July 1, 2007

At first glance, Eric and Carrie Johnson's '67 Shelby GT500 doesn't leave much of an impression-outside of its status as one of the most desirable Mustangs ever produced. It is, after all, a big-block Shelby with billboard GT500 graphics down each side and all that cool fiberglass fore and aft. It has a commanding presence wherever it goes. When people see this car, they know at a glance what it is, yet they've no idea what it really is-the first-ever '67 Shelby GT500. This is the development mule. It's also the one you see in the ads and sales literature introducing Shelby's all-new '67 Mustang.

Eric first became acquainted with Shelbys in 1979. His father, Frank, who passed away in 2003, loved them. These gentlemen, passionate about Shelbys, became determined to own one. They looked all over Denver and were taken aback by prices. All were too expensive or needed more work than they were worth. At the 1979 World of Wheels in Denver, Eric and his father spied a Candyapple Red '67 Shelby GT500. Although it needed work, it was a nice catch. They struck up a conversation with the owner-including an offer to buy. The asking price was $8,500. Now before you work yourself into a heart attack, remember this was 28 years ago and the average classic Mustang was fetching $500-$1,000. Eric's parents went to the bank and arranged a loan for him. If you think of this as a lucky break, it was, but there's more to the story. Eric had to earn his Shelby. High school grades had to be kept at straight As-no exceptions. He was just 16 years old with an 88,000-original-mile GT500.

Just for the record, Eric was an honor graduate from Westminster High School (class of 1981), and it took him 10 years to pay off the Shelby. "Looking back, I know I paid too much for this Shelby at the time," Eric says. "The seller had done just enough cosmetic work to the car to get an uneducated person to buy it. It worked. We bought it." At the time, Eric had no idea he had a slice of history in his garage. He joined the Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC) and learned all he could about Shelby Mustangs. In particular, he became interested in serial numbers. As he learned, he grew concerned with the absence of paint and interior codes. It had "ENG" stamped in the plate as well.

At first, Eric thought that he had purchased a fake Shelby. That's when he decided to call Rick Kopec at SAAC for a detailed investigation. Rick confirmed the car's status as not only a genuine article, but quite possibly the first '67 Shelby GT500 made. Through the years, SAAC has gleaned more and more information on Shelby Mustangs from both Ford and the man himself, Carroll Shelby. In time, SAAC provided Eric with photos of this car before and after the Shelby conversion in Los Angeles. These photos were obviously shot rampside at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The main hang-up was documentation, which took years to find.

It wasn't until Eric contacted Kevin Marti at Marti Auto Works for one of those enlightening Elite Reports that Eric learned everything he needed to know about his Shelby. The Marti Report yielded Ford's vehicle identification number and details about who took delivery to begin with. Via the Marti Report, Eric learned he had the first '67 GT500 produced. Not only that-it was a factory-engineering and public-relations vehicle assigned to the engineering department at Shelby American. What's more, it appeared in a variety of automotive magazines including Road & Track, Car and Driver, and Sports Car Graphic. It was driven by the late SCCA driver, Jerry Titus, and it's safe to say Shelby himself probably drove this car on more than one occasion.

When Shelby Automotive, Ford, and the A.O. Smith Company were developing the '68 Shelby Mustang, Eric's GT500 was shipped to Ionia, Michigan, where it remained until 1969. At the time, it was shown as having a 428-8V. Eric believes the engine was changed at least once early in the going.

Needless to say, Eric and Carrie own a fascinating piece of Shelby history that's impossible to put a value on. We're convinced it's worth a whole lot more than the $8,500 Eric plunked down some 28 years ago. Value aside, it's the thrill of owning a ride like this that transcends money because Eric isn't selling.

It may surprise you to learn Eric didn't do a concours restoration or offer to put this car in a museum. He drives it, and it looks much the same today as it did in 1979. It has been drag raced, and it has cut its share of apexes in road racing. In short, this car is used for the mission Shelby American built it for in the first place-hair-on-fire performance driving with eight butterflies pinned. "I respect the show crowd, but Carroll Shelby built these cars to be driven and enjoyed," Eric says. "My wife and I agree with Shelby's philosophy, and we intend to own and drive this Shelby for many years to come."

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