August 15, 2012

It's a familiar story of love and loss: Guy buys a Mustang, vows to keep it forever, then ends up selling it cheap due to the pressures of daily life. In this case, I'm the guy who sold a '66 G.T. 350H in 1984 for $7,000 because I needed seed money to start a publishing business. I've never quite gotten over it.

It didn't help that Shelby prices went through the roof in the ensuing decades, which kept a repurchase out of reach. I scratched the itch along the way with a series of Tigers, an SVO Mustang, and even a Cobra-powered TVR Griffith, but couldn't quite get the Shelby Mustang out of my head.

Fast-forward to early 2011, when Shelby prices dipped for the first time in years. Conveniently, this was the same time that I had a little extra scratch from my now 27-year-old publishing company. I sold a couple of lesser cars and went looking for another early Shelby.

At this point, I bumped into an old buddy, Tom Cotter, Cobra owner and aficionado, and mentioned that I was looking for a Shelby. While Cotter didn't know of any available '66s, he did happen to have a four-speed, factory air '67 for sale. The car had been rode hard but was still running and driving--more or less. And it was for sale at half the going rate for a nice car. I agreed to look at the survivor more as an excuse to grab lunch with a friend. But when the cover came off to reveal a dinged and dented Lime Gold mess of a Shelby with rust in the doors and rats in the interior, I fell in love.

This is easier to understand when you learn that my first car was a Lime Gold '67 Mustang fastback. The barn-find Shelby had a lot more than nostalgia to offer, though. Its power steering, power brakes, and fully intact A/C meant it would be a lot more comfortable and practical to live with than an early model, especially since it would be driven in Florida.

Once I slid into that still-familiar interior, started that small-block, and creaked the badly running car around the block, the deal was done. I bought the car on the spot.

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Making a Plan

As a longtime member of the Shelby American Automobile Club, my first call was to Pete Geisler, owner of Orlando Mustang and SAAC's main man in Central Florida. Geisler agreed to look the Shelby over, finding a very original car with the correct date codes on virtually every piece, panel, and mechanical part. The lone exception was the engine, which was a rebuilt '66 289 with 302 heads.

The next call was to National Parts Depot, a natural partner thanks to their vintage Mustang inventory, reputation, and headquarters just 70 miles from my home. NPD President Rick Schmidt, himself the owner of a '68 Shelby, took one look at the car and pledged his company's support to bring the beast back to life.

Which brought up an interesting question: How far "back to life" did the car need to go? I was surprised by my magazine staff's first reaction to the new Shelby. They all said, in unison, "You must leave this car as-is."

It's an understandable reaction, given you seldom see survivor Shelbys anymore. Did the world need another over-restored trailer queen?

The comments from friends and co-workers, combined with an off-chance email to Ford Racing, helped the final plan come together. Mark Wilson and his gang of gearheads at Ford Racing are big-time Shelby fans, and they suggested that the only thing that could make a real rat-rod Shelby any cooler would be to get rid of the worn-out, non-original 289 and replace it with one of their 500 horsepower, 363 cubic-inch engines.

A plan was soon hatched: I would leave the car looking like it just rolled out of a barn but mechanically make it brand-new--even better than brand-new. Then I decided to take this craziness one step further by making sure that any work done beneath the Shelby's crusty skin would be to Mustang Club of America concours standards. After all, this was a real Shelby G.T. 350. It was OK to have a little fun, but this was not the kind of car you butcher.

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