Scott Killeen
May 1, 1998
Contributers: Scott Killeen

The garage door to the house closes with a start. It's dark and foggy outside--on the light side of 5:30 a.m. Time to do the grind. A suited body slips into leather upholstery. Double-sided teeth slide through the tumblers. A sleeping 5.4L Modular V-8 comes to life, warming for another Lincoln Navigator trek down the Santa Monica Freeway to downtown Los Angeles. Mario Veltri, Certified Public Accountant, is going to work.

Downtown Los Angeles can be a noisy place. There's the unending roar of traffic and people. Skyscrapers tickle the heavens. Elevators cover hundreds of miles daily--vertically--ferrying business commuters to boxes with windows called offices. Fingers stroke the keys of calculators and computer keyboards.

Electrons move at the speed of light. Telephone receivers remain at 98.6 degrees F. Fax machines consume paper at a tree-quaking rate. Pencils and gray matter crunch numbers. This is the hum of American business at work. Nearly 30 years ago, with a solid passion for numbers in tow, Mario Veltri founded his own accounting firm. Mario understands what it means to work hard and work smart. He has earned the respect of his colleagues. His reputation precedes him, because he enjoys a clientele who has known and trusted him for the better part of three decades. Life is sweet, and it has never been more grand.

But a guy can only take so much of the pressures of business and society before it's time to escape where most people never go. It's bright and early on a Saturday morning. Coastal fog is lifting. A car-trailer ramp smacks the asphalt. Double-sided teeth slide through the tumblers again. The whirr of an electric fuel pump disturbs the desert stillness. A reduction gear starter spins the flywheel with a twist. High-octane fumes, vacuum, pressure, and spark meet at the piston dome for that first light-off of the day. Mario Veltri is going racing in a '66 GT350.

The thundering roar of a sophisticated Ford small-block excites the senses. Mario takes a deep breath, checks the security of his restraint harness, does a quick pass across the gauges, and eases out on the clutch. The driveshaft turns. Ring and pinion mesh. BFGoodrich Comp T/As embrace the firmament with sincerity. A track awaits.

Veltri embraces the Carrera steering wheel and roars out of the pit area at Willow Springs Raceway near Mojave. Sunshine warms his shoulders. Wind encircles his curly gray temples. Fresh, cool desert air rolls through the windows, safety nets, and brake cooling ducts. A lukewarm small-block takes on lungfuls.

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Mario is one of the founders and a current officer of the Los Angeles chapter of the Shelby American Automobile Club. It doesn't get any more Shelby than this, because this is where it all began more than 30 years ago when ol' Shel' himself was churning out these puppies from his Los Angeles International Airport facility. The facility is all but gone. But passion for the cars he produced certainly isn't. It's alive and well on the streets of Willow.

Veltri winds the "C6FE" GT40 small-block to 7,800 rpm. If you've just tuned in, this isn't a modern-day GT-40 piece from Ford Motorsport SVO, it is an original GT40 race block from the days when Henry Ford II was courting Christine and his company was kicking European posteriors at Le Mans. Mario put his GT40 race block into the very capable hands of Dave Dralle, who topped the GT40 block with very compatible GT40 heads of the same vintage. Mario's world would soon be complete.

Dave fitted the high-nickel block with a Boss 302 steel crank, 5-400 Carillo rods, custom-ground pistons, and his own custom cam drive. With the short-block intact, Dave topped the mill with an Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold and a 750-cfm Holley. That's correct: It's a dual-plane manifold yielding abundant torque at mid- and high-rpm ranges--perfect for the roundy-round.

Mario grabs Second and builds speed with fury. He smiles to himself, thinking of the good life--his family, wife Alice, his business success--getting to the finish line at speed. A stab at the accelerator rings the steel crank to 7,500 rpm. Mario thrusts the shifter into Third, then Fourth. We're cruising with Mario at nearly 130 mph. Grand indeed.

Because safety is so important when you're flying at sea level, Mario looked to Kimmins Coach Craft out in Lake Havasu, Arizona--nearly 300 miles from Los Angeles on the Colorado River. Kimmins custom-crafted the body to accommodate Mr. Veltri's needs, including the construction of a safety cage and a NASCAR racing seat. A fire-suppression system provides added safety for the driver's compartment, engine room, and fuel-tank area. That's nice to know.

Big Lincoln disc brakes haul this hoss under control long after the thrust of the spurs is forgotten. Koni shocks, stiff racing springs, and a telephone pole-thick swaybar keep Mario and his Shelby focused.

Do you like the glistening red finish? Bob Cunningham of Bay Area Auto Body in San Pedro, California, did the bodywork and dipped the GT350 in several coats of Candyapple Red.

A beautifully restored and constructed 6S1514 rounds the esses, cuts the apexes, and blasts down the straights. As Mario heads down the final stretch, he reflects on his Shelby's history: its birth at San Jose, its slap on the bottom at Shelby American, its original sale at Carroll Shelby's own High Performance Motors, and the sale that led Mario to this moment at Willow. His emotion reminds us that there's a little bit of SCCA B-production fever in each of us.