What comes to mind when you hear the word "Shelby"? Do you think about a cool little British sports car body with a 427 big-block Ford stuffed in it? Or how about those late '60s G.T. 500s you see on TV rolling across the auction block for big bucks? Or maybe you even think about a modern Mustang wearing the legendary moniker. How many people think about the little car that could? The G.T. 350 of yesteryear. You might think about it a little more after reading this article and seeing these photos.
It started with a simple concept at Shelby American: Take a production '65 Mustang with a 289 and make it better. Our story starts at this point with a '66 Shelby G.T. 350 coming out of the Shelby American shop in late 1965. On January 26, 1966, the keys to this feature car were handed to Carroll Shelby's lawyer to drive, as what we would refer to now as a "dealer demo." It was returned to Shelby in March 1966, where Shelby American leased the car to Robert Leaf at Dan Gurney and Shelby's joint venture, All American Racers.
The car was extensively modified at AAR for its intended purpose of going racing. The rear window was removed and this area was seam-welded from the upper window extension to the lower trunk extension to stiffen the car. The back window was replaced with a plexiglass unit vented at the top. A second floorpan was welded in over the original to add rigidity. The floor seams were completely welded, instead of the usual spot welding procedures that were suitable for passenger car duty. The framerails were solidly bonded to the floor with seam welds. All of this welding and fabrication connected the unibody from the firewall all the way to the rear floor section. Race cars do not usually have carpet in them, but to avoid unnecessary attention during tech inspection, this one did. Just a little bit of cheating going on here, 1960s style!
The car was campaigned on road courses by All American until March 1967, where it was sold through JD Ball Ford in Miami as a used unit. The new owner made even more modifications to it. They welded the cowl closed and used body filler and a coat of paint to conceal it. Then the firewall was welded up where the blower motor opening used to be. The car was raced throughout the Miami and the greater Florida area until approximately 1976. During that time, a gas station owner in Miami named Robert Yappell, an avid Mopar collector, would frequently hear a "ding ding" and see this Shelby roll in on a trailer. The fiberglass trunk lid bounced away every time it rolled in; the driver filling up the race car and tow rig on the weekends. The car changed hands a few times in those days, as purpose-built race cars often did at that time. Robert never let the car out of his sights, however.
A friend of Robert's, a body man by trade, wound up with the "tired old Shelby" and had the intentions of fixing it up and driving it. Robert was kind enough to store the car for his friend until he could get to work on it. Little did he know that it would be storing it for his friend for many years to come.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed both of Robert's gas stations in Miami. He collected his insurance money and moved a little farther north to West Palm Beach. He built a garage large enough to hold 30 cars, which was enough to satisfy even the biggest car nut. At his friend's request, Robert stored the Shelby in his garage for what was supposed to be "just a little while until I can find a place for it."