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Rode Hard and Put Away Wet: Shelby G.T. 350
The Warhorse: This battle-hardened Shelby G.T. 350 might be the most raced Shelby ever!
There can be only one. Which Shelby G.T. 350 ran the most races of all time? You see it here. This 1966 was driven in anger on the track at least 87 times over its long, storied history. That’s more than any Shelby known. (Check out the entries in the 2011 SAAC Shelby Registry, pages 241 and 367.) And that figure doesn’t include any vintage races, either.
On top of its lengthy track duty, it also probably holds a record for being driven the shortest distance ever on the street, a scant 16 miles from the dealership to its first owner’s shop. It was dedicated solely to competition after that, never to be driven on public roads again.
Built in 1965 at Ford’s San Jose plant and completed at Carroll Shelby’s L.A. airport facility, it was later shipped to a Chicago-area dealer as an on-sale 1966 G.T. 350. Although not one of the ultra-rare, factory-prepped R models, it still holds the distinction of being one of the few carryover cars, #179 of 252 1965 cars offered as 1966 models. Wily Shel’ likely had an excess of 1965 models and found a way to sell them as new 1966 models, according to the car’s current owner Kevin Sittner. (A feat Shelby later attempted to repeat with the ill-fated Shelby Series 1, but that’s another long story.)
This Shelby G.T. 350’s competition life began when a Chicago-area group headed by racer Arnie Fick purchased it for the princely sum of $3,586.25. The O.A. Fick Tool Works and Turtle Wax sponsored the car, #38, which had two drivers: Tom Hickey and Ralph Webb.
Arnie sold the car to hot-shoe John Mahler in January 1967, who rebadged it as #99. John was an especially talented driver, qualifying in four Indy 500s, among many other events. He drove the Shelby at Mid-Ohio and Lake Garnett, Kansas, during 1968. He really loved to drive the car, according to Kevin, and still carries a picture of it in his briefcase to this day.
John sold it in December 1968 to Bill Paul, who became the major campaigner of the Shelby. Bill ran it an astounding 83 times in SCCA, Trans-Am, Mid West Council, and IMSA until he retired in 1983.
During his racing phase, and typical of many race cars, the G.T. 350 was modified several times. While it started out in B-Production, it morphed into a Trans-Am car, running at Pocono Raceway in the early ’70s with bigger tires (700x15 in the rear) that required enlarging the fenderwells. It also got bigger brakes, four-wheel discs grafted from 1969-1970 Boss 302 fronts, moved to the rear by employing special brackets. The front calipers were Lincoln Continental four-piston Kelsey Hayes. Given what the Trans-Am regulations allowed, the 289 block was probably punched out to 302 cubes, Kevin points out.
For the GT-1 Class, the shock towers upgraded to later-model units, allowing more room for bigger engines. The Shelby Registry shows the spectrum of race mills used on this particular G.T. 350 included 289, Boss 302, 351C, and 345 Boss engines. The suspension was modified in other ways, as well using 1969-1970 lower control arms that were longer and had better adjustability with a Very Eccentric Cam. Wilwood supplied NASCAR brakes and rotors, used in combination with Lincoln binders. The fenderwells were enlarged even further with Maier Racing bubble flares. All of these mods were important to track. Kevin would later have to undo them when returning the Shelby G.T. 350 to its original B-Production specs.
Looking back on its storied racing career, this Shelby was the last one to win both Regional and National SCCA events (yet another record). It ran at just about every track in the country you can name, until retiring into Bill Paul’s shop during 1989 lacking an engine. There it languished until Kevin discovered it for sale online in February 2015.
“It just popped up on my computer,” Kevin says. “I was actually looking for a Boss 302 Mustang.” However, he told his friend Dan Eakins. “We need to look at the Bill Paul car. It has a lot more pedigree.”
A computer whiz of sorts, Dan figured out a way to determine the reserve price using a so-called sniper program. By March 2009, the two acquired the car for $100 over the reserve price: $80,100. Coincidentally, Kevin says he was bidding against one of the guys he races against, but took away the inside line just six seconds before the bidding ended. The drama of eBay!
Kevin and Dan decided to buy it together due to the Shelby’s rich race history and the SCCA logbooks that go back to 1971, despite the fact that it had no motor or transmission, basically just a rolling chassis. Dan later sold his interest to Bill Godwin, who was instrumental in restoring the car for the Monterey Historics during 2015. “He was a key person in getting the car back to original condition,” Kevin says, who later bought out Godwin’s share.
Given the car had been ridden really hard and put away soaking wet, a significant amount of rework needed to be done to bring it back from a modified shell for GT-1 racing to a B-Production historic race car. When Kevin took possession, it was really a mess. It was a roller with no drivetrain surrounded by spare parts. Fortunately, Kevin is an auto restorer and accomplished racer. He was able to return this famous Shelby to its glory days with help from the workers in his shop, Precision Machines. He also had a little help from his friend Charlie Lincoln.
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All work was done in-house. The body had been crudely lightened for racing, drilled with a hole saw in every nook and cranny in order to save weight.
“It was Swiss cheese,” Kevin says. The rollcage had the original Shelby hoop and was mostly made out of black pipe, not up to modern racing spec. “We left the modifications alone as much as possible to leave the original patina, the race-car look.” Some stuff was just a bit too funky, though. The dash was missing, so he mounted the Auto Meter gauges on a solid piece of hardwood. They joked it was literally a “dash board.”
The shop crew took out the 1969 shock towers, and faithfully returned the chassis to its 1965 era. The firewall had so many holes it had to be replaced, along with the floorpans and dash, while ensuring that the correct date codes were on all the panels.
As for the drivetrain, the engine was built at Precision Machines (Lodi, California) using a 1969 Boss 302 block that Sittner already had in stock. He fitted new sleeves and a 289 crank. “It’s a long-rod motor for more power, with 351W heads,” he says. When it was dyno’d, he was hoping for 450 horses. The 289 exceeded his expectations and delivered 487hp. It’s backed by an aluminum T-10 trans that came out of a Bill Elliott 1990 race car, hooked up to a 4.56:1 Detroit Locker.
They all were working on the car right until the night before the 2015 Monterey Historics. Racing in this amazing international event was a thrilling opportunity, according to Kevin. One of the coolest things he got to do was go with all the other G.T. 350 cars to The Quail for display and lunch with Jay Leno, Aaron Shelby, and William Ford just to name a few. “You get to meet the nicest people through the ownership and campaigning of such an interesting piece of racing history,” Kevin says.
Does he have any reservations when on the track with such a significant Shelby? Not really. However, he’s careful not to put it in harm’s way.
“It was built to race, so that what it does,” he says. “There’s nothing better than running competitive and pulling into the pits. Everybody crowds around, all excited about seeing it run on the track. It’s all about continuing the lineage.”