50 years after Jim Morrison’s death, where is his 1967 Shelby GT500?
Jim Morrison was a poet who dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. When destiny knocked, he answered the door—technically, The Doors—and quickly became a rock legend. Morrison’s meteoric rise to fame and his reign as frontman for the iconic California band lasted only six years. On July 3, 1971, 50 years ago this week, he died of an accidental drug overdose … or congestive heart failure … or a combination of the two, depending on the source. He was 27.
Morrison, whose instantly recognizable voice belted out a string of rock hits that included “Light My Fire” and “Riders on the Storm,” owned just one car in his lifetime, a 1967 Ford Shelby GT500 that he called “The Blue Lady.” What happened to the car is a mystery. So was the man.
“A walking bundle of contradictions, he was larger than life on stage, whether enraptured by the music or stumbling in a drunken haze,” George Varga of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote recently. “Off stage, he could be sensitive or surly, charming or sometimes combative, an unabashed hedonist, or an urbane aficionado of film, literature, and theater.”
There’s a ton of speculation out there about Morrison, but what was already known about his love for poetry and filmmaking is further confirmed in a new book from HarperCollins, The Collected Works of Jim Morrison: Poetry, Journals, Transcripts and Lyrics. Compiled by Morrison’s sister, Anne Morrison Chewning, it contains excerpts from 28 of Morrison’s recently discovered notebooks, his recorded and unrecorded lyrics, some of his final writings before his death in Paris, and a script and photos from his unreleased experimental film HWY: An American Pastoral, which was shot in the Mojave Desert in 1969. Morrison starred in the film, and so did his Shelby.
Morrison grew up in a strict military family, the son of a Navy admiral who didn’t appreciate Jim’s lifestyle or his long hair. After graduating from UCLA film school, however, it was music that drew Morrison in. In 1965, he joined keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore to form The Doors.
“Getting to be in a band was kind of an accident for Jim because he didn’t set out to be a singer. He was always writing poetry and wanted to go into film,” Morrison’s sister told Varga last month. “I thought Jim would be a poet, like one of the Beat poets in San Francisco. That’s what I was expecting. And I was worried, because I thought he would never make enough money as a poet to get by.”
Morrison did more than get by. After “Light My Fire” topped the record charts in 1967, The Doors became huge stars, practically overnight. Elektra Records founder and president Jac Holzman was so thrilled with his label’s first #1 hit that he offered to reward the band members with whatever gift they wanted. Manzerak and Krieger asked for state-of-the-art reel-to-reel tape recorders. Densmore chose a horse. Morrison, the thrill-seeking frontman, went for horsepower.
As the story goes, Morrison wasn’t sure what car he wanted until he saw the Shelby Mustang GT350 owned by his hair stylist, Jay Sebring. (If Sebring’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he too met an early demise. In 1969 he was murdered, along with actress Sharon Tate, by the Manson Family.) Holtzman not only agreed to buy Morrison a Shelby, he upgraded it to a new Nightmist Blue GT500 with a 355-horsepower, 428-cubic-inch V-8, mated to a four-speed manual. Only 2000 or so were built.
By all accounts, Morrison loved the car and drove it hard—so hard that it was often in the shop for repairs, both cosmetic and mechanical. Thanks to HWY: An American Pastoral, we’re able to see Morrison behind the wheel.
So what happened to “The Blue Lady”? The most popular explanation is this: One night, Morrison was driving recklessly and hit a telephone pole on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. After inspecting the damage, he walked to the Whiskey A-Go-Go and partied the night away. When Morrison returned, the car was gone. Then there’s this version: Morrison parked the car at Los Angeles International Airport while The Doors went on tour, and when he returned the car had been towed. There’s also speculation that the car was sold and resold multiple times—with the owners unaware of what they had—before it was driven into the ground and eventually crushed in the 1980s.
Regardless of which story is true, if someone out there knows where Morrison’s Shelby went, they aren’t saying. There is hope, of course, that the car will be found someday. Steve McQueen’s Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT from Bullitt disappeared for decades, and many speculated that it had been destroyed. Then it resurfaced in January 2018, and two years later, it sold for $3.74M.
If the Shelby GT500 ever follows suit and reemerges, you can bet that the car community will take the words right out of Morrison’s mouth: “Hello, I love you.” And we’ll certainly “Tell All the People.”