|I found this Shelby Mustang in January, just outside Defiance, Ohio, frozen to its axle in ice. I had been looking for a fastback Mustang to restore for some time. I’d looked at a lot of Mustangs but just couldn’t find the right one. Most them were rusted junk. My friend, Biff Hitzeman, and I found this one in a trailer park. |
The year was 1982. It was a one owner in not great shape. The floors were rusted out, the fenders and quarter panels had rust holes. The roof was caved in because the owner’s kids had been playing on it. It had enough trash and old tires in it to fill a pickup truck. But it was a real Shelby Mustang. And even though it looked pretty rough, it wasn’t that bad. The owner had been trying to sell the car for sometime. I later was told by several different people that he was asking a lot for it. And he wanted cash, no trades. Several people I knew later told me they had tried to buy it from him. A buyer from Toledo told him if he didn’t sell it at the price he wanted, that he would give him $3,000 and bring a trailer for it. I got the tip on the car the Wednesday before the dealer was to pick it up on Saturday. One of Biff’s Chrysler buddies, Bud Yoder, told Biff he’d seen a red Mustang fastback in a trailer park near Defiance, Ohio. Biff and I took off to look for it. After driving all over Defiance for hours with no success, we headed home when Biff said he thought there was a trailer park just north of where we were. Sure enough, there was the park, and a red fastback sitting in front of one of the trailers. But this wasn’t just a fastback, it was a SHELBY GT 350. No one was home.
I went next door and asked for the owner’s name. I called him that night. He told me the car was sold. The trailer was coming in a couple of days, on Saturday, to pick it up. No matter how many times I asked if he would consider another offer, he told me he was a man of his word and the car was sold. I hung up feeling really disappointed. I called Biff to tell him the news. He said the car isn’t sold “till the other guy picks it up. Get your money in $100 bills. Call him and ask him if you can at least look at the car before it gets picked up.” I made the call, he told me the car was sold but if I could look at it late Friday afternoon.
We arrived on time. He told us he and his wife had purchased the car new. His wife’s father lived in Florida and most of the miles were fast trips to visit. He was a construction sub-contractor and money was tight. He couldn’t afford to make the repairs the car needed. And he reminded me the car was sold. We talked with him and looked over the car for a good hour. Opened the doors, looked at the engine, asked every question we could think of, looking for an opportunity. His wife finally came out of the trailer and asked what we were doing and reminded her husband that she had to leave soon to go bowling. Biff jumped in and said we liked the Shelby and were interested in buying it and that we would pay more than the other guy. She asked how much more. Biff gave me the nod. I whipped out the $100 bills and started counting. I said “how about $500 more. I’ll give you $3,500 cash right now.” She said “sold, the title is in my name. I’ll be right back with it.” The car was mine.
Now we had to get it home. When we got it started and tried to move it, I pulled one of the tires that was frozen into the ground, right off the rim. It had been there for sometime. The clutch was also pretty shot. One header was rusted almost off. Four different size tires. But it did start.
We had driven my ’83 Datsun Turbo-Z and didn’t have any tools. I borrowed a gas can went for some fresh gas and to fix the tire as Biff got it ready to move. When I returned Biff told me the battery was cracked and wouldn’t work. Time for plan two.
We decided to run back home for tools and exchange my (’83 Datsun 280 turbo) Z car for my trusty ’66 Mustang coupe. We got the battery from Biff’s Mustang and a box of tools. Then we headed 25 miles back to Defiance. It was getting dark by this time. And it was getting cold.
New battery installed. Discovered it had a non-working alternator. Four inflated tires. Fresh gas. It was time to go. We didn’t think to pull a good plate from Biff’s Mustang. The plates on the Shelby were long since expired. So we decided to take the back roads to avoid any attention on the main highway. Biff would lead the way in my ’66. I would drive the Shelby without lights or heater to conserve the battery. “Stay close,” he said. At the last minute he opened the passenger door to put something inside. When he went to close it, it wouldn’t latch. His bright idea was to use the seat belt to hold it closed. He unrolled the seat belt and wrapped it around the door handle. Off we went. Fortunately the back roads in Ohio are mostly straight. I stayed real close to the ’66’s tail lights, I couldn’t use the headlights with no alternator and running off the battery.
About half way home, he made a left turn. As I turned, the passenger door flew open. The seatbelt unrolled during the turn and the door narrowly missing a mailbox. I flashed my lights and stopped the car. That door still wouldn’t latch. (Turned out it just needed some WD40 to free the latch up.) I held it closed the rest of the way home. One hand on the steering wheel, the other holding the arm rest on the passenger door. The 30 minute drive seemed like hours but we made it to my place.
I pulled in my driveway and hit the horn. My wife came out to see what I’d spent our money on. Even though it was dark, you could see this car needed some serious help. She couldn’t believe I paid that much for this car. But I knew better.
|My GT 350 has been with me ever since. Red with black interior. Built-in padded roll bar. 4 Speed. The 302 was rebuilt as a HiPo with headers. (Click here to read more about the engine rebuild.) Except for the engine work and the NOS aluminum wheels, I tried to keep it as close to stock as I could. I wanted to paint it black but my Mustang friends convinced me to keep it the stock color, Candy Apple Red. After it was painted I replaced the steel wheels and hubcaps with NOS aluminum wheels and some Goodyear ST radials White lettered tires. Over the years I have fixed or replaced lots of things on it.|
Biff Hitzeman wrote his version of the story of finding my Shelby and bringing it home. Click here to read how he remembered it.
For perspective, yes, I paid $3500 for my Shelby in 1982. In 2020 dollars that would be about $9320. Remember Shelby or not, it was in pretty rough shape, barely ran, needed brakes, a clutch, exhaust, and new tires. And it needed those things just to be safe to drive. I’ve done a lot more to it. My car is worth more than I have put into it fortunately because it’s a real Shelby Mustang. If it was just a Mustang GT Fastback might not be worth my investment.
I checked with SAAC later to see what the records might reveal about this car. The 2014 Edition of the Shelby Registry. The DSO is 8D2653 1. This car was shipped to Dominion Motors, Ltd in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada on 2/21/1968. The “cost card” says this car cost Ford/A.O. Smith/Shelby American $3,727.98. The MSRP was $4,541.58. Dealer cost was $3,728.22. It was reinvoiced to Ford Division General Office Accounting in Dearborn, MI on 2/28/1968. Original owner was Ford Motor Company. The next owner was Arthur Helf of Defiance. OH, who was the husband of the car owner I bought it from. So technically I am the third owner counting Ford Motor Company.
Vince at SAAC told me the “G” in the tag number means it was a company show vehicle for “display” so that means D. Dean at the General Accounting office was responsible for this car.
SAAC does not know how the car ended up being purchased by Helf in Ohio after being shipped to Dominion Motors Ltd. I looked up Dominion Motors and the dealership closed in 1972.