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1968 Shelby GT500KR - The Birthday Present
Steve Fowler Got A '68 Shelby GT500KR For His 16th And 54th Birthdays
'68 Shelby GT500KR Imagine, if you can, being 16 years old in 1968 and owning a Shelby GT500KR. Steve Fowler doesn't have to imagine it; he lived it. And now he's living it again after getting the car back, once again as a birthday gift, in 2006.
The son of Raleigh businessman Maylon H. Fowler, Steve was a couple of months shy of his 16th birthday in July 1968. With a learner's permit in his wallet, he drove his mother to Sanders Motor Company in Raleigh for warranty work on her Ford. While wandering through the showroom, Steve got his first look at the brand-new GT500KR.
"I didn't know what a Shelby was," Steve tells us. "The general manager, Mr. Rice, was one of my father's friends, so I found him and asked him about the car. He told me it was a special edition and how fast it was. And he said, 'That's the car you need for your 16th birthday. I'll work on your father for you.'"
Not only did Mr. Rice "work on" Steve's father, he drove the car to the Fowler home and left it. "We got it in July and kept it right into August," Steve recalls. "I would drive it to play summer baseball; my mother would ride with me because I only had a learner's permit. I was real concerned about somebody hitting the car with a foul ball."
But as Steve's September birthday neared, his father had second thoughts about putting a Cobra Jet-powered Shelby into the hands of a 16-year-old. "He was afraid I would kill myself," Steve says. "So he told me he wasn't going to let me keep the car and made me drive it back to the dealership. But Mr. Rice told me, 'I want you to have this car. Let me work on your dad a little more.'"
Just days after turning 16, Steve borrowed his father's '63 Thunderbird for his first real date. When he got to the girl's house, she told him he needed to call his mother. Steve remembers, "She told me, 'You need to come back home, your dad wants his Thunderbird back. He's going to give you something else to drive.' Steve thought it would be his father's old pickup truck. Instead, the GT500KR was waiting on him.
For the next four years, through high school and into college, Steve drove his red GT500KR. He remembers that most people didn't know about Shelbys, especially the GT500KR. He kept Shelby literature in the console glovebox so inquirers could read for themselves about the "King of the Road." He drove the Shelby to school, dropping off his brothers at their schools on the way, and on weekend evenings he would cruise Shoney's and Hardees in downtown Raleigh, dodging both the police and stoplight challengers.
"I had to be particular because the law really watched that red Shelby," Steve remembers. "And people tried to race me all the time. I was tempted but my dad had told me that if I ever got caught racing, the car was gone." Steve has some great stories-yes, he did get into a few races-about driving a GT500KR as a teenager (see "Tales of the KR").
In 1972, Steve sold the Shelby, with 46,000 miles so he could buy a Lincoln Mark IV. He got married and went to work with his father before starting his own successful contracting businesses. By then, the KR was little more than a fond memory.
In 2006, Steve's brother called to tell him that his old Shelby was on TV. "It was a re-run of an RM auction in Monterey, California," Steve says. "When the car came across the auction block, the announcer said, 'This car was originally owned by Maylon H. Fowler Trucking Company in Raleigh, North Carolina.'"
At that point, Steve's wife, Beth, went into action. "She had heard me talk about the Shelby," says Steve. "After we saw it on TV, unbeknownst to me, she got the VIN from the RM website, tracked down the car in Michigan, called the new owner, and spent over two months talking him into selling the car. I had just survived cancer, so she threw a birthday party for me in September. I was standing outside when I heard a car coming. I looked up and there was my brother driving the Shelby with a big white bow on the roof. He said, 'Happy birthday!' I couldn't believe my wife had found my first car."
The GT500KR had been restored at some point but Steve wasn't happy with some of the work. For example, the hood and one of the doors didn't close correctly, the steering was too loose, and the original hubcaps had been replaced by 10-spokes. He ended up sending the car to Jeff Yergovich at R&A Motorsports in Lee's Summitt, Missouri. "I told Jeff that I wanted the car to be as close as possible to the day that I got it in 1968," Steve says. "I spent a lot of money getting original stuff. Jeff would call me from time to time to ask me about parts that were on the car when it was new."
Last summer, R&A Motorsports displayed Steve's GT500KR at events around the country, including ShelbyFest, Mid America, and SAAC-37. Afterwards, with Steve anxiously awaiting, the car headed to Steve's current home in Naples, Florida, where he intends to enjoy his renewed relationship with his first car.
"The Shelby was always a conversation piece, irrespective of where you went back in the 1960s," he says. "Of course, it's the same today but for different reasons."
Tales of the KR
I drove my four brothers to school in the Shelby. They were little so three of them could sit in the back seat. They liked to hold on to the rollbar.
My girlfriend's dad was supposed to buy her a car for her 16th birthday. So guess what she wanted after she rode with me? She wanted a Shelby. Low and behold, he bought her a dark green GT350 convertible. So here we were dating and we both had Shelby Mustangs.
Somebody had told me that a Highway Patrolman was looking for me because he didn't think a 16-year-old should have a Shelby. One morning I was driving to school and met him while running five mph over the speed limit. When I got to school, the principal's office came to get me. And that patrolman was there. He wrote me a ticket for "careless and reckless." I had to tell my dad and that didn't go over too well. He got a lawyer and they made an agreement with the judge to take my license for 30 days. Years later, that patrolman married my first cousin. He told me, "I've got to apologize to you about something. I stopped you that time but you weren't doing anything wrong. I had it out for you because I was jealous of that car."
All the guys wanted to race. There was one guy with a 454 Nova. He'd pull up beside me and race his motor. One night, there was a little stretch of highway so we raced. I jumped ahead of that Nova by about two car lengths and then backed out of it. He was embarrassed. He made sure that his buddies didn't tell anyone that Fowler had outrun him.
In 1969, a buddy and I were on the way to Myrtle Beach. It was after midnight so I was cruising around 100 mph. I met a S.C. Highway Patrolman and he hit the brakes to turn around. I knew I was in trouble so I stood on the gas. We hit 130, but I knew we couldn't outrun the radio. I spotted a house, turned in, and pulled under the carport. I was scared someone in the house would wake up and shoot me. About 30 seconds later, the patrolman came flying by and never knew I was there. We backed out, turned in the opposite direction, and took another route to Myrtle Beach.
In Myrtle Beach, we were driving back from Ocean Drive and a Dodge Daytona, with the big wing, ran up beside me. Back then, the highway was about 12 miles long and open between OD and Myrtle Beach. Leaving OD, he pulled beside me at a stoplight. When the light turned green, we took off. We were dead even at 110, but then I pulled away and got a car-length ahead of him, up to about 125 mph. Then we met a patrolman and I told my buddy, "We've got to get off this road."
I played college baseball. One time I picked up another player in Raleigh and we needed to get back for an 11 p.m. curfew. If we weren't in bed by curfew, we'd have to run at practice the next day. So I said, "Ricky, I don't feel like running tomorrow, do you?" We put in an eight-track tape. We left Raleigh and that tape never finished playing by the time we hit Salemburg (about 70 miles). It's a wonder the car didn't kill me back in those days.
One time I changed the rear end ratio to a 3.91. But my father didn't like change. He said, "It's supposed to be the way it is." So I had to change it back.
The only problem I had with it was the clutch pedal; it wouldn't quite come all the way out. So my dad had a mechanic put a brake spring on it. It made it harder to push but it came all the way to the top.
When I went to the dealership to order the Lincoln in 1972, I met this girl who was there picking out a Cougar. She's now my wife. So if I hadn't sold the Shelby, I wouldn't have gone to the dealership and I wouldn't have met her.