Modified Mustangs & Fords
1966 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 350 - From Demo To Racer
The story of a 1966 Shelby G.T. 350
What comes to mind when you hear the word "Shelby"? Do you think about a cool little British sports car body with a 427 big-block Ford stuffed in it? Or how about those late '60s G.T. 500s you see on TV rolling across the auction block for big bucks? Or maybe you even think about a modern Mustang wearing the legendary moniker. How many people think about the little car that could? The G.T. 350 of yesteryear. You might think about it a little more after reading this article and seeing these photos.
It started with a simple concept at Shelby American: Take a production '65 Mustang with a 289 and make it better. Our story starts at this point with a '66 Shelby G.T. 350 coming out of the Shelby American shop in late 1965. On January 26, 1966, the keys to this feature car were handed to Carroll Shelby's lawyer to drive, as what we would refer to now as a "dealer demo." It was returned to Shelby in March 1966, where Shelby American leased the car to Robert Leaf at Dan Gurney and Shelby's joint venture, All American Racers.
The car was extensively modified at AAR for its intended purpose of going racing. The rear window was removed and this area was seam-welded from the upper window extension to the lower trunk extension to stiffen the car. The back window was replaced with a plexiglass unit vented at the top. A second floorpan was welded in over the original to add rigidity. The floor seams were completely welded, instead of the usual spot welding procedures that were suitable for passenger car duty. The framerails were solidly bonded to the floor with seam welds. All of this welding and fabrication connected the unibody from the firewall all the way to the rear floor section. Race cars do not usually have carpet in them, but to avoid unnecessary attention during tech inspection, this one did. Just a little bit of cheating going on here, 1960s style!
The car was campaigned on road courses by All American until March 1967, where it was sold through JD Ball Ford in Miami as a used unit. The new owner made even more modifications to it. They welded the cowl closed and used body filler and a coat of paint to conceal it. Then the firewall was welded up where the blower motor opening used to be. The car was raced throughout the Miami and the greater Florida area until approximately 1976. During that time, a gas station owner in Miami named Robert Yappell, an avid Mopar collector, would frequently hear a "ding ding" and see this Shelby roll in on a trailer. The fiberglass trunk lid bounced away every time it rolled in; the driver filling up the race car and tow rig on the weekends. The car changed hands a few times in those days, as purpose-built race cars often did at that time. Robert never let the car out of his sights, however.
A friend of Robert's, a body man by trade, wound up with the "tired old Shelby" and had the intentions of fixing it up and driving it. Robert was kind enough to store the car for his friend until he could get to work on it. Little did he know that it would be storing it for his friend for many years to come.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed both of Robert's gas stations in Miami. He collected his insurance money and moved a little farther north to West Palm Beach. He built a garage large enough to hold 30 cars, which was enough to satisfy even the biggest car nut. At his friend's request, Robert stored the Shelby in his garage for what was supposed to be "just a little while until I can find a place for it."
Fast forward to June 2004 when Robert's friend, Roland Duclos, was visiting and asked about the car hibernating under the cover where his dog was sleeping. "Was it something special?" he asked. "It's a '66 Mustang Shelby G.T. 350," Robert replied. Robert knew the owner of the car wasn't going to do anything with it, and would sure love to reclaim the space in his garage. Robert made some calls and a deal was brokered. Roland was the new owner of a Shelby G.T. 350. He had no idea of the car's history, and was soon to be shocked with what he would discover.
"What were all of these crazy welds on this car?" he thought. The car had all of the numbers on it still, including the cherished Shelby ID plate on the inner fender. Some calls were made and Howard Pardee of the '65-'66 Shelby Registry shared what he had on file, including the confirmation that it was in fact a real G.T. 350.
"I knew from that moment, that I needed to go all-in with this car. No expense spared on any part it needed, to return it to as-raced condition." Roland dismantled the car in his small two-car-detached garage and cataloged everything. The first order of business was to undo the incorrect modifications made by other race teams over the years. The main correction being the cowl, which Roland has opened back up. Before long, he had the car mounted on a rotisserie. Looking at his pile of parts, he knew he had something special on his hands.
"It was all there," he said. "The correct suspension was all there, the 9-inch rear axle with 3.89 gears and Detroit Locker, original Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes and larger drums. Even the original override bars with rubber boots covering the holes that the Shelby boys cut!" Any part the car needed, Roland acquired original date-coded, or N.O.S. parts.
There were certainly some hurdles along the way, such as the unique '65 G.T. 350R fuel tank. It is actually two tanks welded together. The lower tank is normal with holes drilled in the top as a baffle. The top section is actually another tank cut in half, with the portion with the sending unit welded up and the drain plug relocated to the center to act as a vent. The original four-speed transmission, which is still with the car, is a wide-ratio Top Loader.
The original 289 has been rebuilt to its original as-raced specs, including refurbishing the original hi-rise intake manifold and cylinder heads, which Roland has a receipt from 1972 showing they were ported by Clay Brown Racing in California. The carb is a correct and date-coded Holley 715-cfm Le Mans version. The timing cover and water pump are vintage aluminum pieces. The Tri-Y headers were ceramic coated black for looks and functionality. The oil pan that came with the engine is the correct T-style pan with the S-code part number on it. Roland added a Boss 302 windage tray to keep the crank clean. Roland even tracked down an original G.T. 350R radiator and oil cooler setup, as this car has no cooling fan on it. During this car's glory days, the cars didn't need fans dragging the engine down, because the cars were constantly moving. The gargantuan-sized oil cooler helps the cause as well.
The bellhousing is a Cobra-spec scatter shield hiding a new 10.5-inch McLeod clutch. The wheels are date-coded vintage 15-inch Torque Thrust Ds, with correct Goodyear Blue Streak race tires (which he was able to track down with the help of a friend, who is under the employ of Goodyear).
Roland did take some liberties when building this car. He located original G.T. 350R aluminum door window frames with fixed vent windows and no window regulators, just straps attached to the plexiglass windows that must be raised by hand. They make reproductions of these, but repops just wouldn't do in this case! The rear plexiglass window is another original G.T. 350 R piece that is open at the top to vent air pressure when driving. We won't tell you how much that window cost him!
The radio, heater, and cigarette lighter delete plates are all original and intact. To hide the unattractive, gaping hole where the glovebox and ashtray were removed and discarded, Roland added a glovebox and ashtray door that can be easily removed. A G.T. 350R rollbar and Ford fire extinguisher are original and also vintage pieces. Finishing off the interior is a '65-vintage Bell race helmet. Roland even found an original California manufacturer's license plate that was used by Shelby American!
Roland repainted the car in its original Wimbledon White paint with Guardsman Blue Le Mans stripes. He then added the race livery to represent the car in its as-raced condition when it first left All American's shop. Once Roland put the final touches on the car, he loaded it up and attended the SAAC (Shelby American Automobile Club) concourse show and race in Virginia in May 2011. At the event, it was judged and scored 841 points out of a possible 900. One unique fact about this car is that it has never been titled or registered. Roland has proven this by doing a thorough motor vehicle records search on the car showing no records ever on file. As of the date of this article, the odometer only reads 2,189 miles; we presume those to be some pretty hard ones.
Palm Beach International Raceway graciously allowed us to shoot this rare and well-documented car on its two-mile road course. It was a pleasure to see, hear, and even feel this car as it was doing what it does best on the twisties.
Is this car a labor of love? Maybe. Did the car get the restoration it deserved? Absolutely! The level of detail the car received in its restoration was second to none. Roland tallied up the time and devotion. It took seven years and more than 2,200 hours to get the car where it is today. What's the next chapter for the car? Will it end up in a museum? Will it end up turning laps at vintage road race events? One may never know, but we sure appreciate what Roland did for this car, and we're sure the car appreciates it some too.
The original 289 has been rebuilt to its original as-raced specs, including refurbishing the original hi-rise intake manifold and cylinder heads