When Steve Beck was a teenager, he wanted a cool American car to take to his first big job interviewing as a mechanic. A friend offered to let him try out his—a 1965 Shelby GT350. Smoke came from the engine and the water pump leaked, but Beck got halfway around the block and he knew he’d stumbled on something special. On his 18th birthday, he shelled out $900 for the now-legendary pony car, and he even got the job. “I got hired just because I drove it to the interview.”
Forty-three years later, the connection between man and machine has never been stronger. “I’ve had the car apart and together at least five times,” says Beck, now 61. “Every time I break it, it goes back together and it goes faster, quicker, easier to drive.”
Beck, a successful mechanic and a former VP of the Los Angeles Shelby American club, hasn’t gone easy on the ’65 Shelby over the years. He feels right at home wheeling his GT350 around Willow Springs, the California race track he first visited in the 1970s for track days and driving instruction. Since then, he’s done plenty of vintage racing, slalom driving, and collecting speeding tickets. “Been in jail twice for going too fast in it,” Beck reflects, nonchalantly. “It was registered to my mother for years and years because I couldn’t get insurance.”
Still a thrill to behold today, Beck’s ’65 GT350 is more or less as Shelby envisioned it back in the day. Aside from the R-model front end and minor oddities like competition-spec panels under the gills, it bears the same hallmarks that made the GT350 a stunner, including the factory wheels, larger brakes, quicker steering setup, Koni shocks, and Detroit locker rear end.
The engine, however, isn’t quite the original 306-hp 289-cubic-incher, according to Beck. He admits it is a bit of a “cheater engine” that yields extra muscle, but it doesn’t bother him if that makes it less of a show car. And if one day he has to pass the car on to somebody else, he still has all of the original parts to take it back to factory spec.
Beck knows his way around the track as well as he does around his Shelby, and he falls into a slick, familiar rhythm before long. “There’s a lot involved in driving these old cars, they feel heavy and manual. Modern cars get it done a lot easier and a lot better—you probably can one-hand it and eat a cheese sandwich with the other—but you’re not quite as involved. After 10 laps in [the GT350] you’ve had a workout.”
Beck is grateful for the treat it’s been to own such a spectacular car for so long. “Staring through the windshield, all the sudden I’m 18 again.”