25 May 2016

A rental with a checkered past

It’s been 50 years since the Ford Shelby GT350-H first popped up on Hertz’s rental roster. That brave venture launched the Rent-a-Racer program and led to more than a few stories of weekend warriors and their racetrack hijinks. To no one’s surprise, the fun didn’t last long.

For 2016, Ford, Hertz and Shelby American are again collaborating to create a limited run of specially equipped Mustangs, slated to be available at some 16 rental locations nationwide starting Memorial Day.

Almost certain to one day join the earlier incarnations of 1966 and 2006 as a prized collectible, the limited run of 140 new GT-H Mustangs will all be painted in the Hertz livery of black with gold center and side stripes. Based on the 435-horsepower 5.0-liter Ford Mustang GT, each will get a specially tuned exhaust, a lowered suspension with revised damping, 19-inch wheels with high performance Michelin tires and other bits of special badging and trim. All will be equipped with automatic transmissions [editor’s note: Booooooooooooo].

Were it not for the 1966 GT350-H that started it all, the 2016 version would probably be viewed as a cheesy promotional gimmick. But the original was the real deal and worth honoring. Like the standard Shelby GT350, the ’66 GT350-H models started out as a standard Mustang 2+2 fastback, equipped with the high-performance 271 horsepower version of the 289 cid V-8. The new cars were shipped to the Shelby facility in Los Angeles, where they were extensively modified with revised suspensions, bigger brakes, Koni shock absorbers and engine modifications sufficient to boost horsepower to 306.

In addition to the standard Shelby treatment, most GT350-H cars got the trademark black and gold paint scheme and an automatic transmission. A few of the 1000 built had a four-speed manual, but renters had to prove they could drive a stick before being allowed to sign one out. Rental rates started at about $17 per day and 17 cents a mile, or $70 a week, which seems pretty reasonable, even when adjusted for inflation, for what was basically a streetable racing car.

While the cars were a hit with customers and a publicity bonanza for Hertz, hard use and high maintenance costs—some surely chased checkered flags in violation of the rental agreement—contributed to the program’s cancellation in 1967. Many of the retired rentals had a hard time finding new homes due to their history, but that has changed. The Hagerty valuation tool currently puts a 1966 GT350-H at about $135,000 on average.

The 2006 GT-H, introduced to honor of the 40th anniversary of the GT350-H, was produced in a run of 500 fastback examples followed by 500 convertibles a year later. The 2006 version was also based on the Mustang GT and used its 4.6-liter, 330-horse V-8. All carried the familiar black and gold paint scheme and were equipped with a performance exhaust and other functional and cosmetic tweaks. Many landed in the hands of collectors after their stint in the Hertz fleet and are now appreciating collectibles tucked away in garages, a retirement that the 2016 edition cars are likely to share.

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