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Rare Air: The Final Chapter - This November-built 1967 G.T. 500 Shelby Convertible was supposed to be the first of many, except the many never happened
This one-of-one Shelby G.T. 500 convertible, #67413C9A00139, is well known in the Mustang and Shelby world. Mustang #00139 is the only big-block 1967 G.T. convertible ever built by California-based Shelby American, Inc. Mustang Monthly has featured the story of this car once before inside and on the cover of our June 2012 issue, after the initial restoration was completed in 2010 through 2011.
No great story is complete without a twist—or two— and #0139 has certainly carried many rumors, speculation, opinions, controversy, and a bit of mystery over the past five decades. After lots of digging, the convertible’s caretakers Brian and Samantha Styles are only now able to complete the story and explain how only one 1967 G.T. convertible was built. Contrary to previous beliefs, the convertible was never a prototype. It was never intended to be the only one built.
The previous stories and conclusions weren’t necessarily wrong. They were as complete as they could have been based on what was known at the time. Had this story been written during 1980, everyone would have believed Ford didn’t start producing Shelby G.T. convertibles until the 1968 model year. No one had ever seen a 1967 Shelby G.T. convertible before, and without knowing factory production numbers, you would assume none had ever been built. Any claims that such a car existed would have been met with great skepticism, which they were!
As recently as June 2012, when this magazine first published the story of #0139, it was believed the one-off 1967 convertible was a factory prototype or concept car. Therefore, Shelby American intended to build just one. Other previous assumptions include:
• The Mustang convertible was shipped to Shelby American as a complete car, i.e. not with the same parts deleted as with the rest of the cars ordered by Shelby.
• This G.T. 500 and other very early G.T. 500 cars were actually built with S-code 390 engines.
• Shelby American swapped the 390s for 428 engines and added the dual four-barrel carburetors to the big-block cars.
• The 1967 G.T. convertible never wore the 1967-styled Shelby fiberglass.
• A convertible body Shelby wasn’t planned until 1968.
• Shelby American was responsible for designing the 1968 Shelby G.T.
• This convertible was used as a mule for that 1968 design work and Shelby American was responsible for sculpting the prototype 1968-styled fiberglass.
• Because the convertible was a prototype, it should have been crushed according to the standard Ford policy that ensured experimental vehicles never became a liability on public roads.
Nobody currently disputes that #0139 began life as a 1967 Mustang convertible, was ordered on August 11, 1966, built November 21, 1966, at Ford’s San Jose assembly plant, released to Shelby on November 25, and received VIN #67413C9A00139 when Shelby American completed the car on December 7, 1966. It is also widely acknowledged this convertible was the car pictured in all the 1968 ads and sales literature. However, after an additional five years of research, though, it turns out those other assumptions were simply incorrect.
“The car’s previous owner, Jamie Ventrella, is the person responsible for figuring out what the car was,” the Styles says. “No one believed him at the time, but his contribution is perhaps the most important.”
During 1977, Jaime bought what he thought was a 1968 Shelby G.T. 500 convertible from D. Neil Osbjornson in the Chicago suburbs. As he became more familiar with the car, Jaime began to notice many early 1967 oddities throughout the car and, despite its outer appearance, began to speculate the convertible was actually a 1967 model. After years of being stonewalled by SAAC, a frustrated Jaime eventually sold the car to a friend, Richard Kot. Under Richard’s ownership, SAAC gained access to the Shelby American archives with its Ford VIN information and was finally able to authenticate the convertible as a 1967 model. There was only one on record.
Once authenticated, the next question became “why was only one built?” It was assumed the convertible was a prototype. It certainly made sense at the time lacking additional information. How else could you possibly justify the existence of a one-off if it wasn’t a prototype?
But after years of research and deep digging, the Styles’ have discovered the car did indeed wear the parts of a 1967 Shelby. It was the first of a planned run of Shelby convertibles for the 1967 1/2 year. “It was intended to be the first of many, but the many never happened,” Brian Styles says. (See the internal Ford meeting notes Brian dug up in the online sidebar “Insider Documents Found” in which they discuss this fact in the online version of this story on Mustang-360.com.) This fact, in addition to many more make it rare and significant to the Mustang world. He considers this convertible to be the rarest assembly line-built Mustang on earth. All his research has also shed more light on the true state of affairs between Shelby American and Ford Motor Company in late-1966 through early-1967, which led to the Ford Motor Company’s decision to terminate the California-based Shelby Program and give the future business to A.O. Smith in Ionia, Michigan. (More on that later.)
“When we acquired the car in 2009, our initial goal, purpose, and mission was to restore the car to its earliest configuration as a Shelby,” the Styles say. “We set out to find the truth, but had no idea how earth shattering it would be. The photos we found and the evidence we were given during the first year or so, led us to say no matter what, we certainly wouldn’t be wrong restoring the soul of the car to being a 1967 with the some hand-laid 1968 fiberglass components on the car. So that’s how we restored it.”
Like an archeologist catalogs everything they find in an uncovered tomb, the Styles were documenting everything they could find about the car’s past life. They somehow obtained a Ford’s profit-and-loss summary relating to the Shelby Program, microfilm files containing DSOs for every single 1967 Shelby G.T. ordered, corporate-meeting minutes and other material. Each artifact was cataloged and also date-sequenced, so they could populate a timeline. Looking at all the evidence, it’s hard to argue against their findings that this car did indeed begin life as a production car on the San Jose assembly line (destroying the notion that it was a one-off, specially built prototype or concept car). And it most definitely wore the 1967 Shelby-designed fiberglass and other unique parts in December 1966.
What has also emerged is the story of the lead-up to Ford terminating Shelby’s contract to build Mustangs, beginning in the summer of 1966. You are more than likely aware, Carroll Shelby was consumed with Henry II’s desire to win at LeMans with the GT40 program, and 1966 was the year they did it. Knowing Shelby and the pressure he was under with the GT40s, it is understandable that the street cars took a back seat in regards to his time and interest. “Ford didn’t have Shelby build Mustangs so they could sell more Mustangs,” Styles says. “They did it so they could race them in SCCA.”
When reviewing the P&L summary, the first thing we notice is that Shelby was getting a guaranteed profit payment of $50k annually, which commenced the same year the Mustang-based product entered production. This is really important. The statement also told us the Shelby program lost $311,000 in 1965, building 500 G.T. cars, but still had the promised payment of $50,000. In 1966, Shelby sold 2,300 cars or so and the program profited $310,000, almost exactly a wash. Looking at the two years together, it was a net-neutral transaction. Coincidence perhaps? Luck maybe?
“Imagine you’re Carroll Shelby and your focus is on the race program, and you’ve also got this road car production company,” Brian says. “Perhaps a distracted CEO simply looked at the numbers in red and black and thought: We went from losing money the first year to a $100k profit the following year. That’s a $620,000 spread in only 12 months! Now, it’s time to up the ante and roll the dice, Texas-style."
“Looking at the Mustang-based Shelby G.T. in 1965, there was a single car—the G.T. 350 Fastback,” Brian says. “The same was true for 1966. Based on newly discovered paperwork and the use of package codes on the DSOs we can see Shelby’s plan for 1967 was to offer six different cars: two engines (small-block and big-block); and three different body styles—fastback, coupe, and convertible, with the coupe and convertible planned as mid-year models. It was an aggressive plan based solely on the confidence gained from the radical increase in sales, but they seem to have missed one crucial factor in those sales numbers.
Now, think about this: Shelby went from building 500 Mustang-based cars and losing money in 1965, to 2,300 cars and making money the next year. What was the difference in sales? Hertz Rent-a-Car bought close to half of the entire 1966 production run. “Do you think Shelby would have made a profit if they sold half the cars they did in 1966?” Brian says. “Maybe they would have broken even, though they probably wouldn’t have profited. A profit that suspiciously made-up for the loss the previous year. How convenient. If the Hertz program had not happened, Shelby would not have been profitable. Former employees I’ve interviewed have indicated that had the Hertz deal not happened, they wouldn’t have survived 1966. We now have the paperwork to back that up. After all, as a business Ford has a tolerance, but just so much.”
And guess who the majority shareholder of Hertz was? Yep, that would be Ford Motor Company. The oft-told story is that Hertz demanded 1,000 Shelby G.T.s for their rental fleet, but the real story might be that they were highly encouraged by Ford to buy the cars to offset the financial loss of Shelby in 1965.
Is the picture starting to become clearer?
One of the key pieces to the puzzle of how the convertible looked in the first four months of its life lies in the restoration of the car commissioned by the Volo Auto Museum when they bought it at auction in 2001. They restored it with 1967 Shelby parts due to the parts and signs that they found on the car.
“When we got the car, it was styled as a 1967 since that’s how Volo had restored it,” Brian says. “ When they tore it down for restoration, they found fingerprints and telltale signs that led them to believe the car was indeed styled as a 1967. There was clear evidence of tailpan modifications to accept the 1967 Cougar tail lights, 1967 Shelby inboard headlight wiring, the 1967 emblem on the passenger dash panel, and more.
This is very important. Regardless of what they had found, the experts still had their opinions. Because Volo had restored it that way, somewhat against the opinion of some experts, a black cloud followed this car around. Whether Volo was right or wrong, once that perception exists, it is hard to get away from it.”
The beginning of the rift in the Mustang program between Shelby American and Ford Motor Company had begun when the Shelby-designed fiberglass parts wouldn’t fit the 1967 production cars after they were delivered. One persistent, plausible rumor is that Ford sent Shelby a pre-production shell (or buck) of a 1967 Mustang around August 1966 for Shelby to develop his unique fiberglass parts on. He wanted his own car that was more unique than the Mustang upon which it was based. The rumor goes Ford failed to mention that the buck they sent had been used in some low-speed seatbelt sled testing. If you’ve ever seen the crash-test dummy videos, you know the body shell was most likely tweaked. Probably not visually, but certainly it would not be right when you’re developing tens of thousands of dollars of fiberglass parts with tight clearance specs to bolt on to it.
So when the production 1967 Mustangs rolled off the truck from San Jose, none of Shelby’s fiberglass parts would fit. They were instantly behind the eight-ball to meet production schedules.
As Shelby was spending days and weeks making the parts fit, cars were backing up and they couldn’t ship them out. By the third month of ordering, October 1966, the ordering process changed, and it began to crumble. Styles said, “This is evident when looking at the DSOs en-masse,” Brian says. “For example, With the exception of the one order for 100 small-block cars, almost all of the DSOs were for one car each, with very few part deletions on these first cars. Looking at the spreadsheet I built, the guy in charge of ordering the cars was Gerald W. Nuznoff, the purchaser for Shelby American. He was the same guy as in 1965 and 1966. However, when we look at DSOs in October 1966 that changes. It’s no longer him; it’s Ray Geddes doing it, who was a Ford employee. That’s significant.”
Due to launch problems with the program, Ford Motor Company stepped in and took control, sending Ray Geddes to run purchasing and inserted Fred Goodell as Chief Engineer. Ford also turned to A.O. Smith Plastics in Michigan (who built the Corvette fiberglass bodies) to help solve the fiberglass issues. “The cars showed up, but they can’t assemble them,” Brian says. “It was chaos at Shelby. So Ford steps in and takes control, as evidenced in the orders.”
What about this convertible? Number 0139 was completed a week behind schedule at the San Jose plant and released to Shelby American on November 25, 1966. It was the third G.T. 500 (big-block) to be completed. On December 07, Shelby deemed the convertible complete. That means the car originally wore the 1967 Shelby styling. A.O. Smith hadn’t even developed the new 1968 parts yet. It’s also worth pointing out that, unlike Ford, Shelby American VINs were assigned when the car was completed, not when it was started.
“Robert Carlson, Sales Manager at High Performance Motors, recalls Carroll Shelby driving-up in the red G.T. 500 convertible (#0139),” Brian says. “It caused a bunch of excitement according to Carlson. Everyone in the dealership came outside and gathered around the new 1967 G.T. 500 convertible to get a closer look.’" Carlson left Shelby in January 1967 to take care of his family, which indicates this event took place in December 1966.
The convertible was intended to be a mid-year offering. However by the time the models would have entered production, Ford made the decision to postpone its mid-year debut until the following year (see the meeting notes in the document online). In March of 1967, A.O Smith shipped the 1968-styled hand-laid fiberglass parts (two hoods, front ends, taillight panels, and center consoles) to Shelby to modify two cars, one fastback and one convertible for “photographic purposes.”
There is much more to the story and this car’s history than we can possibly deliver in a single print story. Check out Mustang-360.com for, as Paul Harvey used to famously say, “the rest of the story.” For now, Sam and Brian Styles are content to be the car’s caretakers for this chapter in life, especially after solving the mystery that has shadowed this car since the day it rolled off the San Jose assembly line in 1966.
If you want to see even more of the research material, timeline, and more about this unique 1967 Shelby G.T. 500 convertible, check out 1967shelbyconvertible.com.
The Theft of #0139
“When Carroll Shelby was interviewed in 2003, he indicated that the convertible was his personal driver,” says Brian Styles, current caretaker of the car. “According to employee interviews I collected, Carroll was driving that car during December 1966, and it was styled as a 1967. Never mind the opinions. I have interviewed people who were there. I heard he preferred driving Thunderbirds. Speculation is he probably loaned #0139 to one of the girls who worked in the upstairs executive office and used to be the receptionist at the Venice shop. She had been with Shelby a long time.”
Whatever soap-opera situation you may want to imagine, Shelby had to restyle the convertible, changing it from the 1967 parts it had to the new A.O. Smith 1968 parts. He painted it white (to stand out better on the black-and-white magazine pages of the day), and prepared it for press and marketing photography. Perhaps he had a hard time getting the car back from the employee due to a misunderstanding of what was a loan versus gift. Whatever was going on, an employee reported to the police that the car had been stolen. Apparently, it was soon recovered in the Palos Verdes hills (not far from Shelby’s facility) with some of the bolt-on parts, such as the wheels and carburetors, air cleaner assembly, steering wheel, and other parts, missing. Interestingly, the police reports and also stories from the Shelby employees who went to retrieve the car show the thieves were out of the ordinary and very professionally stripped the car. For example, the wheels were taken, but the lug nuts were re-installed back on the studs, and the radio was gone but not a wire was cut.
An insurance claim of $506 from Zurich American Insurance on June 20, 1967, for “repairs of engineering 1968 prototype convertible.” The claim was paid to Shelby to recoup the losses, and the parts list of what was taken looks nearly identical to the parts that would have been removed to convert it from a 1967 to a 1968. Hmmmmm. In an interview with SAAC in 2003, Shelby teased that something fishy may have been going on. As Donald Farr wrote about the situation in his June 2012 Mustang Monthly story on the car (www.mustang-360.com/featured-vehicles/mump-1206-1967-shelby-convertible-rare-air) “[Carroll] laughed about the ‘stolen car’ story, saying that was simply the ‘public version.’ He stopped short of an explanation, wrapping up his comments with, ‘It's better to let a sleeping dog lie.’"
We never did get the full story. Although, perhaps a little mystery makes the story even better.
Rarity & Significance as a Shelby American G.T.
While the historical significance and rarity of the 1967 G.T. 500 Convertible has been long-known in the Shelby community, it wasn't until after another decade of fact-finding and published research that the rest of the automotive community came to know just how significant this car actually is. #0139 isn't just the rarest Ford Mustang or Shelby G.T. This convertible is undeniably the world's rarest production automobile.
• The only 1967 Shelby G.T. convertible ordered, serialized and built.
• The only G.T. 500 convertible serialized and built by Shelby American.
• The only G.T. convertible ordered with and factory-equipped with dual-quad carburetors.
• The third G.T. 500 to be serialized and completed.
• First was a fastback (0100), second was a coupe (0131), and then this convertible (0139).
• One of two 1967 model year vehicles to be upgraded with 1968-styled fiberglass for photographic purposes. The other car was an Acapulco Blue fastback.
• Valued at $4,249.76, the convertible was the most expensive G.T. 500 in Shelby American's company car inventory (per the Vehicle Fixed Asset Ledger 07/31/1967). This number doesn't include the $7,396 worth of handcrafted '68 styled fiberglass from A.O. Smith (in 2014 dollars, that's an additional $50,000 of parts).
• Initially claimed by Carroll Shelby as his "personal driver."
• One of the most photographed and publicized Shelby G.T. cars ever built. This was the convertible seen on the cover of the press kits, dealer literature and featured in every print ad introducing the 1968 Shelby Cobra G.T. models.
And Since This G.T. was Born on the Ford Mustang Assembly Line:
• The first Ford Mustang convertible to receive a 428cu.in. engine
• The only 1967 Mustang convertible factory-equipped with a 428 engine.
• The only Mustang convertible to be factory equipped with dual-quad (8v) carburetion.
• The third Mustang (all body styles) completed with a 428cu.in. engine.
• Recipient of first Ford reinforced C-6 "PCG-R" automatic gearbox, tag # PCG-R 000001.
Rarity as Compared to all Pony/Muscle Cars:
When looking beyond this car's significance to the Ford and Shelby arena, it's also worth pointing out that this is the only known convertible pony car that received both dual-quad (2x4bbl) carburetion and air conditioning from the factory. The only other convertible pony cars to get dual-quads would be the 426ci Hemi cars, and none of those ever received factory air conditioning.
As Fate Would Have It
Many know it was common practice for automobile manufacturers, including Ford, to destroy pre-production prototypes and heavily modified post-production vehicles rather than expose them to the liability of having them somehow end up on public roads.
Ford also had a well-established history of selling safe, unmodified, regular production cars through their B-lot, which is exactly how the twelve 19641/2 Mustangs were disposed of after being used for the Magic Skyway Ride at the 1965 World’s Fair.
In the case of this 1967 convertible, Shelby’s use of the term disposal on internal hand-written documents simply implied that they would ship the car to Ford, along with all their other fixed assets when the Los Angeles operation was finally shuttered in August 1967.
The 1968 Shelby G.T. Was Designed by Ford, Not Shelby American
The numerous design changes between the 1967 and 1968 Shelby models weren’t for looks. They were to fix the problems caused by Shelby American’s design of the 1967 G.T. model. Problems included:
• The combination of the new front-end and hood provided a clamshell design that minimized hood-lift at speed.
• Widening and moving the hood scoop forward did a better job of capturing more amounts of fresh air for the large Holley carburetor.
• The added hood vents helped to extract the warm air from the engine bay (an update introduced mid-cycle to help eliminate the overheating problems on 1967 big block cars equipped with air conditioning).
• The rectangular Marchal lights set in the grille opening blocked less fresh air than the larger 6-inch circular inboard lights. They also didn’t upset the California DMV.
• The redesigned rear valance replaced the 1967 Cougar tail lights with those from a 1965 Ford Thunderbird. The shallower T-bird assemblies required less butchery of the Mustang’s rear panel, resulting in a better seal against noxious fumes and dust entering the trunk and passenger compartment.
• The addition of the new center console provided the interior with added comfort and additional storage.
• The added exterior bright-work and interior wood-grain applique were about the only purely aesthetic changes that Ford made to the car.
Insider Documents Found!
The Styles’ website (1967shelbyconvertible.com) has all of the documents that they were able to uncover during their research into this car’s history, and reveal the details of the thought processes and decisions made during that timeframe, as well as much, much more. Here are a few of them, including the 1966-06-07 Staff Meeting Minutes that discuss the planned convertibles.