It's not called the "King of the Road" for nothing.
The evolution of the GT500 as part of a high-performance variant of the Ford Mustang goes something like this. The Mustang was introduced in 1964, first as a coupe you could buy for its affordability and sporty design, but not so much for its speed. The following year, Carroll Shelby created the race-bred GT350. That was in 1965 to be precise. About two years later, Carroll Shelby turned up the volume with the Shelby GT500. It wasn’t built track-ready like its immediate predecessor, but it packed a gigantic 428-cubic-inch (7.0Liter) V8.
Introduced in 1967, the GT500 spawned a series of iterations you’d be luckier than a horseshoe to set eyeballs on in real life, most notably perhaps the iconic GT500 Super Snake. Only ten Super Snakes were built from donated GT500s, each toting 650 horses from a race-spec 427 FE mill lifted from the GT40. The last time we checked, a 1967 Super Snake sold for $2.2 million at Mecum's Kissimmee auction.
But Carroll was not done. In 1968, the maverick wowed the muscle car scene with a Cobra Jet V8-powered GT500. Although officially rated less powerful than the original GT500's 355-horsepower 428 FE, it actually was a more powerful mill. This car was nicknamed the king of the road. The "King of the Road" designation was an intrinsic difference between the GT500 and GT500 KR.
Related: Here's How Much A Classic 1967 Shelby GT500 Is Worth Today
Both the GT500 and GT500KR were basically the same save for what lay beneath the hood but enough to make the difference between king and regular. Besides the actual power of the updated GT500, the King of the Road moniker was a smart, even evasive marketing move on the part of Carroll Shelby in response to the news that GM's Chevy planned to "crown" the 1968 Corvette as King of the Road.
Preemptive copyright research revealed that neither the clause "King of the Road" nor the "KR" abbreviation had been claimed, giving Carroll the impetus to go ahead with the plan. And so, the Shelby GT500 KR was crowned King of the Road, with decals, stickers, photos, and graphics decorating the throne. The real question is if the GT500 KR is deserving of that title.
It’s not unusual for kings to have forerunners. The 1967 GT500 did that job spectacularly, propelled by the phenomenal 428-cid Police Interceptor V-8. But compared to its GM and Mopar drag strip rivals, Ford's Ponies were still heavier and underpowered.
But the Cobra Jet-powered 1968 GT500 told a different story. The cylinder heads and intake manifolds were borrowed from the Le Mans-champion 427 “Side Oiler.” On paper, the mill made only 335 horses, suggesting it was slower than its predecessor. Grossly underrated, that was an impractical joke on insurance companies. The KR also had a street-friendly 3.50:1 rear gear and a Toploader 4-speed manual transmission capable of sending the KR to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, no small feat for that era.
The KR could reach a top speed of 140 mph. Given its performance numbers, the King likely possessed a power output exceeding 400 horses and 440 lb-ft of torque.
Related: 10 Most Legendary Cars Built By Carroll Shelby
Introduced as a mid-year replacement for the 1968 GT500, the KR was the face of Ford's new 428 Cobra Jet that became available during that time. Earlier Shelby Mustangs had featured a modified version of the 428 known as Police Interceptor. Cosmetically, the GT500 was prettier under the hood, thanks to the factory Cobra oval air cleaner, as opposed to the King’s stamped-steel air cleaner and snorkel. But this also meant KR had an efficient ram-air system plus an under-hood plenum unavailable in the GT500.
In addition to getting cooler air into the carburetor, the King’s CJ mill utilized a different crankshaft, cylinder heads, camshaft, and rods. Where the GT500’s engine was “lifted” from full-sized Fords, the Cobra Jet V8 was purpose-built.
The exhaust system is one more feature of the GT500KR that won us over. It featured a larger exhaust system that improved its performance edge over the preceding 1968 Shelby GT500s.
It’s common to have Shelby enthusiasts insist the CJ and Police Interceptor are equals, which is fair enough given their stated outputs. But the KR is definitely a faster GT500 which is why gearheads love it more. Beyond the powerplant, Ford introduced other subtle alterations to ring the King’s fingers, the most obvious being the "KR" added discreetly to the lower body side stripes. Look closely at the KR's gas cap, and you'll notice its emblem that identifies its Cobra Jet engine, whereas the GT350 and GT500 featured “Shelby Cobra” caps. The most obvious of these revisions is very likely the new fender badge proudly announcing the 428 Cobra Jet mill.
Philip Uwaoma, this bearded black male from Nigeria, has written more than two million words in articles published on various websites, including toylist.com, rehabaid.com, and autoquarterly.com. After not getting credit for his work on Auto Quarterly, Philip is now convinced that ghostwriting sucks. He has no dog, no wife- yet- and he loves Rolls Royce a little too much.