In 1965 and 1966, Carroll Shelby produced only one model based on the Ford Mustang – the G.T. 350, albeit with a few options. Hot on the heels of their summer victory at Le Mans, and after two years of selling their Mustang-based G.T. 350 Fastback, Shelby American and the Ford Motor Company set into motion their aggressive plan for their 1967 Shelby G.T. models. Instead of just two models, Shelby envisioned six. Highlights of this plan included dramatic styling changes utilizing lightweight fiberglass, a new G.T. 500 model powered by a “dual quad” 428-cu.in. engine, a mid-year introduction of a convertible body style, and consideration of adding a coupe (hardtop) variant. All three body styles would be offered in both the G.T. 350 and G.T. 500 models.
On August 8th, 1966, Shelby American placed their initial orders, including G.T. 350 “show” cars for the dealer launch event, a small inventory, and an assortment of vehicles for engineering use. There were also three (3) fully-optioned G.T. 500 units (a fastback, a coupe, and a convertible), sequentially-ordered, each painted Candy-apple Red and equipped with air-conditioning, California emissions, AM radio, and Deluxe wheels—to serve advertising and public relations roles. Ford delivered the first G.T. 350 cars in early October, but Shelby fiberglass fitment and quality control issues prevented the California operation from hitting its stride. In addition, Ford wouldn’t have the G.T. 500’s unique 428-8V Special Interceptor engine ready for more than another month. The first G.T. 500 Fastback was expedited, and once at Shelby American, #0100 proceeded to fulfill its original PR role as a magazine test car. Unfortunately, production delays would ultimately prevent the two additional body styles from being offered to the public as mid-year models.
In January 1967, as the operation was slowly recovering, Shelby American began conceptualizing the incremental changes they envisioned for next year’s ‘68 Shelby G.T. models. Several cars, including the ’67 Coupe (#0131) and the ’67 Convertible (#0139), were repurposed as ’68 G.T. engineering and styling concept vehicles. Some documents even referred to these cars as “prototypes” when serving as styling concepts for Shelby’s vision of what the ’68 G.T. would be. Brian Styles calls Shelby’s interpretation of the ’68 G.T. model the “Lost Chapter” in Shelby American History. Before discovering the important January 1967 document outlining Shelby’s own vision for the ’68 G.T., only Ford’s final design of the ’68 was known.
With delayed deliveries and reduced demand, Shelby American placed their last Fastback orders with Ford in March 1967, sealing the fate that additional convertible and coupe variants would never get built. This resulted in the first ’67 G.T. 500 Coupe (#0131) and first ’67 G.T. 500 Convertible (#0139) becoming the ONLY multi-carbureted Mustangs of each body style ever to be built by Ford and therefore the only examples ever completed by Shelby American. All three cars (#0100, #0131, #0139) continued to be used for marketing and engineering purposes for nearly another 18 months, well after the California operation was spun down, reconfigured as Shelby Automotive, and then relocated to Ionia, MI.
For many years, the status of these three cars was unknown. The Fastback (#0100) eventually was bought by Eric Johnson’s parents on December 27, 1979. Its provenance remained unknown until Johnson discovered that it was the very first G.T. 500 to be ordered, serialized, and built. He still remains the car’s owner.
The Convertible (#0139) passed through the hands of a number of people who faced skepticism, initially that the car ever existed, and then, once authenticated, additional scrutiny as to what purpose it actually served. After acquiring the car in 2009, Styles spent the next 10 years researching the car’s history and validating the car’s provenance thanks, in part, to the release of records from Shelby American to the Shelby American Automobile Club. The convertible (#0139) was profiled in Vintage Roadcar in December 2013 when it was believed the car had been intended only as a styling study of the 1968 Shelby G.T. 500 convertible. Thanks to Styles, Shelby and Ford’s intention for that car and the coupe were revealed (Brian Styles Interview). Styles continues his relentless pursuit of the history of the convertible, as well as the coupe and fastback, so it is possible that additional information about these cars’ history is still to be discovered.
The fate of the Coupe (#0131), nicknamed “Lil Red,” remained a mystery for years until it was discovered in a shameful state in a Texas field on March 3, 2018. While researching paperwork being used to document the “Green Hornet,” another experimental coupe, restoration specialist Jason Billups stumbled across information that included Lil Red’s hidden Ford VIN. He then ran a search of the national VIN database and found the car. Billups subsequently restored Lil Red, and it debuted to the public in January 2020. Barrett-Jackson Chairman and CEO Craig Jackson now owns both the Green Hornet and Lil Red.
Fast-forwarding 55 years, the first three Shelby American G.T. 500s were finally displayed together, in public, for the first time. This special event took place at the Indiana Shelby American Automobile Club’s (INSAAC) annual Fall Classic, sponsored by Barrett-Jackson, Billups Classic Cars, and Scott Fuller Reproductions. In addition to the G.T. 500 “trio” about a hundred show cars were expected, with special indoor displays and an expansive outdoor display on the resort grounds. There were some other very special Shelby automobiles displayed inside the event building, including the very first ’65 G.T. 350 and the last ’70 G.T 500 convertible.
The show was open to the public on Friday, October 22 at the French Lick Resort and Casino located in French Lick and West Baden, IN. Doors were open for spectators from 9 am until 3 pm, with the exciting G.T. 500 “trio” unveiling happening at 10 am sharp. Admission was free for spectators (perhaps intentionally leaving visitors with some spare change for the Casino).
Important details about these first three G.T. 500s:
The only multi-carbureted Mustang Convertible built by Ford.
The only G.T. 500 (428-8V) Convertible completed by Shelby American.
The third G.T. 500 to get built by Ford and completed by Shelby American.
Repurposed to serve as a styling concept for the ‘68 G.T. Convertible.
Repurposed again for use in the ‘68 advertising materials (Ford’s design).
Claimed by Carroll Shelby to be his “Personal Driver.”
On July 31, 1967, Shelby American valued the convertible at $4,249.76.
Carroll Shelby had an incremental vision of what the ’68 G.T. models would look like. These three cars represented the 1967 increment toward that vision. Sadly, only Ford’s vision of the ’68 models is known.