Jerry Heasley
January 26, 2015

“I am not a car guy in general. This car needs somebody like my uncle,” Tom Sprague explained to us. Lewis H. Hunter bought this ’69 Shelby G.T. 500, a stunning Grabber Blue convertible, brand new from Morristown Auto Sales in Morristown, New Jersey. The Shelby Registry lists shipment day as June 18, 1969. His trade-in was a ’65 Mustang GT convertible.

Tom, who was 16 in 1969, heard stories about his uncle’s car for over 40 years. He said Lew was really “anxious” for his new Shelby to arrive in 1969. “The salesman called and said, ‘Your car is lost on a train somewhere. We’ll find it, but for now we have another Shelby that is in. You can have it instead if you want.’” But Hunter, who was a true car enthusiast, said no. He wanted the Grabber Blue G.T. 500 he special ordered. “So, he waited another month for his car to arrive,” Tom states.

Tom was having fun showing his uncle’s car during SAAC-39 at Road America near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. But, he was honest. “I’m just storing it. It makes me nervous. I can’t just drive it to the drug store and leave it in the parking lot.” Therefore, Tom was reluctantly going to sell the G.T. 500. His mission was more to find another owner like his uncle, than to just sell out. “Lew drove the Shelby as his main car for 20 years. He put 102,000 miles on the odometer by September of 1989.” That was the year Hunter decided to restore his Shelby. He sent the car to Mustang Restorations in nearby East Dundee, Illinois. “It took them two to three years to get it all done. From 1992 until he died, my uncle showed his car, mostly in and around Illinois and Wisconsin,” Tom explains.

The FE big-block and surrounding engine bay received a major detailing during the restoration 25 years ago and still looks show-ready today with just the lightest of wear.

Weekends during car show seasons would find Hunter at little Midwest Ford and Shelby shows. “My uncle was an SAAC member from year one and I don’t think he ever missed a convention. That was just his hobby. He loved it.” As a consequence, Tom also inherited two bedrooms full of plaques and trophies. The restoration was a good job, but Tom said his uncle was not after a concours show car. Instead, he preferred more of a driver. “I remember my uncle telling me that Carroll Shelby would always tell people ‘don’t put my cars in a museum, drive them.’ My uncle took that to heart.”

Being an SAAC member and attending all those shows, Hunter got to meet Shelby. “He was impressed Carroll was just a regular guy and how he could talk his language.” Hunter, born in 1927, was in the Air Force in the late ’50s. He was a diesel mechanic stationed in Europe and later in Greenland. Apparently, when he bought the Shelby in New Jersey in 1969, Hunter planned to keep the car his entire life. He told Tom the Christmas of 1972, “Someday that’s going to be your car.”

Like the engine compartment, the interior was completely gone through during the 1989 restoration efforts by Mustang Restorations. Twenty-five years later there is some light wear and dust from sitting, but the Shelby’s interior is very presentable.
New for 1969, Shelby updated its Mustangs with these 15x7 five-spoke wheels. Aluminum centers were originally press fitted and bonded to the steel rims, but these were quickly recalled due to failures. The updated rims were assembled using rivets, much like the early ’65-’66 Mustang’s Styled Steel wheels.

Hunter had just moved from New Jersey to Schaumburg, Illinois, in the suburbs of Chicago where his sister lived. Tom got very interested in the car at this time. He was driving a four-cylinder Corvair to high school. The G.T. 500 provided a big jolt to his senses. The color and the beauty of the car struck him. His first ride in the Grabber Blue, 428 Cobra Jet Shelby G.T. 500 convertible with a four-speed transmission made the teenager feel “like I had died and gone to heaven.” One more interesting bit of information Tom mentioned is his uncle wrote down every tank of gas, every oil change, every trip, all the miles, and “all those sorts of things” in little journals.

Tom inherited his uncle’s Shelby in October of 2008, but left the car under the estate name. This way, a new owner could say he or she bought the car from the estate, rather than introducing a new owner’s name. Several years have passed. Tom says he has enjoyed the car. He’s not really trying to sell. But, one day, if the right person comes along—a person like his uncle who enjoyed driving the car—he would sell. SAAC-39 seemed fertile ground for such a pursuit, but Tom still owns his uncle’s ride. Until then, this original-owner ’69 Shelby G.T. 500 is a rider-less horse.