.
Here's the GT-H on video: