Jerry Heasley
January 27, 2015
Photos By: Owner

Maybe we should all drive around the country towing a rare find on a trailer. Rich Barnes picked up a 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby G.T. 350 he found chained to a house in California. This car became the bait to hook an even bigger fish.

Rich's one-man Mustang restoration business is The Mustang Ranch in Golden, Colorado. When he had to deliver a vintage Bronco to a friend in Los Angeles, he figured he would turn the delivery into a fun road trip to the West Coast.

The fun part would be tracking down a Shelby he ran across in an obscure advertisement. Rich had no guarantees. He had talked to the owner one time on the phone, and the owner proved to be a "little hesitant" about selling or giving out information on his Shelby. He admitted he really did not want to part with his G.T. 350.

Rich decided to back off the deal for a few days and call again later. Repeated calls got no answer. Rich tried "every day or two," ringing the landline off the hook.

Finally, one day the owner's little brother answered the phone. Rich figured the kid was about 5 or 6.

"He said his brother wasn't there. He had moved out. I asked him if the car was still there. He told me yes, but his brother doesn't live there anymore."

Rich asked the little boy for the address. The kid did not know his own address. Barnes had an idea.

"I told him to go find where his parents put the stack of mail and read the numbers and letters off the envelopes. I was lucky he knew what letters and numbers were."

After delivering the Bronco in Los Angeles, Barnes pointed his truck and empty trailer to the address, which was in Compton. Rich was unaware of the rough nature of the city. "I didn't think anything of it until I started driving into the area and saw how depressed and trashed it was."

When he got to the house, Rich noticed the Shelby under a car cover and chained to the porch. The car's owner was not home, but the same little kid who answered the phone was. Rich got lucky. The boy said his brother would be home about 6 o'clock to pick up some clothes.

Packing a thick wad of $100 bills, Barnes decided to take a snooze in the truck and wait for the kid's older brother. Three and a half hours later, Barnes popped out of his truck when he heard this guy roll up to the house. The two got right into talking about the car. Although reserved, the owner pulled the cover off the G.T. 350 and told what he knew about the Shelby, "which wasn't a whole lot," says Barnes.

He bought the car from his cousin. The fastback had the original 302 J-code small-block under the hood, backed by a four-speed and a 9-inch rearend. Somebody had flared the fenders by rolling the lips—a nice job. They also dropped the suspension and beefed up the stock brakes. It was one of 223 Hertz rental cars. The Wimbledon White Shelby had a little race history. The body was California rust-free.

"We went into the garage and did the cash deal so nobody could see or think a drug deal was going on," Rich says. The price was $8,200.

Rich winched the car onto his trailer, loaded his truck with parts, and headed to San Jose with the car in tow. On the road he encountered honking horns, people taking pictures and asking questions like, "Hey, do you want to sell that thing?"

The road trip then turned spooky-ghost-story weird at a gas station on the outskirts of Reno. A bearded man in his 70s pulled up in a rotted Toyota pickup and began pumping fuel on the same island as Barnes.

"You could stick your hands through the fenders and quarter-panels," says Rich. "The pickup was just as beat up as the old man. He peeked his head over the side of the pump and said, ‘Hey, I got me one of them thar Shelbys. Except mine is not a 350, it's a G.T. 500.' "

Rich asked him what he was going to do with the car. "I'm going to sell it," was the answer. "I need an operation, and I can't sell it to my kids 'cause they are fighting over it."

The old man, named David Jack, lived a few miles down the road. Rich wanted to follow him back to his place to look at the Shelby.

"Can't do it now," David said. "The car is in the storage container and there's a whole bunch of things planted in front of it. I can't get to it."

Rich offered to stay an extra day and help move the "stuff." The answer was still no. Rich wondered if the old man was "just having some fun with me," but then David told Rich, "You can call my brother in a few weeks."

Back home, Rich didn't wait but called right away and verified the story. David really did have a '68 Shelby G.T. 500 fastback.

When Rich went back, he said David's place "must have had three to four acres of land and about 50 tons of junk: piles of washing machines and dryers, refrigerators, tractors, tractor equipment, kitchen sinks."

Inside the container was a real G.T. 500 fastback, red with white rocker panel stripes. A couple tires were flat. David had set an old battery on the cowl on the driver's side, and acid ate up four or five of the little vents. Cylinder heads and intake manifolds sat on top of the roof, causing nasty dents.

"We rolled it out and cleared things off, and it really looked like hell," Rich remembers. "But underneath, the body was in really good shape with little or no rust. He showed me extra blocks, cranks, heads, trannys, and all these other parts that went with the car."

David had raced the car at the Pike's Peak Hill Climb many years ago. He "blew up" the 428 Cobra Jet engine and parked the Shelby in the container.

Had Rich not thrown caution to the wind and gone on the California trip, he never would have had a shot at this G.T. 500. The G.T. 350 was a great catch, but it proved to be the bait to catch a bigger fish. MCR


Do you have a Rare Find story to share? Contact Jerry Heasley at jerry@jerryheasley.com.


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