I will be expanding this page over time. Right now let me tell you how I met John Chun.
Muscle Car Show Meeting
I was at a local car show in the summer of 2011 hosted by the local GTO club. It was their annual Classic Muscle Car Show. It was a 100 degrees. I was lucky to be suffering the heat on the shady side of this garage the Shelby’s were parked at. Next to my Shelby was parked a Blue ’67 GT500. The original owner had brought it. He and I were swapping lies and stories when this small, Asian fellow walked up to me.
Here I am in Chanhassen, MN, and this Asian guy walks up to me and says something that sounded like “I designed that car..” I imagine the look on my face probably told him that statement surprised me. So he said “come here” and I followed him to the rear of my Shelby. John pointed at the rear end, “65 Thunderbird Taillights. I picked them out.” Ok, anyone that knows specifics about Shelby Mustangs could know that.
I started asking him lots of questions about the 68 Shelby Mustangs. He knew more answers than I had questions. Ok, who is this guy? Once my cup was empty so I could listen to him, John told me about applying for a job posted at the design school he was attending in California. Seems Shelby American was looking for a designer with engineering experience. That was John. He was hired in 1967 to finish the ’67 cars and design the ’68 Shelby Mustangs.
John told me he had an engineering degree, I recall him saying he earned that while living in Japan. But he wanted to come to the US. So he hopped a freighter on its way to California. While in CA, he learned about a design school where he enrolled. And that is where he saw the add posted from Shelby American. He told me he was very surprised he got hired with his English not being so great. But Shelby American was looking for a automotive designer with an engineering background.
Shelby American 1967
John went to Shelby American during the middle of the 1967 design. He said that much of the design was already done to the ’67’s, But the 1968 Shelby’s, according to John, was mostly his project. He told me many things which I will eventually put on this page, but here are some key things off the top of my head:
- He was restricted to what changes he could make. One directive was to use as much off the Ford shelf as possible. That is where the 65 T-Bird Tail lights came from.
- Quality & correct fiberglass supply was an issue in 1967. Apparently the model used for the hoods turned out to be incorrect resulting in having to modify the hoods. It was imperative not to repeat that mistake with the 68 cars.
- When the decision was made to move production to AO Smith in Michigan, John was laid off from Shelby American with everyone else. Those that wanted to could apply for a job at AO Smith. John did that and moved to Michigan. He said he was paid by AO Smith but he reported to Shelby and his team.
- The 1969-70 Model year was the last Shelby Mustang. John and his peers were laid off from AO Smith, he went to Ford locally and applied for a job. He said he expected Ford to be excited about hiring a Shelby employee. That was not the case although they did offer him a job. One of his peers told him he should go to Chrysler and apply for a job which he did. Chrysler was excited about hiring him and offered him more than Ford did. So John went to work for Chrysler.
- I asked John what he did at Chrysler. He looked at me and said “design cars”. Ok, what cars did you design? He first response to me was, “are you familiar with that Dodge car with that huge wing on that back of it? That was my idea.” Huge wing on a Dodge? Really? Then he asked if I ever noticed that front grille on the Dodge Charger was exactly the same as my Shelby. He choose that grille on both cars.
Someone told him he should attend this car show, that he might run into some of the cars he helped build at Shelby American. That day there were about 6-7 Shelby Mustangs lined up next to mine. John told me that when he was doing these cars NO one even thought that any of these cars would still exist 50 years later. Disposable cars. So he was not connected to the hobby until about the time he came to that car show. His wife came with him. She was carrying a shopping bag that was full his John’s Shelby American stuff like a work shirt, his employee badge, T-shirts, etc.
I ended up meeting with him a number of times just to listen to him tell his story. I recorded the conversation. I will transcribe them now that I have a place to put this words. Real interesting guy. I will post some other info and pictures as my tribute to John.
The first time I went to their restaurant to talk with John I decided to surprise him with a gift of a book I had multiple copies of that included my Shelby. What was more unique about this particular book is it Muscle Car book, and not just a Mustang book. And also on the pages was a picture of a Plymouth Superbird. John told me putting that huge wing on the back of a Charger was his idea. He was delighted.