KING OF THE ROAD: The Legendary 1968 Shelby GT500 KR Fastback

Written by David Neyens

Making its debut on April 17, 1964, at the New York World’s Fair, followed by the most-successful new-car launch in automotive history, Ford Motor Company’s sporty new Mustang originated the lucrative new “ponycar” market. Predictably, the Mustang’s brilliant success soon drew a host of imitators from the other major American automakers, forcing select revisions for 1967, including a larger engine bay capable of housing the new crop of big-displacement V8 engines performance-minded buyers demanded. Naturally, Shelby American joined the action, replacing the Mustang’s regular-production 390ci engine in favor of Ford’s even more-powerful 428 Interceptor V8 to create the new GT500 as a companion to the original small-block GT350. Packing 360 horsepower, the GT500 was certainly a strong performer, but more firepower was required to truly strike back at Chrysler’s factory-backed HEMI cars and Chevrolet’s new big-block Camaro at the dragstrip.

Ford counterattacked with the 428 Cobra Jet, created at the expert suggestion of Hot Rod magazine Editor Eric Dahlquist in collaboration with Rhode Island’s famous Tasca Ford dealership. Key Cobra Jet components were an inspired combination of many items that already populated the Ford corporate parts bin, including low-riser 427 cylinder heads and beefier internals. A 735 cfm Holley carburetor provided induction and a performance camshaft unlocked the CJ’s potential. Factory-rated output was “just” 335 horsepower, suspiciously low but pleasing to insurance companies and useful for manipulating the NHRA’s Super Stock class-factoring system. Any doubts as to the Cobra Jet’s true potency were quickly silenced at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals, where Ford’s six-car Cobra Jet team stormed through the field, culminating in an all-CJ SS/E final round with Al Joniec taking the class win and beating Chrysler’s Dave Wren for Super Stock Eliminator.

Recognizing a good thing, Shelby unleashed the Cobra Jet-powered GT500KR “King of the Road” version of the GT500 Mustang during 1968, with the heavier and better-equipped cars upholding the performance ante with the CJ’s 440 ft/lbs of tire-melting torque available from just 3,400 rpm. As Shelby’s top Mustang-based road model, the sophisticated, Grand Touring-style KR was highly equipped with larger brakes (front disc/rear drum), under-hood suspension bracing, and staggered rear shocks to prevent axle wind-up and wheel hop during hard launches. The new Shelby’s provocative “King of the Road” moniker was in fact a cheeky jab at archrival Chevrolet, which was planning to launch a special Corvette model of the same name. Since Shelby American had outgrown its facilities at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) by 1967 and Ford began taking a direct role in production, the company was split into three entities with road-car production placed under Shelby Automotive, Inc. in Livonia, Michigan and final assembly subcontracted to A.O. Smith in nearby Ionia. According to the Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC), 1,571 GT500KRs were built for 1968, of which 1,053 were sleek Fastbacks, including this outstanding example.

Handsomely finished in Acapulco Blue with white Le Mans stripes, this 1968 Shelby GT500 KR fastback is the product of a total rotisserie restoration to its factory-original glory. Powered by its original “King of the Road” 428 Cobra Jet engine, backed by its factory Toploader 4-speed manual transmission, the KR also features a correct date coded ‘N case’ rear end. Sold new in Omaha, Nebraska, this prime-quality example was factory-equipped with power steering, power front disc and rear drum brakes, and a black deluxe interior with fold-down Sport Deck rear seat and Tilt-A-Way steering column. Retaining its original Shelby ID tag, dash VIN tag, and door data tag, this 4-speed 1968 Shelby GT500KR truly epitomizes its bold “King of the Road” model name in all possible respects. Crossing the June 30 – July 2 Las Vegas auction stage as Lot #728 and with No Reserve, the offering of this legendary Shelby performer simply cannot be missed.

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Handsomely finished in Acapulco Blue with white Le Mans stripes, this 1968 Shelby GT500KR fastback is the product of a total rotisserie restoration to its factory-original glory. Crossing the June 30 – July 2 Las Vegas auction stage as Lot #728 and with No Reserve, the offering of this legendary Shelby performer simply cannot be missed.