Mustang MonthlyFeatured Vehicles
His Childhood Dream Car Was This 1967 Shelby G.T. 500
Horse Trainer: How Shelby acquired some manners in the ’67 G.T. 500
Near the end of 1966, a significant change took place at Shelby American. In a decided shift away from the antisocial G.T. 350, a road-racing rogue of a car, Shelby smoothed out the rough edges to provide a performance car more acceptable to a wider market—the G.T. 500. It was like he had traded in his bib overalls for slacks and a sport coat. After all, his audience was maturing and demanding more civility, and the G.T. 500 was a grown-up sports car for smooth touring—at least by comparison with its predecessor.
Around this same time, Tom Perry-Smith was just a young tyke, enjoying summer break in the High Sierra of California. Little did he know how this escape would affect him for years to come. “I was bitten by the Shelby snake when my parents bought a vacation home at the south end of Lake Tahoe in 1967,” he recalls. “Just down the road was Carroll Shelby’s South Lake Tahoe dealership. I used to ride my bike down to the dealership and just sit in the showroom at the foot of a Brittany Blue G.T. 500.” Shelby owned the dealership from 1968 until 1973, and Tom often wondered if he ever noticed the scruffy kid in the “Ford” T-shirt and shorts that hung around the dealership all summer.
Fast-forward 39 years to the 50-year-old kid that still loved all things Shelby; he came across a G.T. 500 on an eBay auction page in October of 2007. The car was painted in the original Brittany Blue that he so fondly recalled, but had white Le Mans stripes that weren’t original. Although the car appeared to be pretty clean overall, there were a number of other non-original items, such as a Hurst shifter, along with a few others he would uncover later on. Otherwise, the 428ci Police Interceptor engine and sheetmetal were all authentic.
The Marti Report indicated that it was built in San Jose, California, on December 21, 1966. Options included the extra cooling package, heavy-duty battery, courtesy lighting, fold-down rear seat, and power steering and front discs. After being modified at Shelby American’s Los Angeles airport facility, it was sold through Tasca Ford in East Providence, Rhode Island.
Tom couldn’t resist the urge to bid. “What the heck,” he mused. “I won’t end up winning the auction.” And he didn’t—at least not initially. After the previous bidder was unable to come through, the car went back up for auction. “Imagine my excitement! I called the seller and acquired the car a few weeks later.” Once Tom had the G.T. 500 home, he realized that he had a very special car, and how important it was to have it gone through mechanically to ensure longevity. So he started investigating and found Precision Machines in Lodi, California.
“Kevin Sittner, the owner, made a huge impression on me,” Tom recalls. “Here was a guy that not only raced his own 1966 Shelby G.T. 350, but had his own restoration and fabrication facility.” (Note the feature on Sittner’s G.T. 350, the most raced ever, in our July, 2017 issue.)
Tom drove his Shelby to Precision in Lodi, California, about a 70-mile distance that proved to be a bit nerve-wracking for him. “I had to psych up for the drive,” he admits. “Stay in the slow lane, watch for trucks, don’t let anyone get close to me.” So much for a stealthy drive, however. The Shelby was a celebrity on the highway. People recognized the car and signaled their approval with high beams, waves, and even shouts from open windows. How do people recognize a car that was made 30 years before they were born? Such is the mystique of Shelby’s cars.
Even so, this G.T. 500 was in need of some TLC. Kevin pointed out that the most challenging part would be the research to bring the car to the MCA’s Division II Gold Standard and sourcing all the correct parts, as we’ll see. “The devil’s in the details,” he notes. “It’s absolutely brutal. Every piece of the restoration is complicated.”
After all, a few weeks after dropping off the car at Performance Machines, Kevin, the owner, called Tom and explained that this car was even more special than he realized. “It was a very early production model Shelby!” One indicator, aside from the low production number (304, after starting at 0100), were the inboard headlights. The DMV made Shelby move them outboard in later cars, and delete the side running lights installed in the upper scoops. Tom also really appreciated how Shelby made the rear scoops functional by routing the ducting through the body to the rear wheelwells (also deleted in later G.T. 500s for production reasons).
“It was at this point that I decided to pursue a bare-metal restoration,” Tom notes. That was about five years ago. These long-term projects can be a test of persistence and patience, he points out. There are all sorts of stories about the challenges involved in locating OEM parts or fabricating parts to meet factory specifications, and this car was no different in that respect. Creativity and ingenuity are also paramount when doing a concours rebuild. N.O.S. items that required diligent research included Trico wiper blades, the air cleaner, choke filter screen, seatbacks, hood latches, and so on. Kevin’s team was persistent: they even located OEM window glass in 1966-dated boxes.
“My favorite has to be the steering wheel discovery,” he says. About the time when Kevin thought the interior was done, a Shelby owner who happened to be at the shop noted that the wheel, although a Shelby aftermarket piece, was not a Shelby factory wheel. Kevin’s team went to work and after a few months, they located the real deal. It seems that the owner of a 1967 G.T. 500 had totaled his car a year after buying it. He had boxed up the remains 45 years ago and agreed to sell us the steering wheel to complete our car (for more than what the whole car originally sold for!).
Today, the car runs great. After the engine was rebuilt, it was dyno’d at 347 horsepower and 411 lb-ft of torque (originally rated conservatively at 355 horses). “We put a little more cam in this motor,” Kevin recalls, “but we were never shooting for peak horsepower.”
Compared with current models, the Shelby is a large car, and the recirculating ball steering, combined with the large-diameter steering wheel, demand constant inputs. And yes, the car is loud and unrefined—despite Shelby’s attempts at becoming more civilized. But that’s really the whole point, isn’t it? And how can you look at this car and not love those lines and stance?
The design has stood the test of time and bears testimony to simpler times before safety and emissions standards influenced so many elements of automobile design. Besides, what better way to remember summer at Lake Tahoe with Mom and Dad back in the late ’60s?