Jim Smart
February 15, 2007
Photos By: Tracy Stocker

If you're like most of us, Shelby ownership is something that happens to other people. Chances are, if it does happen to you, you have more than your share of gray hair, an established career, both feet squarely on the ground, and kids off to college. But what happens when Shelby ownership happens at 16 and the calendar clearly says 2007?

Now here is the look of a satisfied young man who achieved his dream early on. Zak Popovich knows the good fortune that comes with setting a goal and making it happen.

When Zak Popovich of Northern Indiana became old enough to realize his passion for automobiles, he quickly learned he liked classic Shelby Mustangs. Now understand, Zak was at least one generation from being born when Ford and the A.O. Smith Company produced these cars nearly 40 years ago.

So how does a 16-year-old come by a ride like this-and do such a terrific job of car building? As is the case with most such acquisitions, Zak's Shelby began with a dream, then a whole lot of persistence combined with luck. When he was just 13, he found his Shelby at a collector-car dealership in Ohio. This car meant everything to him-a chance at owning a slice of Shelby history and the thrill of driving it when he reached 16.

Because Zak had a definite appreciation for both Shelby Mustangs and their history, his intent was to personalize the car without insulting its heritage. He wasn't about to build a trailer queen he couldn't drive and enjoy. This Shelby would be a driver he could enjoy any time Indiana weather permitted. Pencil us in for pure, unadulterated pleasure.

To be both a looker and a good driver, Zak's Shelby was taken to the experts at Livernois Motorsports in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, just outside Detroit. Livernois restored the Shelby from stem to stern-building a powerful 400-plus-horsepower, 347ci stroker, setting up the driveline and massaging the body to perfection in a blazing Kosmo Red urethane basecoat/clearcoat.

Zak wanted plenty of torque on tap, but he also wanted a common-sense power-management program designed to make the most of his 302-based small-block. Inside is an Eagle 347ci stroker kit massaged to produce 400 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.

Zak was realistic in his quest for power. He opted for an Eagle 347ci stroker package to yield lots of torque without having to run the engine hard. That's why they build strokers. His Livernois-built 347 has a modest roller hydraulic cam grind, perfect for the street, coupled with Ford's own GT-40 cylinder heads and single-plane induction to handle displacement.

Although we think of dual-plane induction for street use, torque in this case comes from displacement and improved runner volume found in a single-plane high-rise. Zak went this route because he understood the dual-plane Cobra high-rise wouldn't make power with 347ci at high revs. The single-plane Ford Racing Performance Parts manifold, by nature, doesn't help an engine make torque down low-the 347's longer stroke helps create a broader powerband. When revs get high, the single-plane manifold lets the engine breathe nicely while making torque.

Shelbys got full instrumentation for 1968, including an 8,000-rpm tachometer and a 140-mph speedometer.

Inside, Zak remained true to Shelby's legacy-Interior Dcor Group in black vinyl, eight-grand tach, full instrumentation, a Shelby console, even the car's original Philco AM radio. Nineteen sixty-eight was the first year Ford gave the Mustang a richer, more plush, interior. Redesigned seats, thicker upholstery, locking seatbacks, woodgrain instead of brushed aluminum, door handholds, and more. In the interest of safety, Ford opted for shoulder belts, redesigned door handles and armrests, and a collapsible steering column.

Outside, Zak had Livernois lay down a bright-red urethane to help the car stand out without detracting from all of the nuances that make it a Shelby. On the ground, he decided not to change the suspension or braking system. The only change he did make was to the wheels and tires in order to improve handling and make the car more striking. Those are 16-inch American Racing Victor wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich Comp T/A radials for good pavement adhesion.

Zak proves the Shelby legacy will be in good hands for many generations to come. He has remained true to what these cars are all about-the thrill of driving while sticking with tradition.

The Details
'68 Shelby GT350 Convertible
Owner: Zak Popovich, Valparaiso, IN

Zak went Shelby one better with 16-inch American Racing Victor aluminum wheels (coated in Teflon) wrapped in BFGoodrich Comp T/As.

Livernois-built 347ci stroker small-block V-8
4.030-inch bore, 3.400-inch stroke
4340 Eagle steel stroker crank with chamfered oil holes
Forged Eagle I-beam 5.400-inch rods
Forged JE 4.030-inch pistons w/moly rings
Ford Racing Performance Parts roller hydraulic cam .498/.498 lift, 282/282 duration
FRPP GT-40 aluminum heads with 1.94/1.54-inch valves and 1.6 roller rockers
FRPP induction with Holley 750-cfm four-barrel carburetor
Autolite single-point distributor with PerTronix Ignitor retrofit
MSD 8mm ignition wires
Dyno'd at 400 hp and 420 lb/ft torque

Livernois-built C4 automatic
2,400- to 2,600-rpm stall TCI torque converter

3.55 gears
31-spline axles

Stock exhaust manifolds2 1/2-inch stainless steel exhaust system

Front: Stock Shelby, restored
Rear: Stock Shelby, restored

Front: Single-piston Kelsey Hayes disc
Rear: Stock drum

Front: American Racing Victor, 16x8
Rear: American Racing Victor, 16x8

In 1968 there was a Technical Service Bulletin for Marchal foglamps calling for a 25-amp circuit breaker instead of the factory-installed 10-amp.

Front: BFGoodrich Comp T/A, P235/55R16
Rear: BFGoodrich Comp T/A, P235/55R16

Stock Shelby Interior (Interior Dcor Group), 8,000-rpm tachometer, Shelby console, woodgrain and black vinyl

Professionally refinished in Kosmo Red urethane basecoat/clearcoat by Livernois Motorsports, Detroit, MI

'68 Shelby Production Numbers
GT350 Fastback 803
GT350 Convertible 404
GT500 Fastback 1,044
GT500 Convertible 402
GT500KR Fastback 1,053
GT500KR Convertible 517
GT350 Hertz Fastback 224
GT500 Hertz Fastback 2
GT500KR Hertz Convertible 1
TOTAL 4,451

'68 Shelby Mustang Facts

  • All '68 Shelby Mustangs were assembled at Metuchen, New Jersey, then shipped to the A.O. Smith Company in Ionia, Michigan, for Shelby conversions
  • All GT350 models were fitted with the "J" code 302-4V V-8
  • Early GT500 models were fitted with a single 4V 428ci FE big-block
  • On April 1, 1968, Ford and Shelby Automotive introduced the GT500KR packing 428ci Cobra Jet FE big-block power
  • Base sticker price for a GT350 fastback, $4,116
  • Base sticker price for GT350 convertible, $4,238
  • Base sticker price for GT500 fastback, $4,317
  • Base sticker price for GT500 convertible, $4,438
  • Base sticker price for GT500KR fastback, $4,472
  • Base sticker price for GT500KR convertible, $4,594
  • Six special colors for 1968: WT-6066 Yellow, WT-5107 Orange, WT-5185 Orange, WT-4017 Red, WT-5014 Orange, WT-7081 Green