In the early 1990s, I decided to buy a Mustang convertible. At that time I owned a red 1968 Cal Special with a black vinyl top. I had found that car parked in a garage in Dearborn while attending a Christmas party. I stepped outside for some fresh air and saw it in the garage, with a picnic table stored on top of it.
After a few weeks of discussions with the owner about restoration, driving and enjoying classic cars, I convinced him to part with it. I changed the oil and drove it back to my home in Grand Rapids. West Michigan Mustang restored it for me, and I drove it, showed it and generally enjoyed it until I began to consider the short driving season that Michigan winters force upon us classic car owners. So I decided to buy a convertible to maximize my short summers. I put my friends at WMM on a quest to help find a great one for me as this was before the internet and all I had as a resource was Hemmings Motor News.
The word came shortly that they had found the Holy Grail of Mustangs: a 1968 Shelby GT 500 KR convertible: about 22,000 original miles; 428 SCJ, four speed and with a rare option: air conditioning. One of only 318 built, Wimbledon white with a black interior and top.
It was in pieces. It seems that it was stolen in 1969 from the original owner in Louisiana. By the time it was recovered by the police who busted a chop shop, the owner had taken the insurance money and bought another car. So the insurance company sold the parts to a guy in Kentucky, who stored it in a horse barn with his GTO. A car buyer who was looking for the GTO saw it, sent polaroids, and I decided to go for it.
The vehicle was delivered on a flatbed trailer. Included was the title and the documents from the insurance company. On a whim, I sent a letter to the original owner at the address on the title. Here we were 20 years later, and wrote to tell him I have his car in for restoration and was wondering about the history. Astoundingly, the letter was delivered to him and he wrote back. He stated that he was enjoying the KR very much when some idiots stole it from him. His insurance company paid his claim, and he bought a big block Corvette with the proceeds. By the time it was recovered, he didn't want it back. He asked me to send him photos of the car when the restorarion was completed. I wrote back with photos once it was done.
The restoration was completed and I had a great car. I won a few shows, and drove it on nice sunny days. Which leads to this final part of my tale. Burlingame Racing Engines had rebuilt the motor. The owner raced a Boss 302, so I knew he was the guy for me. Being cautious with my investment, I slowly broke in the 428 SCJ. But after a month or so of babying it, it was time to really drive it.
I drove onto the highway early one sunny summer Saturday morning. I headed west, and with the sun barely up behind me and the top down, I saw virtually no traffic at all. As an old gearhead, I was familiar with a slight downhill stretch where you could see all the cars ahead for miles. So, when I got to that section of road, I stood on the accelerator. The 428 was very responsive. The handling actually improved as I exceeded 90 mph. I was just nearing the end of my run when I saw the blue Michigan State Police car in my mirror, flashers going.
The trooper approached my window. I had my license, registration and proof of insurance handy. He politely asked me what I was doing at that speed on a public road. I told him that this car had just come out of restoration and had not run in over 20 years. I explained that the car seemed as eager as I was to run out. I said that the beautiful day, wonderful car, and no traffic meant I just had to let the horses run free. He went back to his car to run a L.E.I.N. check on me, and I thought, to write a ticket. He came back to my car, handed me back my papers and said, "Do us all a favor and find a track next time you and that car have that feeling." In gratitude, I drove to the next exit and took county roads back home, enjoying the top-down, 55 mph (or less) cruise. And there was never any need for a radio, with that 8-cylinder symphony playing under the hood in front of me.
Years later I sold the Shelby to help put a couple of my kids through college, and have had collector cars since, but driving that Shelby at speed was a fun and visceral automotive experience that will stay with me forever.