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'65 Shelby GT350 Desert Find
Mark Miller told me, "I took a bunch of photos because it was in its unadulterated status after sitting there for decades." He referred to a Mustang dream find, a real '65 Shelby GT350 sitting on the desert floor for 35 years on a five-acre parcel outside of Yucca Valley, California.
Now in his early 50s, Miller often reminisced about the '69 Mach 1 he owned in the early 1970s when he was "16 years old, having fun, racing cars, and chasing girls." One of the cars he raced was a Shelby Mustang owned by "an older guy" named Lee.
All too soon, life moved on. Mark got married and started his own insurance business. He got into other cars (including a Corvette), raced motorcycles, and even raced off-road.
Then, in the summer of 2010, Mark and his wife began talking about a project car. They tracked down Mark’s old ’64 Sting Ray, which proved too rough for the asking price. They looked at a few other projects locally. Then Mark thought about Lee’s old ride. He didn’t even know the model year and didn’t know much about Shelby Mustangs.
"I'd run into Lee around town every few years," Mark comments. "I'd ask if he still had the car. And he'd say, 'Yeah, but it's not for sale.'"
Unfortunately, Mark had no phone number or address for Lee. Someone gave him directions to Lee’s place outside of town. Driving the dirt roads, Mark spotted what he figured was the place by the description of "five acres fenced with a bunch of old boats and containers with a cabin in the middle."
Behind an old travel trailer, Mark spotted a white Mustang fastback. Could this be the Shelby he raced so many years ago?
"I was leery about entering the property," Mark says. "But I parked my van at the front fence and walked up to the cabin to knock on the door. No answer. I yelled and it appeared nobody was home."
He walked over to the Mustang to take pictures, memorializing the treasure find for us, as this column asks everybody to do. Not being a Shelby gearhead, Mark could not know for sure if the fastback was authentic. Boards covered the engine compartment, so he slid them aside to look under the hood. The 289 appeared original and intact. He also noticed a Shelby plate with the SFM number of 5S444.
Mark left his business card and Lee called a few days later. Mark asked the fateful question again. Was Lee interested in selling the Shelby? To his amazement, Lee agreed to meet and talk.
Mark says, "When we met the next day, he asked if I had a shop to do a restoration. So I invited him to see my house with a garage fully equipped and waiting for a project car."
Mark contacted Howard Pardee at the Shelby American Automobile Club for help authenticating the car. Pardee advised the location of the hidden Ford VIN on the inner fender panels and the VIN stamped on the engine block under the number 1 spark plug. The Ford VIN was indeed the one assigned to 5S444. The Shelby proved authentic and even rust-free.
The engine block is also original with matching numbers to the last six digits of the Ford VIN. Lee had replaced the horizontal instrument cluster with a five-dial GT cluster and, in the 1970s, he had upgraded the dual-point distributor with an Accel. The Borg-Warner T-10 aluminum transmission was intact, as was the original 9-inch rear end and over-ride traction bars. The hood was missing, as was the original bumper, which had been replaced with an R-model bumper and front valance.
Basically, the car is a great project. Someday soon, Mark says, "#444 will rise again."