The One and Only Short Wheelbase ’65 Mustang

There’s been many a slip twixt the cup and the lip and in the car world there’s cars that exist but the explanation for why they exist has been lost to history. Such a car is a car I saw at the Greenfield Village Sports Car show in 1964. It was candy apple red. And it was short, shorter than the Mustang of the times. And it was a fastback when Ford hadn’t introduced the fastback yet. The car was recently displayed at The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in a whimsical category they inaugurated called: “What Were They Thinking?”

The car resulted not from Ford’s Styling studios, but actually from Ford’s prescient tie-in with the popular custom car wizards of the days, guys like George Barris, Gene Winfield , Darryl Starbird and Dean Jeffries. They might have been known coachbuilders around the world like Pininfarina or Ghia off in Italy, guys who affix little coachbuilder’s badges to some of the cars they design but damn it, they were our coachbuilders.

Ford started the traveling road show called The Custom Car Caravan in 1962. Originally the plan was to have the cars built at Ford styling but as venues increased to show them they started accepting cars commissioned by private owners to be built at custom shops.


One of the private outside-Ford designers was an Indiana lad named Vincent Gardner. He had won the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild award while still in high school. That was an award where you built a model car and were judged on that, receiving, I believe a college scholarship. He began in the auto industry before the war with the Auburn Automobile Company, when they were developing the Cord cars, very advanced for their time, and worked on Cord 810.

Then he went to Studebaker where he worked under the famous French-born Raymond Loewy, who did a lot of Studies including the Avanti. But Gardner yearned to hang out his own shingle and as early as 1951 was doing his own designs. Roughly a dozen years later he began working with Andy Hotton’s Dearborn Steel Tubing, a shop in Detroit that built prototypes for Ford, everything from race cars to limousines. In fact in ’64 they were busy making a lot of ’64 Mustangs into AFX drag racing cars.

When the Mustang came out, he saw this exciting new car as a good vehicle to showcase his talent. He glommed onto a Mustang in 1963. It was one of ten pre-production 1965 chassis.(chassis 100009) He shortened the wheelbase, and did his own fastback, similar to the one Ford offered in ’65 ½ but yet with its own character due to its wheelbase, shorter by 16 inches. Some think he chopped out too much but he wanted a dramatic car and only by making it a two seater could he do that. Interestingly, Gary Witzenberg, a renowned historian, says that a GM designer Gail Halderman, told him that Ford had tried to make a two seater prototype but when they chopped the Mustang shorter, they found there wasn’t enough room for the spare tire, fuel tank, and luggage. There are a half dozen pictures in various Mustang books showing two seater Mustang hardtops so Gardner was merely echoing what was already happening inside Ford, though the public didn’t see those two seaters.

The Gardner Mustang ran a 260 cu. In. V8 though that was bored out to 302. One account is that Ford heard of the car while it was still being built and invited it to be part of the caravan. One of those who saw it was a man named Bill Snyder. He asked the Ford representative at the show if it was for sale and was told “no.”



Now comes the weird part. Since Ford regularly destroyed concept cars (they had hundreds, jammed into warehouses, I’ve found some of them myself) he was afraid they would destroy his car when its show biz career was over. The urban legend is that he took it out of the cars stored from the Caravan and walled it up inside an Inkster, Michigan warehouse. Then he didn’t’t pay the rent. Ironically an executive at the Insurance company that paid the claim on the lost car bought it when it was found six months later, and eventually sold it. This according to a story on the website

Most people forgot it existed. But Bill Snyder didn’t. In 2011 he told some of the car’s history on a website called the Shelby Forum . One interesting comment he made there was that the chassis was shortened by Ford Engineering. This account is somewhat in contrast with the story that did not know of the car being built until after it was being built, though I am sure engineers working on the Ford drag racing Mustangs saw the car being built at DST as they used Andy Hotton to build the drag Mustangs.

He discovered mention of the car in Motor Trend in 1965, when they were talking about a limited amount of the cars being built and those with fiberglass bodies. At the time he was driving a 1954 Corvette and thinking of getting a new car, and this one would have a fiberglass body.


He also says it was stolen from the our base in Inkster, MI, which when you use the word “stolen” indicates the presence of an insurance payment being made, because otherwise the implication is that Gardner reported it stolen. in Germany, which has a lot of histories of rare Mustangs, says Ford only rented the car from Gardner.

Snyder told the website: “Long story short the car was hidden behind a wall in a nearby warehouse with rent paid for over twelve months. During that time the insurance company paid for the lost car believing that it had been broken up for parts. Eventually the wall was knocked down and the insurance company took possession. Then it was stored outside in Connecticut till 1969 when it was advertised in Hemmings. I bought it over the phone and it sits in my garage now awaiting restoration. It has few miles but the several years out side in the weather ravaged the candy apple lacquer paint as well as the SS wheels and chrome.” Snyder got the car restored, by Michael Capozzi of Capaldi Enterprises and displayed it to much acclaim.

Lesson learned? Bill Snyder lusted after this car for a long time, and in fact, you could say that for a long time he was the only one who still remembered it who still had the torch burning for it. When it came up for sale in Hemmings, he was ready willing and able to buy it, though he couldn’t summon up the moola to restore it until some years later.

What’s the car worth today? Well, it spans that once inseparable gulf between factory concept car (called “dream cars” in the Fifties) and custom car. In this case it was Ford showing the car so it makes it a “factory approved” custom, welcoming it into the fold so to speak. If it can be documented that Ford engineers were involved in the chassis shortening or Ford stylists approved Gardner’s drawings, then it becomes even more of a factory prototype….


Even if you read all the stories that have been printed since its restoration and display, a few questions remain unanswered: Who did the insurance company write the check out to? Gardner or Ford? Did Ford shorten the chassis for DST or did DST do it according to their own ideas? Did it have a fiberglass body, if not all fiberglass, which parts? And was the design for Ford’s 2-plus-2 fastback already “hardened” and scheduled for production before this car was done? If it was, we can’t quite say Gardner’s creation spawned the production model. Finally what did the insurance company pay out for it and how much did the insurance executive sell it for? If anyone knows the answers, we’d love to hear them.

[Image source]

The BOSS Shelby: A one-off car, still searching for details…

It’s hard to believe that a Boss 302-powered ’69 Shelby Mustang, the only one ever built, has stayed nearly unknown for all these years. Now the car has been fully restored to the way Kar Kraft assembled it in 1969. One story has the following version as the reason for the car’s existence. This version says, that near the end of Shelby’s ’65-’70 production run, the plan was for Ford and Shelby to use the exciting new Boss 302 engine as the foundation for a special run of 36 GT350 fastbacks featuring this engine instead of the 351 cu. in. engine they had scheduled for 1969. Essentially, the cars were going to be Boss 302s but in Shelby clothing. Oddly all of them were going to be the same color–Grabber Yellow with black stripes and a black interior. Yet, just to confuse historians decades alter, the prototype was an early production Boss 302 in Acapulco Blue, one of the four available colors for ’69 Boss 302s. It was what car collectors call a “pilot” car, i.e. a car built to test the assembly line to see if they could build the car right before they start cranking them out in earnest.

You would think that the solid-lifter, Trans-Am-bred-in-racing Boss 302 would be a shoo-in for the Shelby. After all, hadn’t Shelby himself demonstrated that back in ’68 when Ford brought out the 428 Cobra Jet in the Mustang on April 1, 1968, and very soon after Shelby announced the GT500 KR (“King of the Road”) using that engine? He was quick to capitalize on whatever Ford came up with.

Of course Shelby had already upgraded the small block engine once, dropping the 302-4V that he had in the ’68 Shelby GT350 in favor of the 351-4V Windsor, which matched the Boss 302 at 290 hp. But though it sounds bigger, and is bigger in cubic inches, the Boss 302 was the real performance engine of the two, the 351-4V Windsor (named after the plant in Canada where it was built) was a pedestrian engine with ample torque but less high revving ability.

The Boss 302 by contrast, was fitted out with all the good stuff: four-bolt mains, canted valves, and a Holley four-barrel riding on an aluminum intake. Ford homologated the Boss 302 for Trans-Am by producing a run of production Boss 302 fastbacks in 1969 and 1970. They also were producing the Boss series in a big block with the big Boss 429 engine in ’69-’70. And scheduled was the Boss 351 for 1971.

So maybe it was the change in body style, the idea came too late. Plus Ford already had the Boss 351 planned. Based on the ’71 body style. And to tell the truth, Ford really didn’t need Shelby anymore. Whatever sales commission he was being paid on each Shelby that Ford built wouldn’t have to be paid anymore because Ford owned the name Boss. Also, the name “Shelby” wasn’t working its magic anymore. The ’69 Shelbys, both the GT350s and GT500s, were proving to be dogs in sales. Shelby wrote his mentor, Lee Iacocca, at Ford and requested an end of the Shelby Mustang program. What cars there were still in the pipeline with re-numbered (after getting FBI permission) as ‘70s and dolled up with front spoilers and hood stripes.


Now we come to the barn find part. This pilot car escaped. Nobody knows how. The numbers mavens have researched it ad infinitum and determined that, yes indeed, Ford’s Dearborn Assembly plant assembled this Mustang with a Shelby consecutive unit number on May 6, 1969, coincident with ’69 Boss 302 production. According to the experts, the car carries both a Boss and Shelby VINs, the VIN SN 9F02G482244 having a “G” identifying it as a Boss 302 engine; while the consecutive unit numbers that began with “48” were Shelbys. Plus it shows signs of being a executive order car, i.e. a car made at an executive’s request. That number was DSO number 9999. The Shelby club lists it in their Shelby American World Registry with its G-code VIN that stands out among a sea of M-code (351) and R-code (428 Cobra Jet) numbers in that model year.

Shelby by 1969 had actually decamped from his Los Angeles airport factory, the airport harassing him because he was using airport property without having airplanes (they ignored his “gooney bird” DC3) So Mustangs bearing the “48” series i.d. numbers usually went to the firm Ford contracted to make Shelbys, A.O. Smith Company in Southfield, Michigan. However, the researchers at various Shelby clubs have determined that this particular car — 9F02G482244—was diverted to Kar Kraft, a Ford-owned mini-factory that did special projects, such as building (in ’64) the Ford Thunderbolts or later, the Boss 429s.

A “999” report from Ford’s Customer Assistance Center revealed that this ’69 Shelby GT350 was built with the following equipment: a 302 H.O. engine, a close-ratio four-speed transmission, a 3.50 Traction-Lok differential, power front disc brakes, an Acapulco Blue exterior paint, knitted high-back bucket seats, F60 x15 tires, a rear sports deck, the deluxe appearance group, an AM/FM multiplex radio, tinted glass, deluxe seatbelts, racing mirrors, a heavy-duty battery, and a tachometer with a 140-mph speedometer.

A later owner, who prides himself in his anonymity, is reported to have contacted Carroll Shelby for more information about the car’s raison d’etre. Unfortunately by that time all the engineers Shelby could name, including Shelby-American’s head engineer, Fred Goodell, were deceased so not only couldn’t Shelby himself tell him much about it but he was not working out of Dearborn by that time and never even saw this Boss 302-powered GT350.

At first the owner, who has a beautiful website wanted to call it a prototype but reports are that Shelby felt better about the term “pilot car,” because this was still a standard Boss 302 albeit with Shelby fiberglass and equipment, including front fenders, a grille, a hood, foglamps, side scoops, special interior trim, a rollbar, and other Shelby-specific features.

One clue that the bodywork was originally planned to be a Shelby is that it still has the factory-drilled firewall holes to plumb wiring to the foglights that were standard on the Shelby but not on the Boss 302s. Another owner of the car before the restorer found a set of Shelby wheel centercap decals and an extra foglight switch under the original carpet.

Usually prototypes have some pictures that were taken by the automaker deep in the company’s files. But when George Huisman, a previous owner of the car and owner of Classic Design Concepts in Detroit, dove into Ford’s archives he had no luck. One explanation for this might be that this was an “end run” around Ford management. Shinoda angered Ford designers by reporting directly to Knudsen, ignoring the chain of command. So maybe no pictures were taken because they didn’t want to tip off management until they saw how the car turned out. One unusual feature is that the car is the only known ’69-’70 Shelby with manual steering.

Its history since it was a Ford-owned pilot car has been patched together. It is believed that it was a Ford pilot car for only two months then a Ford engineer bought it, disguising it by removing all the Shelby-styled body parts. Of course some bits remained included the interior, the rollbar, the roof snake badges, and five-spoke Shelby wheels. But that would only look like an ultra enthusiast who owned a regular Mustang but was a wanna-be Shelby owner. That engineer is reported to have kept the car for about a decade before selling it in 1979 or 1980.

And then, unbelievably, the car began what almost looks like an All-American tour, going from one owner to another, a dozen in all before it landed with the owner who has restored and documented it. It was when it got to Indiana that its specialness was recognized and it got its Shelby bodywork replaced. The owner was so meticulous he was able to get sheet metal that was stamped within two weeks of the build date, meaning that even if it was a new panel, it could have been built within two weeks of the original.

Reconstructing the interior, the restorer got close –estimating the interior is now 75 percent original. The C8FE block is stamped X48. The C7FE crank, rods, and heads are original as per Boss 302 as well. Still seeking validation for his car, the owner even went to Carroll Shelby and Edsel Ford II to ask for signed documents that would certify that the car was the one and only Shelby built with a Boss 302 engine. Shelby not only autographed the glovebox door he added the words “One of One.”

As the author of a series on barn finds, I’d very much like to include this car but there’s still a lot of questions I’d like to ask (I wrote the webmaster of that site, but no answer was received) , such as: “How much did the Ford engineer who bought the car from Ford disguise the car?” “Did he change the body panels to regular non-Shelby ones?” and “Why did Ford not consider it for production?” Are there any Mustang fans out there who remember coming across this car before it became a famous barn-find? There’s a lot of mysteries in the muscle car world and this is one of them….
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss’ latest book Incredible Barn Finds can be ordered from Enthusiast Books (715) 381-9755

The Lost (Italian) Bertone Mustang – Where Is It Now?

Oh, it’s out there somewhere that’s what I’m told. When I talked about it on a Mustang forum, some forumite told the others on the forum something to the effect of: “someone has it but doesn’t want to talk about it.”

Hey, until such time as I see it rolled out into the noon-day sun, I still say it’s lost. I speak of the 1965 Mustang bodied by Bertone in Italy and designed by no less than Giorgetto Giugiaro then a young designer still on his way up, and years before going out on his own to start Ital Design.

It had a lot of innovative features such as a full width grille with hidden headlamps, a very airy glass filled roofline, and a totally redesigned interior. The exterior was a light turquoise blue, more green than blue and the interior a tan/orange what the Italians call “goosebeak.” The interior looks more Ferrari-ish or Maserati-ish than anything from America. Though I did recognize the shift lever.

The exterior had the same side vents as featured on several Giugiaro designs at the time, including a couple of Maseratis.

The car would be more favorably remembered if that damned Mazda company didn’t use the nose treatment on the RX-2 Capella and the side roofline on the RX-4. Of course we can blame Bertone who, semi-secretly, was a design source for Toyo Kogyo (Mazda). I say semi-secretly because Nuccio Bertone had pledged to fellow Italians he wouldn’t help the Japanese because they knew the Japanese could bury them in small car output (which they did).

The one-off Mustang was done for an important and influential American, L. Scott Bailey, founder and publisher of Automobile Quarterly magazine.

I saw the car once, parked outside “the glass house”, the nickname for the Ford World HQ in Dearborn. It made its U.S. debut at the NY Auto Show in 1965.

Sometime before his death I saw an ad by Mr. Bailey asking for the whereabouts of the car. I thought this was odd. If he sold it, then he should know it’s in the hands of a legit owner. Maybe he wanted to buy it back for old time’s sake. On the other hand, I recall reading somewhere that it was stolen in Monte Carlo or sold to a Greek ship captain. Take your choice on those rumors.

I think, if it was indeed stolen, it would be foolhardy to show up in it or it could be confiscated by the owner who owned it at the time it was stolen. But even the ownership trail might be murky, maybe Ford still owned the car when ownership was attributed to Bailey as often happens when celebrities have a car but then it turns out they were only “loaned” the car by an automaker. And car companies do strange things to cars bodied outside the country. Sometimes they would rather cut them up rather than pay customs duties or have them privately owned and used for purposes which could incur liability upon them.

And so it is, it’s on my list of ‘Cars to look for’ but I don’t have much hope of finding it. So, at the risk of letting other people know it might be on the loose, I’m putting out the word. This is a Mustang that, if properly restored, could grace the lawn at Pebble Beach. And maybe take a million plus at a Monterey auction. But this isn’t about money. It’s about lost treasure–one man’s dream translated into metal. Is it lost forever…or gathering dust in a barn? Inquiring minds want to know….

[REVIEW] The Definitive Shelby Mustang Guide 1965-1970

There have been at least half a dozen guides to the first gen (’65-70) Shelby Mustangs. But finally there’s a book that is deeply research-based and not just conjecture. Greg Kolasa has done just that with the Definitive Shelby Mustang Guide 1965-70 form CarTech Publishing.

He goes into each year of the original Shelby Mustang run,separating fact from fiction and doing a bang-up job with color pictures that show the changes in trim not only from year to year but within the same model year. In his intro, he says the digital camera is what convinced him–when he could take hundreds of pictures at a single event and then back those up with facts.

Atlhough his book is mostly “in this year they offered this” approach, if you read between the lines you see that from ’65 to ’67 Shelby’s west coast operation was always playing “catch up” trying to correct manufacturing flaws due to changes in parts vendors, poorly designed parts or misunderstandings of the dealers, customers, etc.

Particularly illuminating is the chapter on the Hertz Shelbys where there was a braking issue and Ford had to hurriedly put in a booster brake. Kolasa alludes to having access to original documents for much of his book but he doesn’t reproduce them. The blurb says he did many interviews but I couldn’t find any interviews reproduced so I presume the main purpose of the interviews was what reporters call “for background,” i.e. to fact check his conclusions for instance that there was only four, not six, ShelbyGT350 convertibles in the early days before ’68.

He mentions only Chuck McHose as the designer of the ’67 when other books mention two designers being sent from Detroit. In the ’69 model he doesn’t come out and say who was responsible for the more dramatic look of the car (more divorced from the production Mustang than any previous model), nor does he
mention if the Mustang Milano show car came out before or after when that may have been the car that influenced the ’69 if it came out first.

He never mentions the Boss 302 or Boss 429 as having been spoilers for the later Shelbys and why Ford would deliberately introduce two high performance cars that would more or less dig the grave for the
Shelby brand.

One new bit of info for this reporter-who has spent over 40 years studying the marque-was the author’s tale of a year long battle between Ford and the Michigan firm building the cars -A.O.Smith- over finishing the cars and who should pay for them. I hope in a later edition, Kolasa can reproduce a Ford memo on why Shelby left; or his letter of resignation from Ford or something to explain why the program fell apart after he left. Actually in auto history this often happens, more recently when DeTomaso left Kjell Qvale in the lurch on the front engined Mangusta, forcing Qvale to re-name the cars the Qvale Mangusta and dooming the car once the public realized it was no longer a DeTomaso product.

Kolasa has hundreds of excellent pictures, though he does make the mistake of printing at least one of a clone, when I think the market for the book is those restoring Shelby Mustangs or those who want to build a clone and the last thing they need is to build a clone using for reference a picture of a clone. The most valuable pictures in his book are those of the ’65 R model—even a clone of that, to be correct, would have to cost over $50,000 to build so you need really accurate pictures of the dashboard, engine compartment and such.

He also briefly mentions Shelby’s attempt to make replicas, not using the word replica, with a firm called Beverly Hills Mustang and says those are accepted as continuation cars. But I wonder if that means acceptance by an auction company or just some club. Clubs of course can deem a car anything they want but I say if you go to an auction and the auctioneer is implying a continuation car is the real thing, that’s fraud. If a ’65-’70 Shelby was made out of time sequence (after the ‘60s) they are replicas, pure and simple. He doesn’t mention a later effort with a Marina del Rey TV producer which resulted in at least one finished car.

The size of the book, only about ¾” of an inch thick and roughly the dimensions of a business letter, makes it easy to carry the book around a car show or auction and I think this will be a book every owner of a ’65-through’-70 Mustang who likes Shelbys will want to own and make marginal notes in. The price–$39.95– is a bit high but the paper quality and printing are excellent and I laud them for going all color. Let’s hope they do a paperback version at a more reasonable under $25 price.

In sum, this book is a keeper and a good reference. I would have wanted more history, maybe explaining the changeover in advertising from Shelby doing it to Ford, but to be fair, the subject of Shelby is so big that if they included everything, you’d have another door stop 500-plus page book like the Rinsey Mills book when the real need is for a reference book you can carry around at club meets and auctions.

Contact Car Tech, at if you can’t find it at your local bookstore.

Wallace Wyss is the author of SHELBY The Man, The Cars, The Legend