Jim Smart
December 1, 2007

It can easily be said that the '68 Shelby GT500KR is the pinnacle of the classic American musclecar era. It's powerful, good looking, and one of the fastest automobiles of its time. That's what inspired Tom Nichols to buy this low-mileage KR convertible.

A certified classic and collectible automobile appraiser, Tom was contacted 20 years ago by P.J. Staab Enterprises for an appraisal of its car collection. P.J. later decided to sell his collection, including this GT500KR. Tom bought it as a 54,000-mile original that needed a ground-up concours restoration. From 20 feet away, it was a nice car. Up close, it needed a world-class restoration.

Tom's KR isn't your typical musclecar. Instead of being rode hard and hung up wet, similar to a lot of high-performance Mustangs, it remained in the hands of people who appreciated its worth. It was sold new in March 1969 at University Ford in Champaign/Urbana, Illinois, as a leftover '68 model. It was a terrific deal for Kerry McChurer of Bloomington, who drove it home and kept it for 13 years before trading it back to the dealership. While at a local shop for service, the Shelby was stolen but recovered a short time later. University Ford's self-insurance company sold the car, where it rolled through a succession of owners around Central Illinois. That's when P.J. bought the car and placed it in his collection for 19 years.

When the Shelby came full circle to Tom, he awarded it with an exceptional restoration by Bowden Restoration & Classic Fabrication in nearby Rochester, Illinois. The KR convertible is now an extraordinary example of what Ford and A.O. Smith, the company that completed the '68 Shelbys, were producing in 1968.

Because Tom wanted the car to meet the strictest collector car judging standards, he took his efforts into all areas of the car, including the undercarriage. This objective called for complete disassembly, N.O.S. components, and close attention to detail. Underneath, the car was stripped, primed, and painted as it was when it rolled off Ford's Metuchen, New Jersey, assembly line. Tom opted for N.O.S. parts when he could find them, settling on the restoration of the original parts and the best reproduction components when he had to. Note the correct chalk marks, paint dabs, and stickers throughout. This is a car you'd want to put on a rotisserie in order to give showgoers a better look at what's underneath

Tom wasn't interested in perfection when he approached this restoration. His objective was realism and a restoration that was true to mark, just as Metuchen and A.O. Smith did 40 years ago. It's not perfect, and it's not meant to be.

Although we all like red convertibles, Lime Gold by BASF makes this drop-top distinctive, especially when mixed with the Saddle Interior Dcor Group. Ford went over the top for the '68 with rich woodgrain, molded door panels with handholds, and more comfortable bucket seats with headrests. Shelby's own custom console with instrumentation set the GT500KR apart from the norm. We like the AM/eight-track stereo system, which was cutting edge in 1968.

The crown jewel of this concours restoration is its 428 Cobra Jet engine and four-speed combo. The 428's advantage is 4.130 inches of bore and 3.98 inches of stroke. Stroke gives the 428 Cobra Jet its phenomenal torque-430 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm. The Cobra Jet didn't have to rev high to leave a Chevrolet in the dust. Instead of twin Holleys like the GT500 for 1967, the Cobra Jet needed only one. Shelby added ram air to improve the odds.

Tom is attracted to his GT500KR for the same reasons a lot of us are. There were only 517 convertibles produced, they were certainly fast, and there's a lot to be said for their exciting persona. That's all the incentive Tom needed to get the details right.

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'68 Shelby Production Figures
GT350 Fastback 803
GT350 Hertz Fastback 224
GT350 Convertibles 404
GT500 Fastback 1,044
GT500 Hertz Fastback 2
GT500 Convertibles 402
GT500KR Fastback 1,053
GT500KR Convertible 517
GT500KR Hertz Convertible 1
GT500 Hardtop (prototype) 1
Total
4,451