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1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 - Race Ready Once Again
This ’67 Shelby GT 500 drag unit was almost lost to a salvage yard crusher
Resurrecting an old muscle car out of a wrecking yard, especially in the 1980’s, wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. Retrieving said muscle car and discovering 10 years later that it is an extremely rare piece of Shelby and Mustang history is why enthusiasts continue the chase of finding those ultra-rare pieces of muscle car history.
Take the story of Joe Corvello. Back in 1972, at the age of 17, he began to search for a cool ride to roam the California highways. He initially was going to purchase a ’69 Camaro Z/28, but his father thwarted that idea because it had a four-speed manual transmission. So instead Joe picked up a ’70 Mustang Mach 1 with a 351 4V, air conditioning, and the father required automatic transmission.
There were some good times in the sleek SportsRoof that helped make Joe a Ford enthusiast for life. After going through a few more Mustangs and Torinos by the late 1970s Joe had a real performance Mustang, a ’71 Boss 351. Well, what every performance-oriented Mustang fan eventually craves is a Shelby. So in 1980 Joe sold his Boss and was able to locate a one-owner Candyapple Red ’70 Shelby GT 500. Now Joe was the king of cool.
A year later Joe came across another Shelby, a ’67 GT 500, but this one needed some work. Actually, it needed a LOT of work since it was sitting in a wrecking yard. It had been partially parted out with no drivetrain but it still had its Shelby fiberglass panels. Joe was working on a ’68 Mustang convertible and thought about putting the fiberglass body panels on it. The seller said it had been drag raced, which made sense with the notched shock towers, modified rear wheel lip openings and a huge hole in the transmission tunnel. Joe took it home and let it sit for years while work, marriage, buying a home and kids took center stage. Plus, he still had the ’70 GT 500 when he got the urge to put the hammer down.
Now that Joe had two Shelbys in his stable he became a member of the Shelby American Automobile Club. Like most members of SAAC, Joe looked forward to receiving the Shelby American magazine in the mail. He would read it from cover to cover. One issue back in 1989, No. 56, really grabbed his attention. In it was an article about a ’67 GT 500 that was a factory built drag car. Shelby chassis number 1947 came with a factory installed 427 FE big-block and host of other modifications to make it competitive in drag racing. The article listed the owner as unknown and Joe thought how neat it would be to find that car.
Further back in the pages of the Shelby American magazine was another article that for $2 the club would send you copies of the Shelby paperwork that they had on your car. Joe jotted down the VIN from his ’67 shell, never even thinking of comparing it to the prior drag unit article, and mailed it off. Weeks later Joe received a letter and paperwork from SAAC national director Rick Kopec that his ’67 Shelby was the specially built factory drag car. It was a dream come true.
The “Drag Unit, “ as it was referred to on one of the work sheets, is one of just three ’67 Shelbys that came from the factory with the 427 8V side oiler nestled in its engine bay. One of the others is the infamous Super Snake of course. This drag unit was built for a friend of Carroll Shelby by the name of Clint Luheman. Luheman was the President of United California Bank in San Francisco. He did a lot of business with Shelby and owned the first Paxton supercharged ’66 GT 350. Now he told Shelby he wanted to go drag racing, so Shelby put the request into the system to build a ’67 GT 500 to Luheman’s specifications, except for one thing—the transmission. Luheman originally wanted a four-speed, but Shelby convinced him to go with the automatic for more consistent quarter mile ETs down the track.
Shelby’s team went about installing a blueprinted 427 with a Holman and Moody dual-four intake and backing up the stout mill with the aforementioned C6 automatic transmission built by D&H Hydro with a 3,000-rpm stall converter. A Detroit Locker differential with 4.11 gears put the power to the pavement with the help of Traction Master traction bars and drag shocks; 50/50 in the rear and 90/10 in the front. To accommodate the massive rubber in the rear the Shelby American crew altered the rear wheel opening lip by raising it 1½ inches and spreading it 1⅛ inches. You have to have a very keen eye to notice this subtle alteration. The shock towers were cut and plated to make quick changes of the spark plugs a snap at the track. Other goodies like a heavy-duty radiator, custom headers, and an oil cooler assembly were also added to the package. In the end these modifications added another $1,824.76 to the price of the Wimbledon White Shelby. When it was finally invoiced to Mr. Luheman on June 29, 1967 the total price came to $6,110, an absolute bargain when one considers how much a Ford Racing Cobra Jet drag car costs today.
Once Joe received his documentation he began to plan for the restoration of the Shelby. He would spend hours just doing research on the car and locating the missing parts, in addition to the man hours he would spend restoring the historical Snake. Joe purchased the engine from an owner who did not finish his Cobra replica. Heads, intake, water pump and numerous other parts were obtained in a trade of a 1969 Boss 429 shell that Joe had acquired years ago. Joe did all the work, except for refinishing the car, which was done by Freeman’s Auto Body in Merced, California. In all it took about 15 years to finish restoring the Shelby. “I’d work weekends and nights after work. Many times I got tired and the car sat for months,” Joe recalls. “Getting the body panels to fit correctly was very time consuming. I lost track of how many hours, or days, I put into the hood, nose and trunk.”
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At SAAC 30, Joe met Charley Lillard, then the owner of the Super Snake. “I noticed him talking to a guy that seemed very knowledgeable about these cars,” notes Joe. This gentleman was Shelby restorer and SAAC judge Bob Gaines. After convincing an initially skeptical Gaines that he did in fact own the drag unit, Bob offered to give Joe any advice that he needed in getting his Shelby completed to the highest standards possible. “I can’t tell you how much help Bob has been in getting this car to the condition that it is in,” says Joe. “And the work is not over.” Not to be overlooked in getting his car completed he says is his wife Michele, who was always there for support and allowed him to consume all that time in the garage.
Since its completion in 2011, Joe has only shown it a few times. He received an award of merit at the 2011 Ironstone Concours d’Elegance in Murphys, California. At the 2011 Nor-Cal Mini Nats at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Joe won best overall. Most recently at SAAC-38 at the California Raceway in Fontana, Joe’s Shelby took gold in the competition class. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and that’s definitely the case when Joe Corvello saved this piece of Shelby history from the crusher.