Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
April 18, 2012

I know I've arrived at Brian Kirby's waterway home in Cape Coral, Florida, when I spot the glistening black G.T. 500CR on the paver-covered driveway. Brian is there too, waiting patiently by the garage door so I can take his fastback for a spin. With prices for the restored, rebuilt, and restomodded Shelby from Classic Recreations starting at $149,000, I want to see why, and if, the G.T. 500CR is worth more than most people's homes.

We've covered the G.T. 500CR before, introducing the '67 fastback as a cover story in the July 2010 issue. Officially licensed by Shelby American, each one starts its renewed life as a real '67 or '68 Mustang fastback, although Classic Recreations recently announced that the new '67-'68 Dynacorn body shell is now available as a starting point. With original bodies, Classic Recreations replaces damaged or rusty sheetmetal before building the car back up as a G.T. 500CR with classic Shelby looks, muscular performance, modern conveniences, and show-quality attention to detail.

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Of course, completely rebuilding a vintage Mustang and transforming it into a modern performer doesn't come cheap. Just ask anyone who has restored a Mustang lately. Initially, the G.T. 500CR started at $119,000 for a 525hp base model. However, earlier this year, Classic Recreation discontinued the base model, which effectively raised the cost of entry to $149,000 for the naturally-aspirated 545hp version. The supercharged G.T. 500CR-900S, with 790hp, stickers for $199,000. In any economy, that's a lot of dough. For Brian Kirby, who bought a 545 model in 2010, it has been worth the investment.

Brian has always liked classic musclecars. Now 55, he continues to run the successful Cape Coral contracting and rental storage facility company that his father started in the early 1970s. With his sons grown and now working in the family business, Brian decided he wanted a vintage performance car as a frequent-driver pleasure vehicle. However, after experiencing a number of restored vehicles for sale, he realized that he had forgotten about the sloppy steering, hard starting, and lack of convenience items like power door locks, nice stereo, and air-conditioning in most cases. He heard about the Eleanor recreations from Unique Performance, and even flew out to Los Angeles to inspect one that was for sale by a professional basketball player. Brian was unimpressed, saying the car was too radical for his needs.

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During that visit to the west coast, someone told Brian about the Shelby G.T. 500CRs from Classic Recreations. Fortunate timing allowed Brian to swing through Las Vegas for the G.T. 500CR introduction at Shelby American headquarters, where he met Classic Recreations' owner Jason Engel and had a chance to drive a G.T. 500CR. Two weeks later, Brian put down a deposit.

A year later, he took delivery of his black G.T. 500CR. Now he's letting me take it for a spin.

Sitting in Brian's driveway, the first thing I notice about the G.T. 500CR is the quality. Essentially, it's a show car, painted in slick black with grey stripes—the opposite of Eleanor colors, Brian points out—and nicely detailed right down to the stainless nuts and bolts. The look is Shelby on steroids—muscular but with more of a traditional G.T. 500 look than the Eleanors. Engel has kept the good parts (like the side-exiting exhausts) but eliminated the gaudy (like the Eleanor hood "bump"). Brian pops the hood, revealing the 427 stroker that sits snugly in an engine compartment void of factory shock towers and coated in a textured black finish, which turns out to be a truck bedliner material. I'm accustomed to seeing '67 Shelbys with oval air cleaners, so it's a bit odd to see a modern induction tube with cone air filter and mass air meter feeding the Mass-Flo fuel-injection.

We decide that Brian should drive first so I can get a feel for the car from the passenger seat. Climbing in requires some body contortions to clear the bolsters on the Carroll Shelby Signature bucket seat, but once in, the feel is tight and secure. I comment about the nice leather, but Brian explains that it's not leather at all; it's actually a leather-like vinyl material. Fooled me. The camlock seat belt latching mechanism, needed to accommodate the shoulder harness on the roll bar, adds to the race-car experience, but I find that it's a bit cumbersome when trying to hold the belts in place while thumbing the latch closed.

Brian twists the key and the 427 fires right up. Ah, the joy of fuel-injection. The engine idles aggressively but not obnoxiously, with just enough pulse through the side-exiting MagnaFlow mufflers to enhance the experience without rattling your teeth. As Brian backs out of the driveway and cruises slowly down his suburban street, I feel for clutch chatter or drivetrain bucking. Nothing.

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Even though it's mid December, the mid-day southwest Florida temperature has reached a balmy 80 degrees. With side exhausts and windows down, the noise level is remarkably calm, allowing normal conversation. It's so quiet that I detect a rattle from the rear seat area; Brian explains that he hasn't taken the time to retighten a couple of speaker screws. He then clicks on his constant traveling companion, an iPod Shuffle, and country band Little Big Town sounds good through the Pioneer stereo and combination of Kicker amps and speakers, located in the kick and rear panels.

I've experienced plenty of overheating old Mustangs, so while Brian is driving in stop-and-go Cape Coral traffic, I'm eyeing the G.T. 500CR's temperature gauge. It hovers between 205- 210 degrees thanks to the custom 31-inch Be-Cool radiator with twin electric fans. We stop for a photo shoot, yet the engine doesn't heat-soak through all the starting and stopping. Having photographed many Mustangs over the years, I've learned to watch for oil leaks or belching coolant on the pavement. There are no leaks from Brian's G.T. 500CR. The biggest problem is avoiding reflections in the mirror-like paint.

After the photo shoot, it's my turn to take over the steering wheel. The driver's door closes with a solid "whump" and I find myself once again fumbling with the seat belt latch. The seating position feels higher than usual; Brian explains that he asked Classic Recreations to raise the seats because both he and his wife are short. Although surrounded by modern equipment, the experience of driving an older Mustang is still there with the thin-rimmed wood steering wheel, 5-gauge instrument cluster, and Hurst-like shifter handle. Testing the clutch pedal, I discover that it requires very little pressure, not at all like a vintage Mustang with the typical high-performance clutch. Likewise, operating the accelerator pedal requires little effort, something that takes a few minutes to get accustomed to as I try to coordinate the lighter-than-expected clutch and throttle feel.

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The power rack-and-pinion steering is precise and light, but not too light. There's enough road feed-back in the steering to provide a measure of road-feel and security. It's nothing like the overkill assist of an early Mustang with factory power steering.

Easing onto a main highway, I'm impressed with the butter-smooth release of the clutch as I accelerate into traffic before yanking the shifter into Second gear and stepping into the throttle. There's torque a-plenty from the stroker small-block. The vintage-look shifter is perfectly positioned and operates smoothly, emitting a satisfying "click-click" as it slips into each of the five gears. We get caught at several long red-light cycles, so we roll up the windows (non-power in Brian's car) and flip on the A/C. I glance at the temp gauge—no problem, the needle points to a steady 205 degrees.

In the stop-and-go traffic, the power-assisted Shelby/Baer 4-wheel disc brakes provide plenty of stopping cushion. This is not my expensive car, so I don't put myself in position to try any fancy braking maneuvers.

Brian directs me to a parkway where we can cruise at higher speeds. I continue to be impressed by the torque, even in Fifth gear. With its coil-over front suspension, the ride is smooth and much more comfortable than an original '67 Shelby G.T. 500 with its heavy-duty coil springs and high-performance shocks. Best of all, there's no drone from the exhaust at any cruising speed.

Back in Cape Coral, Brian and I stop for mahi-mahi sandwiches at The Joint, one of his favorite restaurants located in a posh waterfront shopping plaza. The G.T. 500CR looks right at home parked among the Mercedes and other high-end luxury vehicles.

After spending the better part of a day with Brian's car, I can say that the G.T. 500CR is about as close as you can get to a new Mustang with an old Mustang. Is it as smooth and comfortable as a '12 Mustang GT? No. But is it a better overall car than the majority of old Mustangs? Most certainly, as it should be for the price tag.

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Obviously, not everyone can afford a G.T. 500CR. Heck, how many wives would let their husbands spend $150,000 on an old Mustang? But if you've worked hard for the past 30 years and you're ready to enjoy the fruits of those labors with a vintage muscle car that features sexy Shelby looks, great performance, modern conveniences, and none of the reliability issues found in most old cars, then the G.T. 500CR is the car for you.

You may even win some car show trophies.

3,000 Hours

When you look at the man-hours and parts involved in the G.T. 500CR build, you have to wonder if Jason Engel isn't losing money on each car. From start to finish, every G.T. 500CR build requires 11 to 14 months and 2,500 to 3,000 hours of labor in the Classic Recreations shops. Multiply that by a common shop rate of $55 per hour and you come up with between $137,500 and $165,000—just for labor alone.

So it's not surprising to hear Jason say, "I'm not doing this to get rich. I'm hopefully creating a business that will be turning out other high-end cars in five to six years."

Most of the labor occurs in the early stages of restoring the fastback bodies that Jason acquires from many sources. Every car is stripped "to the carcass," then acid-dipped, which Jason prefers because the acid gets inside areas like the frame rails and also helps to neutralize the metal to prevent future rust. Then Jason makes a list of the needed body repairs.

"We don't patch anything," he says. "If there's rust in a rear quarter panel, we replace the entire quarter panel. Every car gets a new one-piece floorpan, which is stronger than patching. If a car needs a frame rail, we replace the whole thing, including the torque box."

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With the body repaired to Jason's satisfaction, it moves to another section of the shop to get fenders, doors, wheel flares, and other components. By the time the car is ready for paint, which includes "lining up everything like they do on a Ferrari," Classic Recreations has invested up to 900 hours into the project.

For the next six weeks, the future G.T. 500CR goes through its paint process, which includes three rounds of priming and blocking. While still in primer, the body is flipped on its side for the installation of subframe connectors, bracing, and other undercarriage modifications. Then U-POL coating, a truck bedliner material, is applied to the undercarriage, passenger compartment, and engine bay. Jason likes the U-POL product for several reasons, including its durable and easily cleanable textured finish, rust prevention, and sound deadening properties.

Finally, the car is ready for paint, which is baked before the final rubbing. "Most people are surprised when they see that we don't use water for sanding," Jason explains. "We dry sand with 1,000-grit sandpaper, followed by 1,500-grit. Wet sanding is very messy and the residue gets into all the cracks. With dry sanding, you just blow off the dust."

Wiring is next. Classic Recreations utilizes Painless Performance harnesses because, as Jason says, "They've never failed me." Of course, additional harnesses are needed for the fuel-injection and other aftermarket add-ons; they are adapted to the Painless harnesses with OEM-quality Weather Pak connectors, not solder and heat-shrink. Then the future G.T. 500CR is treated to Dynamat, up to eight boxes as the sound deadening material is applied to the floorpan, roof, underdash, and even inside the doors.

After the completion, each G.T. 500CR is run on a DynoJet chassis dynamometer for 70 miles before Jason or one his technicians takes it on a 15-mile drive. Leaks or other problems are resolved before delivery to the customer.

Specifications

G.T.500CR-545

Starting at $149,000


Color availability

  • Grey/Black, Red/White, Blue/White, Black/Grey, Yellow/White
  • Custom colors available upon request

Drivetrain

  • 427 crate engine (545hp) Mass Flo fuel injection
  • Concept One pulley system
  • BBK long-tube headers, ceramic coated
  • Dual 2-1/2-inch mandrel bent exhaust
  • MagnaFlow mufflers with side-exit
  • MSD ignition
  • Trunk-mounted battery
  • Tremec 5-speed transmission
  • 9-inch Fab 9 rearend with 3:70:1 gears, limited slip

Steering

  • Power rack and pinion
  • Flaming River polished tilt column

Interior

  • Carroll Shelby Scat Rally Series 1000 seats
  • 5-point camlock seat- belts and shoulder harnesses
  • Carroll Shelby Signature gauges
  • 160mph speedometer
  • Woodgrain steering wheel
  • Old Air Products A/C
  • Cosmetic roll bar
  • Deluxe '67 door panels and dash trim
  • Custom trap door
  • Carroll Shelby G.T.500CR floormats

Stereo

  • Pioneer CD player with removable face
  • Pioneer coaxial speakers (kick panels and rear trap door)

Wheels and Tires

  • Shelby 427 wheels: 17x8 front, 17x9.5 rear
  • Z rated tires: P245/45R17 front, P275/40R17 rear

Exterior

  • Shelby fiberglass body panels
  • Sequential taillights
  • Shelby G.T.500CR emblems
  • LeMans racing gas cap

Fuel

  • Electric fuel pump
  • Stealth 18-gallon fuel cell

Brakes

  • Shelby/Baer brakes: 13x1.1 Track front; 12x.81 Touring rear
  • Slotted, crossdrilled, and zinc washed rotors
  • Adjustable rear propor- tioning valve

Cooling

  • BeCool aluminum cross- flow radiator
  • Two 13-inch electric fans

Chassis and Suspension

  • Coilover front suspension
  • Performance-tuned rear suspension
  • Front and rear sway bars
  • Tubular subframe connectors

Shelby G.T. 500CR-900S

Starting at $199,000

  • 545 model plus the following changes/ad- ditions
  • ProCharger F1-R super- charger (790hp)
  • Three-core intercooler (21 psi)
  • 3:50:1 gears
  • Carroll Shelby Signature seats
  • Simpson 5-point camlock seatbelts
  • 200-mph speedometer
  • Digital Designs custom subwoofer enclosure
  • Four Digital Designs speakers
  • 1,000-watt Digital De- signs amplifiers
  • Shelby 427 wheels: 17x8 front, 17x11 rear
  • Nitto Z-rated Tires: P245/45R17 front; P315/35R17 rear
  • Aeromotive A1000 elec- tric fuel pump
  • Shelby/Baer two-piece rotors: 14x1.1 front; 14x.81 rear
  • Six-piston calipers
  • Rod and Custom coil- over front suspension TCP G-Link coil-over rear suspension

Available options for both models

  • Leather seats - $1,000
  • Flip-out screen with DVD - $1,000
  • Right-hand drive - $12,500
  • GPS tracking - $499
  • Automatic transmission (900S only) - no up- charge
  • Custom options available upon request