Jerry Heasley
July 1, 2009
Photos By: The "Treasure Finders"

The Deal Is The Wheel
Forest Gump uttered the famous line, "Life is like a box of chocolates." Hidden Treasures can be that way. You never know what you'll get until you unwrap the package.

Over the years, untold thousands of people passed by this rusty '63 Fairlane. The body was pretty much shot. Nobody fathomed what was inside, even though the license plate read "289 HP." For that reason, part-time parts vendor George Powell decided to take a peek under the hood. Maybe the car still had the rare and valuable 289 High Performance V8.

"I knocked on the door, but no one answered," George says. "So I walked over to the car. The first thing I did was lift the hood. It was so rusty it barely opened. The engine had a Hi-Po distributor and balancer." George couldn't be sure the internals were Hi-Po so he'd have to ask the owner for more information. Then he got one of the surprises of his life.

"I opened the door and about fainted. It had a Shelby steering wheel."

The wheel looked all the more nostalgic entwined with honeysuckle vines, which had grown through holes in the floor. In the world of collectible Mustangs, certain key parts can fetch more money than whole cars. An original Shelby steering wheel, which features real wood, is a coveted prize.

George calculated that the steering wheel had to be worth at least $2,000. He recalled selling a '67 Shelby horn button for between $600 and $800 on eBay.

"I figured I'd make the guy an offer of $2,000 for the car and he'd probably be happy because it's a rusted piece of junk. Then I could sell the engine for anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on how much of it was Hi-Po, and I'd get a free Shelby steering wheel, not to mention the other parts on the car."

The owner didn't accept the offer on the spot. Instead, he walked George over to another Fairlane, a '64 under a tarp. George had no interest in this car. He just kept his offer on the table and made no mention of the steering wheel inside the '63.

Obviously, the '63 Fairlane was worthless except for the parts. The owner explained he'd been saving the '63 for the drivetrain, which he planned to drop into the '64.

George felt he was better off to not mention the Shelby steering wheel. Much less of a prize was the 289 Hi-Po, which was still valuable. Who knows what would have happened to the Shelby wheel if the owner hadn't saved the '63 to preserve its drivetrain?

Powell has seen a '67 Shelby steering wheel sell for $4,600 on eBay. He put $500 into the wheel's restoration. The engine turned out to be an authentic K-code Hi-Po; it fetched $3,600 on eBay.

As a bonus, George found an additional Hidden Treasure in the trunk--an extra Hi-Po distributor, worth $300.

After stripping the car, George gave the '63 body to a junk man, who hauled it off for free. He's still got the Shelby steering wheel, which now looks brand-new.