Jim Smart
February 1, 2005

It has been said the Shelby GT350 was the first factory-modified Mustang ever. These slippery fastbacks and convertibles rolled out of Ford assembly plants in various stages of "incomplete" and were anointed by Mr. Shelby himself at smaller plants in Los Angeles, California, and Ionia, Michigan. From 1965 to 1967, Shelby American did the work in Southern California. From 1968 to 1970, conversion to Shelby Mustangs was performed by one of Ford's outside contractors-the A.O. Smith Company in west Michigan, under the name Shelby Automotive. This fact makes Shelby authenticity hard to define in some purist circles. For some, if the conversion wasn't done by Shelby American in Southern California, it ain't a Shelby. But Brian Gates begs to differ with those die-hard purists.

People ask Brian Gates if his '68 Shelby GT350 is a replica. Sometimes, they'll say, "nice Shelby clone." Brian, never short for something to say, tells them this is the real thing-a real A.O. Smith Shelby fastback sporting verifiable Shelby chromosomes. Brian just decided to take the factory-modified theme a step further with some nuances of his own and brought a classic Shelby into the new millennium with current technology that makes this GT350 a blast to drive.

This is a Shelby Mustang long on irony. For one thing, it was worked and painted by Camaros Only in Brea, California. It was found lost in the desert after we've long been convinced all of the great finds had been found. It has dozens of really groovy modifications Shelby Automotive wasn't familiar with in 1968. In front is a Total Control tubular front suspension system with coil-over shocks and rack-and-pinion steering. Subframe connectors stiffen the platform and keep the body dimensionally correct. CNC 12-inch disc brakes from JMC Motorsports give this Shelby unbelievable stop action. Shelby underride traction bars stabilize the 3.50:1 9-inch Ford Traction-Loc rearend. Five-leaf rear springs keep ride height happy and the BFGoodrich Comp T/As intimate with the pavement. Those are 16x8-inch, 10-spoke wheels powdercoated in black from Vintage Wheel Works.

Under the hood is where the bunch does the munch beneath the fiberglass. Mark Jeffrey of Trans Am Racing in Gardena, California, built a powerful 347ci small-block using a Coast High Performance Street Fighter stroker kit. On the dyno, Brian's 347 produced 395 hp at 6,000 rpm with 404 lb-ft of torque at 4,300. It's not the most powerful 347 we have ever seen, but it doesn't need to be. Because Brian wants drivability, a manageable powerhouse he can live with at the traffic light and on the freeway, Mark built in a civilized roller Pro Mustang Performance camshaft with .539/.565-inch lift and 225/234 degrees of duration on 112-degree lobe centers. Hooker Super Comp 151/48-inch headers, 3-inch pipes, and three-chamber Flowmasters scavenge the spent gasses. A Griffin radiator carries heat to the atmosphere.

Inside, Mustang Country in Paramount, California, performed its magic, leaving the basics in place, yet leaving Brian's GT350 with a race car feel for the street. That's a JME instrument panel sporting Autometer Phantom gauges. An overspeed redline light keeps Brian out of trouble when he is tempted to push the small-block further. Custom Autosound provides the positive vibrations available from a six-CD changer and 250-watt amplifier. Mustangs & More installed the power windows from Electric Life. A 22-gallon Fuel-Safe fuel cell gives Brian both range and safety. An Optima dry-cell battery virtually guarantees Brian many years of reliable starting, not to mention the support it gives his accessories.

Right about the time Brian was wrapping this project up, someone decided to run a stop sign right in front of him (certainly no surprise in Los Angeles), causing him to smash up the Shelby's front end. Fortunately, Brian's 12-inch discs from JMC Motorsports, coupled with those sticky Comp T/As, reduced the impact by a wide margin. The damage was minor and easily repaired.

Brian's goal was to build a Mustang that honored Shelby's legacy, while creating an exciting car he could live with and drive regularly. That's just what he and his wife, Dorothy, created-a GT350 that captures the imagination everywhere it goes. And in a place like Los Angeles, the largest automotive culture in the world, it makes one hell of a story.

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