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1966 Shelby G.T. 350: Octogenarians Can Drive Early Shelby Mustangs
Social Media Shelby: Shelby owner Margaret Alley’s love affair with her Shelby G.T. 350 spans five decades as the little old Shelby-driving lady from Southern California!
Stories like this come about in strange, sometimes serendipitous ways. Last year, covering the San Marino Motor Classic in Southern California for our sister publication, Muscle Car Review, I ventured into the Pony Car class and saw a blue 1966 Shelby G.T. 350. Not much unexpected there, but as I photographed the car I saw an older woman behind the car, talking to someone about the car. I walked up to her and asked the obvious question, “Is this your husband’s car?” to which she answered, “It’s my car!”
The editor of Muscle Car Review (MCR) had asked for me to get six videos for the magazine’s online coverage, so I decided to do a video with my smartphone. As soon as it was finished, I posted it to my Facebook timeline and went about my work covering the event for MCR, and I didn’t see that the video went viral. By the time I got home and checked my Facebook page, the video had generated more than 10,000 views. But back in San Marino, the story took an even more unexpected turn. As Margaret and her family packed up to go home a number of people near the review stand started shouting, “Go Granny, Go.” And what did Margaret do? She waved to them and gunned the engine.
Margaret’s husband, Paul, bought the car from a neighbor when it was about a year old, in 1967. At the time he was a long-distance truck driver for Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach. Douglas drivers transported aircraft parts to various locations in the United States and missile parts to Cape Canaveral. Margaret was a computer programmer working for a bank, so it’s not surprising that she is social media active. Paul and Margaret had owned various sports cars since the mid 1950s and participated in rallies, slaloms, gymkhanas, and time trials over the years.
“Paul always wanted a fast car and at one time had put a Chevy engine in an Austin-Healey,” says Margaret. “He and his friends were always tinkering with cars in the garage. In fact, the reason we bought our home was because of a beam in the garage that would hold a two-ton hoist he had so he could pull engines and work on them.”
Carl, Paul’s bowling buddy across the street, purchased the Shelby in 1966. Carl liked the drag races and participated in the drags at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach. He’d had limited success with other cars and he thought the Shelby would be his winning automobile. That’s why it has an automatic transmission; he thought that would give him an edge on the strip. It did not work out that way.
Margaret noted that Paul wanted that car. Carl had developed back problems and his wife did not want to drive the Shelby because it did not have power steering and power brakes. She had a 1964½ Mustang and was very happy with it. Paul finally talked Carl into selling him the Shelby for a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle and some cash, and the Mustang became Paul’s go-to-work car. He drove it to work, and at night it was parked in the garage or driveway. When he was away on a trip for Douglas, the car was parked in the employee parking lot. Margaret said, “We made one trip as a family in the car around 1969 up into the Redwoods and along the coast. It was not the most comfortable trip we had ever taken and we did not repeat the experience.”
In talking with Margaret, she noted that they have always been the kind of family that when they purchased an automobile, they kept it. “It is not unusual for us to keep a car for 15 years or more. We have always maintained our cars in good condition, and I guess knowing a bit about the mechanics has helped. The Shelby became a family fixture. It was Paul’s work car, and of course as the years passed, the car’s value increased. We had it painted once at one of those cheapie-quickie paint shops and that lasted about six months, so we started thinking about having it really painted.”
“Paul saw a car that was in great condition and inquired about the paint and was told it was done by Beverly Hills Mustang. In May 1981 we went over to their shop and were told that they were building replica Shelby Mustangs for Shelby. We said OK and turned the car over to them for paint and upholstery. Paul wanted Le Mans stripes on the car and when it was painted it was a darker blue with white stripes.”
Years later, after Paul and Margaret had the car painted, they realized that the value had increased significantly and that the car was more visible and outstanding with the stripes. Originally purchased for Paul to drive to work, it had become much too valuable to continue in that role. With the Shelby now the family’s third vehicle, it spent more and more time in the garage. By 1990 the car had not been driven enough to warrant keeping it registered for the road, so it was registered as non-operational. The car was covered in blankets and just sat in the garage.
In 2015, Margaret mentioned to their daughter Mary that she had thought about selling the Shelby, to which Mary stated, “I would like to drive it just once.” Thus began the process of finding someone to restore the car. Margaret commented, “We visited several so-called ‘restorers,’ but we were not that excited about what we saw. I was talking to my landscape gardener about the car and he recommended Mike Abssy of Schraders Speed and Style in Azusa, California. I went by Mike’s shop on a Friday and was impressed with the vehicles that I saw, so I left my card and asked that he call me as I had an original Shelby Mustang that I wanted restored. When Mike called me on Monday and arranged to come by and see the car, he was skeptical about the ‘original’ part, but when he saw the car and crawled under it, he was convinced it was an original car. He then told me he could pick it up on Thursday. He wanted to work on the car.”
In photographing the car for this feature, one has to be impressed by the quality of the restoration and the attention to detail. What’s even more impressive is Margaret’s knowledge about Shelby Mustangs and her car in particular. When asked if she had the owner’s manual she replied yes. When I asked to photograph the owner’s manual on-site on the afternoon and early evening of our photo shoot in April, she looked at me as if I was crazy. “Richard, it’s much too valuable to keep with the car. Have you seen the prices that manuals in good condition fetch today?”
And how the car made it on to the Lacy Park show field for the 2017 San Marino Motor Classic is a story itself. Margaret explains. “While the car was being worked on at Schraders, Joseph Salvo, Assistant Class Manager American Muscle Class for the San Marino Motor Classic, stopped by the shop and saw the Shelby. He told Mike that he was extending an invitation to the owner to exhibit the car in the 2017 show. Mary and I discussed the invitation and since the car was newly completed, we thought it would be a great experience for us.”
“I thought the car was a hit at the show,” says Margaret. “Lots of people came by and took pictures. When they found out that I was the owner and that I actually drove the car, many just looked at me and all my gray hair in disbelief. I heard one comment that ‘I’ve now met the little old lady from Pasadena.’” And as said earlier, Margaret drove off to a chorus of “Go Granny, Go.” By the time interest died down, a week later, the original Facebook video had been viewed more than 60,000 times. “I can’t believe that the video has been seen 60,000 times,” says Margaret. “It was a shock to see it hit 30,000. I thought people had more important things to do with their time.”
While she’s not active in the classic Mustang community and does not belong to any clubs, Margaret keeps herself very busy. She belongs to several local women’s clubs and history organizations. She doesn’t get out a lot with the car, but when she does she enjoys driving it around in the community to keep it in good running condition. She firmly believes that new is not always better. She says, “Grow old with your toys—take care of them and they will reward you in the future.”
For those of you not living in Southern California, you’re probably not familiar with the iconic “Fly DC Jets” sign in Long Beach atop the building where Douglas once built its famous family of commercial jets; the four-engine DC8 and the twin-engine DC9 (later the McDonnell Douglas MD-95 and finally the Boeing 717). So when it came time to select a location to photograph Margaret with the car, paying tribute to Paul, who passed away in 2010, the location choice was obvious. The building now houses the Mercedes-Benz Vehicle Preparation Center. When the site was redeveloped in 2014 the City of Long Beach insisted that the sign remain—a reminder of when this facility, like so many others, was part of the Arsenal of Democracy and Southern California’s aerospace legacy. Something tells us that Paul would have been happy about the way things turned out.