Jerry Heasley
September 1, 2003

"You probably don't remember me. I rode with you in Mustangs Across America ten years ago."

How could I forget Tony Sousa? He was the ultimate navigator. In Flagstaff, Arizona, back in 1993, we ran into a blizzard on the desert, and I had no top or side curtains for my '65 Cobra roadster. Tony left the heated enclosure of his '65 GT350 fastback, but he never complained. He seemed to enjoy the cold and snow because this was what it was like to ride in a bare-bones Cobra in the real world.

Once again, we rode together, this time in Tony's '65 GT350-once again, in the winter. It was February 2, the Valley of Fire north of Las Vegas our destination for SAAC Does Vegas.

Tony's car is a legend-one of the 562 first-year GT350s. Talk about nice! The white fastback with blue stripes inspired one admirer to offer $92,000 for the joy of ownership. Sousa said no.

This is all I could think of on Sunday morning as I followed Tony up I-15 to Shelby-American, where I'd hop in. The wind was blowing so hard the trees along the freeway flapped like they were in a hurricane. Was Tony really going to take his high-dollar Shelby into the desert?

I plopped down in the passenger seat and buckled the competition seatbelts. Tony fired up the beast and motored to exit 54 at Shelby's place on I-15 north. We rough-riders were heading out.

This was my first time to rally in a '65 Shelby Mustang. For years, I'd read about the straight-through exhausts, the Detroit Locker NoSpin differential, the over-the-axle traction bars, the special pitman and idler arms for improved steering, and the lowered suspension geometry up front. Whereas, one year later, the '66 was compromised for comfort to attract more buyers.

The wind was still stout, but the dust wasn't coming off the desert. Conditions were improving, and we had ten miles until our turn-off. Tony shifted one more time than a four-speed needed. Aha-he had a five-speed in there!

"It looks like a stock Mustang shifter, but it's a dummy shifter," Tony explained.

"It's not nice to fool mother nature," I joked.

Tony laughed. "It's nice not to have to worry about gas mileage and over revving."

Sousa elected to keep the stock 3.89 gears and add the top-end gear for highway driving. But, he kept the stock shifter handle and ball. Nobody was the wiser, unless they counted shifts.

I had to ask, "So why are we able to talk without screaming?"

"Actually, it should be louder than stock inside because I changed to a LeMans camshaft," Tony replied.

I figured the quiet cab was due to supple weatherstripping; the doors didn't whistle a bit. I'd uncovered another Sousa secret-the higher lift cam. "Gives me 350 horsepower versus 306 stock," Tony said.

I wondered what other secrets Tony had for us. In the center of the dash, the AM radio looked like a lonely instrument, quite out of place. For a minute, I wondered if '65 Shelbys came with radios.

"Some did, some didn't," was Tony's response.

We flipped on the power, and I learned why the Shelby exhausts were more melodious. The speaker sounded slightly better than an antique crystal radio.

"That's probably the original speaker," said Tony. "I haven't changed it."

Some people put in disguised CD tuners with modern internals. Tony didn't bother because he doesn't want to listen to music in this car-he listens to the exhaust.

As we drove, I kept noticing different things. For one, the transmission tunnel mounted a red fire extinguisher added for safety.

The glovebox door displayed a Carroll Shelby autograph. "Shelby added that at the Petersen Museum during a Cobra show," Tony said.

Tony blipped the throttle to pass a car, and I glanced at the speedometer needle jumping to 100 mph. The LeMans cam was working great in the higher revs.

My surprise was the smoothness at triple digits, for which Tony had another confession: In addition to the five-speed transmission, he went with an aluminum driveshaft.

"It makes this car ride so much more smoothly," Tony explained. "It's really a great freeway cruiser now. We can talk without having to yell."

Tony was relieved the wind had slowed down. Dust wasn't rising off the desert floor and blasting the car, so his paint was safe. Only then did he admit his worries about going on the rally.

"I was getting nervous," he said. "I thought if it is going to be like this inside the Valley of Fire, I don't know if I want to take the car in and have rocks hitting the paint."

I noticed stickers on the car from past rallies. One was from our Mustangs Across America jaunt many years ago.

"I drive it all the time," Tony said. "Besides Mustangs Across America, I drove it north to Seattle the following year to the Bellevue show. Drove it up from L.A. and back. I had it shipped to Dearborn for the Woodward Dream Cruise last year. I'm having it shipped to Dearborn again this summer for Ford's 100th anniversary at Dearborn. Then I'm driving it to Tulsa for the Mid-America Meet before shipping it back to L.A."

I was impressed. Mostly, I wondered how this car remained concours, with no nicks or dents. Did he drive it the rest of the year too?

"I drive it in nice weather, every weekend to cruise nights and car shows," Tony said. "It's going to be one of the concours cars at Fabulous Fords Forever."

Our rally directions contained questions to keep us alert. Tony is a quick-witted attorney, who works in the district attorney's office. He can drive, answer questions about his car, and read signs at the same time.

His cell phone rang. He tried to convince his friend Doug, who owns a '69 GT350, to drive the rally. Worried about his paint, Doug had returned to the parking garage at the Boardwalk.

"I'm not criticizing people who have trailer queens," Tony said. "That's their preference. Everybody has a right to do what they want. That's just not me, because I enjoy driving them and listening to them and smelling the exhausts and the oil and hearing the sound of the wheels and the engine."

Tony and I sat back and relaxed. Driving the desert is a humbling experience. The road stretches out before you like an undulating ribbon in vast expanses of real estate. After 10 or 15 minutes, you make a turn, crest a rise in the road, and enter another valley.

I heard a thumping sound from inside the dash. Was this a problem? "Just the speedometer cable," Tony said.

I remember an old article about that. I'll have to check it out later. Tony didn't bat an eye-just kept tugging at that real-wood wheel through the twisties, enjoying every second of his real-world Shelby sports car.