Stories from Steve: A Tale of Two Shelby GT350’s
THE FIRST ONE
This story starts way back in Denver, Colorado, in 1967. I had graduated from Columbia University in 1966 and was still drag-racing a 1957 fuel-injected 283 HP Chevrolet 9-passenger station wagon with a manual 4-speed transmission. During that 1966 season, I started to see several 1966 Shelby 350’s at the various race tracks around New England.
They were extremely good-looking and very quick when entered in NHRA quarter-mile tracks or road racing tracks across the country. I was intrigued with what Carroll Shelby had done with these Mustangs, but got the biggest kick out of the 1966 Shelby Hertz rental cars. There was always at least one of these rental cars at the race track where I was racing and soon the ever-present phrase “Rent on Saturday – race on Sunday” proved to be as pertinent as “Win on Sunday – sell on Monday.”
When the cold fall season shut down our tracks, I worked for my father’s paper machine company, saw Joan on Wednesdays and Saturdays, street-raced, and waited for my National Guard orders to arrive so I could start boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. I arrived at the end of January 1967 and was then sent to Denver to enroll in the Air Force radar training school at Lowry AFB in March 1967.
During this time, I was aware that Shelby had dramatically changed the looks of the GT350 but kept the solid lifter 306 HP engine and softened the suspension. So, when I departed for Texas, I had not seen the new design except for artist-renderings and occasional photos in hot rod magazines.
Of course, boot camp was a blur since I never left the training facilities and had no time to investigate what was happening in the automotive world.
Upon flying into Lowry AFB near Denver, we were given more freedom and I quickly hitched a ride to the local Ford dealer. They had three or four Shelby GT350’s and GT500’s in stock. I fell for the cars hook, line, and sinker and constantly visited the dealership to compare color combinations and interiors.
Although I was in Denver for months, the dealer only received about one-third of the colors available and that put me in a quandary as to what color combination was the best. The 350 versus the 500 models was also a problem (i.e., less horsepower but superb handling for the 350, while the 500 had fantastic torque but didn’t handle well). Since I had always owned small high-winding engines in various chassis combinations, I opted for the 350. Concerning the color, it was soon obvious that factory colors didn’t truly represent the appearance of the car so I decided that each color combination had to be viewed on the car in question.
Our Air Force unit gave everybody ten days for R & R in July and I headed home. My first job was to ask my father if he would co-sign a note with our local note. The answer was yes. Next, I needed to locate all the Shelby dealerships on the East coast. A quick call to several Ford dealers and I knew all the dealers that sold Shelbys from Bangor, Maine, to Baltimore, Maryland.
I immediately called each one to learn their inventory. In less than two hours, I had located all the colors for a GT350 with black interior, 4-speed transmission, and 10-spoke wheels.
Next, I drove from Portland, Maine, to Baltimore, Maryland, and saw every one of the color combinations and knew I had to have the dark blue (Night Mist Blue) model that was in Trenton, New Jersey. (Note: I did see a red one at Tasca Ford that made me look twice because it was super-charged.)
I bought the car in Trenton, drove straight through to Denver, had more fun than possible with the car, added white stripes, and after three years sold the car to Dennis Boyle in Bucksport, Maine. I know, I know – not the best decision I’ve ever made.
Over the next five years, I was offered the car twice but didn’t pull the trigger.
There is one more story about the car that is most intriguing. The car was shipped to McCafferty Ford in Trenton, New Jersey, and while in their custody a bullet hole was repaired in the driver’s door. WOW. How many people can say they bought a new Shelby with a bullet hole in it.
THE SECOND ONE
So, the years passed and by 1981 we were ready to start our collection of various muscle cars. Of course, the 1967 dark blue Shelby was stuck in my mind, but chances were slim I’d ever find one. I packed the truck and trailer and headed for the 1981 Auto Fair in Charlotte, North Carolina. After setting up on Wednesday evening, I started to walk the rows to see what I had for competitors selling the same NOS parts I had brought.
Suddenly, a dark blue 1967 Shelby was staring me in the face from an otherwise empty vendor spot off to my right. It drew me like a magnet. First question: was it a GT350? yes; was it equipped with 10-spoke wheels? yes; was it a nice car? yes; did it need a repaint? yes; was it a 4-speed? yes; was it for sale? I didn’t know. There was no “for sale” sign. There was no one in the space. There was no one to call. I asked several people in adjacent spaces. No one knew anything about the car or its owner.
I left a note on the window giving my name and space numbers and that I would be at his space at 8 the next morning. This seldom works – but it did this time! The owner was there waiting. We discussed the car. He knew little about its history. I looked it all over. Indeed, it was exactly the same as my first Shelby and after throwing figures at each other, I bought the car.
I left the car in Charlotte with a friend and drove the company truck and trailer home from the show. I then flew back to Charlotte, picked up the car, and headed home. However, the trip back was not flawless since the water pump gave out. I found a Ford dealer who loved the car and replaced the pump at cost.
For the next 5 years, we drove the car sparingly as the paint continued to deteriorate. Finally, in 1985, we fixed all the little mechanical problems and contracted a paint job with a local restorer. As you can see in the Foundation, the car still looks as good as new.
One of the main reasons the car still shows so well is a decision we made in 1990. After its repaint in 1985, my wife and I drove the car at least a thousand miles per summer, taking trips back to Bucksport, Maine, and Lake George, New York. In July 1989, I learned of a road-racing school at Watkins Glen that allowed students so drive their own cars. I was well-versed in drag and street racing, but knew little about the idiosyncrasies of road-racing. This seemed like a “must-do” opportunity since most schools of this type supply cars for the racing school. However, with this school I could race a car that was very familiar to me.
One of our employees also owned a 1967 GT350, understood the value of racing his own car, and joined the class at the “Glen.” He drove his car out (about 300 miles) and I trailered our car. The facility is of course excellent. The school was fantastic for me because each student had a “ride along” teacher that was very experienced with the track. My teacher raced there almost weekly in a similar class and knew all the “ins and outs” of that track. In fact, since he drove a 911 turbo-charged Porsche, he was equally interested in how a front-engined car handled the corners versus his rear-engined car.
It was three days of passing, getting passed, and – most of all – finding the turning irregularities of every corner that dictated the difference between winners and losers. In fact, turn #8 drove my teacher crazy because the GT350 negotiated this particular turn better than his rear-engined race car!
This was a critical three days in this car’s life because, after returning home, I looked at every aspect of the car. Since I hadn’t hit anything, hadn’t lost a tire, hadn’t over-revved the engine, and hadn’t been hit with flying rocks, I determined that the car was still in museum condition.
Therefore, it was basically removed from the road and maybe driven 100 miles since 1989. The rest of its life has been spent in one of our climate-controlled buildings.
Written by founder Steve Ames, 2001