Jerry Heasley
June 1, 2013

6,000-mile G.T. 350 On Jackstands

A 1965 Shelby G.T. 350 is rare enough, let alone a rust-free example with 6,452 miles sitting in the original owner's garage. Could it be the lowest mileage '65 Shelby in existence?

Finally, Jerry Mendes, the original owner and well-known Sacramento drag racer (Mendes Brothers), decided to sell.

The deal originated during a conversation at the January 2012 Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. Funny thing, I was there. My friend Jason Thompson introduced me to Lewayne Musslewhite, a tall and burly Canadian in his 50s who had won $22 million in a 2010 Canadian lottery and was looking to add to his Shelby collection. While a group of us were lusting over an unrestored '65 G.T. 350, Marty Burke mentioned, "I have a friend, Jerry Mendes, who has a '65 Shelby he bought new." Right away, Musslewhite called Mendes.

Months later, Musslewhite drove from his winter home in Phoenix to Sacramento to see the car. What he discovered was astounding—a rust-free '65 G.T. 350, 5S242, parked on jack stands with its original paint and High Performance 289. The engine had never been rebuilt, even though Mendes bought the Shelby specifically for drag racing. However, Mendes wasn't quite ready to sell the Shelby he had owned for almost 50 years. It took two months for him to agree to part with the car.

Musslewhite wanted me to come to Sacramento to document the story while he searched Mendes' garage to uncover original parts. Jeff and Julie Yergovich from R & A Motorsports, a Missouri shop specializing in Shelby and Mustang restorations, were also there to help verify original components.

The Mendes Brothers are well-known drag racers in California. Jerry (right) and his older brother Joe both drove the ’65 Shelby. Jerry still has the original invoice from Mel Burns Ford and the Performance Associates invoice (almost $1,500) for the drag racing modifications.

With most cars of this vintage, history is cloudy because the original owner is either deceased or unknown. Having Mendes there, along with his brother, Joe, who also drove the car, brought the G.T. 350's history to life.

Mendes was 23 years old and living in San Jose in January of 1966 when he and Joe drove to Shelby American in Los Angeles. The G.T. 350s had been available for a year, but unsold '65s were still sitting on the back lot. However, Mendes balked at the left-over models because he noticed an "orange tint" on the doorsills, apparently surface rust due to the proximity to the ocean. "I just couldn't accept that," Mendes said, preferring that his new car look brand-new. He doesn't remember how he learned that Mel Burns Ford in Long Beach had a '65. What he didn't know is that the car had also been sitting since June or July 1965.

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On January 22, 1966, Mendes bought the G.T. 350 from Mel Burns Ford ($3,377 as a demo) and immediately drove it to Performance Associates in nearby Covina, the same company that modified Shelby American's G.T. 350s for drag racing. As a drag racing "wannabee," Mendes usually attended the NHRA Winternationals. On his trips from San Jose, he would hang out "like a groupie" at Performance Associates, then go to the race. One year, his truck broke down and he rode to the drags with Bob Tasca.

Headed by Mendes' idol, drag racer Les Ritchey, Performance Associates built the Shelby to the same specifications as Shelby's G.T. 350 drag cars, which included four '65s and four '66 models. In the scheme of things, 5S242 brings the total of Shelby drag cars to nine. Number-wise, Mendes' notes that his car was number six of the nine. In fact, Ritchey told Mendes that the inside of the engine was engraved with "GT6" for the sixth G.T. 350 modified into a drag car.

However, Mendes has never torn the engine apart to confirm. That's because the 289 remains original, as modified by Performance Associates with larger valves and other modifications.

Buyer Lewayne Musslewhite was happy to find many of the original parts in Mendes’ garage, including the factory side exhaust, shocks, front stabilizer bar, and override traction bars.

Drag cars have a tendency to blow engines. Such was not the case with 5S242 because Mendes quit drag racing the Shelby in 1968 when the NRHA eliminated the Sports Stock class. Consequently, the '65 G.T. 350 got moved into the Super Stock class with the new Cobra Jet Mustangs, making the G.T. 350 no longer competitive. Instead of selling the Shelby, Mendes decided to keep it as a "retirement toy" after buying a Cobra Jet for drag racing. He did street race the '65 in the late 1960s, admitting, "I would put the mufflers on it and go pick on the younger generation."

In truth, young guys driving SS396 Chevelles and Ram Air GTOs thought they were picking on an older guy with a small-block Mustang. They didn't know about the 5.14 gears and solid-lifter engine that had run a 12.38 at 110.83 mph and won class eliminator in May 1965.