The Infamous Train-Derailment Shelby!
“This guy called my dad and said, ‘Hey, there might be an opportunity to buy a car at a pretty good discount,’” Mike Sullivan says. Although the original buyer of one of these Shelbys, Billy “Sully” Sullivan, passed away in November of 2018, his son, Mike, was 12 at the time and clearly remembers the day in 1967 when he drove with his father, a Santa Fe employee, to Santa Fe Freight Salvage in San Bernardino, California. The story of the train derailment with 14 Shelby Mustangs on board a Santa Fe railroad car in 1967 is legendary today, and now we have some new insight from more than 50 years ago.
“They would take anything damaged on a train. It could be from pork and beans to a car. They had one [freight salvage] in San Bernardino, and they had another one in Topeka, Kansas, and then all the freight would go over to these locations,” Mike explains. This was highly exciting for 12-year-old Mike, mainly because the family was getting a new car. At the time, Mike did not understand the high-performance part of it or the magnitude of the Shelby name. The Sullivan family lived in Barstow at the time, so they drove 70 miles south through Victorville to San Bernardino. We were hopeful that somebody had taken some pictures, but no such luck. Mike remembers the cars were lined up in a big parking lot that was enclosed with what he describes as “a building all around it that you drove into.”
Sully picked out a green 1967 G.T. 500, one of the undamaged Shelby Mustangs. Problem was, he couldn’t get approved for a loan for this car. “They said go pick another one,” Mike tells us. Sully’s second choice was a G.T. 350 that Mike liked better due to the Brittany Blue color. Retail was slightly over $4,600, but the invoice to the Ford dealer in Illinois was $3,271, which was Santa Fe’s price. “$3,200 was all the credit union would loan Dad. He had to come up with $71 on his own to buy the car. I hate to say it, but he was looking at a Karmann Ghia at the time. Mom liked the Mustangs, so he gave it to my mother. We lived four blocks from where she worked, so she didn’t go very far back and forth.”
Later, Santa Fe transferred Sully to Topeka, Kansas, where the car was garaged with 49,000 miles on it in the 1970s. Mike is currently picking up the restoration that his father started with a professional repaint over 10 years ago. Mike says, “Mechanically, the motor is fresh. That was done some time ago. I had all the steel wheels sandblasted and painted within the last six months, the lug nuts re-chromed, and little things like that.” Mike plans to take the car to Mustang shows and enjoy it like his father was going to do. The car holds so many memories for him, like driving to high school, as he says, “when my Mom would allow me.”