The Shelby Mustang You REALLY Want
In late 1966, Chris Brownson was 16 and more-or-less regularly attending high school in his hometown of Melbourne, Florida. The Vietnam War was raging, and his grades sucked!
The Selective Services System was inviting many able-bodied American young men to start a career in the U.S. Army. The draft lottery system was still a few years away, but no one wanted to receive a letter that began: “Congratulations! You’ve been selected to serve your country….”
Chris’s mother was at her wits end as she worried about his life expectancy. She asked him what it would take for him to get good grades so he could make it into college and not get caught up in the draft. Chris, a stocky 6’1 football player, who already had messed up his knee, thought about and – some would say shrewdly – told his mother a “New Shelby”.
He went by his local Ford dealer and a new red 1966 GT350 was sitting there calling his name. However, when he brought his mother back to buy the Shelby, it was gone! Seems Shelby American had picked up the now year-old model in anticipation of the all-new 1967’s arriving soon on the dealers’ lots. The salesman showed Chris and his mother a photo of the new version, along with the options available. He said he would see what was available in the region. A new dark blue GT350 with an automatic (appropriate for Chris because of his knee) was on a dealer’s lot in Birmingham, Alabama.
Time for some Shelby history here: The earliest run of the 1967 GT350’s had some unusual features that ultimately forced Shelby to give up production in the hangars at Los Angeles airport for Ford’s tighter control back in Michigan. Shelby’s in-house designer Peter Brock said they were just doing cool racy stuff. He mounted headlight high beams close together in the front grille. Definitely cool racecar stuff. Then he positioned turn signals and rear marker lights high in the B-pillar rear sail panels. Brock’s Cobra Daytona Coupes (as well as Ford’s racing GT40s) had them there to illuminate the race numbers and to help pit crews identify the cars as they passed for timing or as they came into the pits for fuel and tires. Definitely race car stuff.
Unfortunately, the California Highway Patrol didn’t see it that way and they were the first ones to spot the new ’67 cars. U.S uniform vehicle codes didn’t allow any forward-facing red lights. That’s not cool racer stuff, the code says. That’s emergency vehicle stuff.
New owners were getting stopped and ticketed, not for driving fast but for impersonating a fire truck or an ambulance! Dealers heard from customers. And Ford world headquarters heard from dealers. That is never a good combination play for an outside contractor to experience. Word accelerated from Dearborn to L.A. airport faster than the 0-to-60 times of a 427 Cobra: Stop it, fix it, and don’t do it again. And while you’re at it, here’s how we think we can save a bit of cost here and there….
The functional rear brake scoops/ducts, the six point roll bar, and the steel-framed hoods were the next to go in cost cutting after deleting the side-mounted red lights. The guys who drilled the holes were paid by the hole – at least that was what some people thought – so that was an easy way to cut cost. The hoods, too labor-intensive with their reinforcement, were replaced with all fiberglass versions. All that cool racy stuff was costing money in labor and in legal fees. Stop it. Change it. Something like 200 or so of the 1967 GT350s got out all these emergency vehicle/racecar-cool features before the change-orders got to Shelby and his dealers. After that, Ford had had enough of Shelby’s amateur hour and they pulled all Shelby Mustang production home to Michigan starting with the 1968 model year to save themselves the hassles.
Okay. History lesson finished. Back to the story of this…early…car.
Chris, at 16, was too young to get a loan or even buy a car. So Mom traded her 1965 Comet GT and she signed the loan papers. She told Chris he had to make the payments and he had to bring home the grades. Or the dream was over!
Chris went to the dealer to find out when his car would get there. When they told him they had to send someone to drive it back, Chris flipped out. Visions of someone beating on his new car were just too much to take.
The dealership found a solution that could never happen in this day and age: They sent Chris and his best friend to pick up the car.
Yeah. Just let that idea settle in. Yes, two 16-year olds. That’s why nobody lets this happen now.
The boys flew to Birmingham and waited for someone from the dealer to get them. They waited, and waited some more. Finally a salesman showed up. No one had figured the time change from Eastern to Central, so a bit more than an hour later their ride arrived at the airport driving a green Shelby.
The salesman pulled out a liquor bottle from the console (remember, this was 1966), and told the boys they looked old enough to have a drink. There was not a 16 year-old in the world that would refuse that offer. Arriving at the dealership, Chris went over the car and he noticed the cigarette lighter was missing; one was sourced, and off they went.
Chris wouldn’t relinquish the wheel no matter how long the drive; this was his new high school sweetheart.
Driving through the night a close call occurred when he “closed his eyes”. Just for a second. The gravel woke him up.
Another close call happened when a corner surprised him and he and his buddy went for a spin. No harm, no foul, as they say, and the boys arrived in Melbourne safe, and sound, and experienced.
Chris met his obligations to his mom. The Shelby saved him from the draft and got him into college. And, as the story went on, for way too many years race fans could count on seeing the car in the infield during the 24 hours of Daytona and the 12 hours of Sebring. The Shelby and Chris could never be separated.
As the years passed the Shelby started to show its age, so Chris began collecting NOS parts through the 70′ and 80’s. But then, in 2001 Chris’s health deteriorated. A Shelby enthusiast named Jackie Jones had been trying to buy the car and parts for some time. In Chris’s darkest times, starring death in the eyes, he sold his car in 2001.
Then another transfer happened. In stepped Jeff Mays and his brother. Jeff is well known and respected in classic Mustang circles. He is the current president of the Mustang Club of America. Jeff initiated the process of restoring the car. He had the original engine bored 0.20 over and rebuilt along with the transmission. The original rear end and leaf springs went back in and the car was rolling again. In 2011 Jeff had a friend that wanted the Shelby more than he did at that time, so he sold it to his buddy, Larry.
Larry finished the Shelby restoration faithfully, with a majority of its rare original pieces still on it. The early metal-framed hood and deck lid, the rear-quarter marker lights, and the functional brake-scoops, all still here. The body was very clean because only one of the doors had any previous damage. The ultra rare slanted grill was just purchased and it will come with the car for its next caretaker.
This may very well be the ultimate ’67 Shelby GT350 Mustang. Some may not like the automatic transmission. But I think they have come of age – and honestly as we drivers (and our knees) are coming of age – it makes sense. And it adds to the rarity of this car.
Our memories are a lot faster now than the cars were then and, quite frankly, we won’t drive them as the performance cars they once were. A ride with your wife, your son, your grand kids on a sunny day will be its duty these days. Telling or embellishing muscle car war stories – and spinning those White Letter tires on those wide Kelsey-Hayes wheels – that’s what this car is all about. That’s why this is the Shelby Mustang you really want.
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