Jim Smart
December 1, 2004
Photos By: Jeff Tann

John DeRau hails from northern Illinois' coal country. To understand the dynamics of the region, you had to have been there and known the people. I've been there, and I certainly remember the people. A couple of the names John mentioned on his information sheet hold fond memories for me: John James and Dick McKay.

John DeReu has had the good fortune of knowing these gentlemen, as well. They have helped him restore this Raven Black '68 Shelby GT350 fastback. When you study a striking ride like this one, it's impossible to believe it could ever have been anything but beautiful. But John remembers this car a different way. When he found it 20 years ago in Dyersville, Iowa, it was rust-free, but had signs of collision damage. John later learned that it had been totaled in 1972 and hauled off to a salvage yard. Sometime later, it was purchased from the salvage yard, stored for three years, repaired, and put back on the road.

When John snapped this car up in 1984, he was determined to restore it to factory original condition. He had plenty of help from James and McKay. They all pitched in to get the car back to the condition it was in 1968.

Because John's Shelby has done a lot of sitting over its service life, the black vinyl deluxe interior is all-original. Underhood is the original 302-4V engine bored to 4.030 inches with 53cc chamber heads and all the trimmings. Instead of the 302's original soft-hearted hydraulic camshaft, John fitted the mill with a 289 High Performance solid lifter cam for some of that brute mechanical clatter when the throttle is goosed. John James built the engine with larger 1.94/1.60-inch valves and a host of other goodies we are not at liberty to talk about. The end result has seen more than 300 hp at wide-open throttle.

There's nothing quite like the whine of first gear in a good old-fashioned Ford Top Loader transmission. that's what turns John on about this car. Lean on the throttle for a nostalgic whine coupled with the roar of a snake-bit small-block engine. Put these facts with 3.89:1 gears and watch out. it gets fast-quick!

Ed and Jim's Auto Body in Milan, Illinois, get credit for the bodywork and paint. There's an untold number of coats of PPG Ditzler Deltron urethane basecoat/clearcoat paint in the Raven Black. Down under are Shelby ten-spoke wheels, which get help from Koni shocks and Shelby-spec components.

John likes to drive his Shelby locally when the weather is good. Whenever shows come calling from a great distance away, he loads it up and trailers it to save wear and tear.

John has learned the importance of great talent and good friends, who are always willing to lend a helping hand when it's time to build a car. for John, it is something he will always hold close to his heart. And so will I. . . .