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The First 1968 GT500 Convertible

Research makes this car pure Gold
Also known as Project "Midas"



Page reviewed and updated on July 4, 2012

The rare and unusual are common place on this website. I really enjoy talking to the owners and telling their car stories. If you saw this car it might appear to be just another early GT500 convertible.

The car shown here is the first 1968 convertible sent to Shelby for modification and a car used by the factory to test various unique parts. This Shelby was one of the first four cars completed and sent to the Engineering department in September of 1967. That is a full two months before regular production started.

Chuck got the GT500 from his father-in-law. His father-in-law was cleaning out the garage. Chuck had his choice of a rare, vintage Corvette or the Shelby. Chuck chose the Shelby. Awesome job, Chuck.

The serial number 8T03S110576-00056 was familiar to me. Chuck had already chatted with the Shelby Automobile Club and several other people about his car. He knew quite a bit about his GT500 and I helped him uncover a little more. Remarkably, several "well known" Mustang restoration shops had seen the car. One person suggested the car was a clone. One shop passed on a chance to buy the car a "bargain" price.

So, why were more than a few people confused about the car? It may have to do with the very early FORD serial number (8T03S110576). Maybe it was the confusing engine codes? The car has three different engine codes. The consecutive unit number portion of the serial numbers all match. Was it a "S" code, a "Q" code or something else?

The first thing you notice when looking at the build tag is the early date code "31H" ( August 31, 1967 ). That predates most early 1968 Shelbys by nearly three months. The next thing you might notice is the "Q" engine code. "Q" code cars are 428 cars. This is the only example of a 1968 "Q" engine code that I have seen. Almost all 1968 Shelbys used the code "S" to denote the 428 engines. A little odd, but certainly within reason.

Shelby should have stuck with the "Q" code. The "S" coded 428 engines found on GT500s were creating confusion. Dealers were confusing the "S" code 428s with "S" coded 390 Mustangs. Shelby had to send out a special letter to dealers to clarify the issue.


Other than the confusing engine codes, the car has some non-standard features. It currently has several 1967, 1968 and 1969 parts on it. Chuck is carefully researching every part trying to determine its true origin. The dash emblem looks unique. It is has a red background. "Cobra Jet" emblems did not appear until months after this car was originally built. Normally the background is black. Could it be original ?

The sill plate emblems are the 1966 style and likely original to the car. They still say "Los Angeles, California". The car was built in New Jersey and converted to Shelby specs in Michigan, like the other 1968s.

This interior panel had several handwritten notations on it. It even included the name of the first owner.

The Shelby Club helped greatly with the documentation of this car. One document shows the car was at the plant as late as January of 1969. That is several months after the 1969 models were started. Chuck was also able to find the first owner after the car left the factory. The first guy to own the car worked at a nearby shop that did work for all the car companies. They mainly built show cars. When it came time to sell, someone from Shelby offered it to him. He related he wasn't partial to the hubcaps, so they encouraged the sale by throwing in a set of 1969 Shelby wheels. Most cars were sold through franchise dealerships and not out the "back door". It may have had something to do with the unique status surrounding this car. (Note: Later in this project, a invoice the car was found. The car was originally sold for $1400. Notations include missing factory wheels, fog lamps and the new for a new convertible top)

From a distance it looks quite like any other 1968 Shelby convertible. But the devil is in the details and in Chuck's case, the devil is in the paperwork.

If you pull out the 1997 Shelby World Registry you find some more interesting notes about # 56. Like the fact it was a car used to test special parts. It was used to test a factory installed 428 Cobra Jet engine with a supercharger. At one time, the car had a traction lok rear end and fuel injection. The Registry describes the car as "bronze". The first owner recalled the car was originally gold.

The Marti Report confirms the car was owned by Shelby Engineering and was the first 1968 GT500 convertible built. Here is some additional information about the car.

8T03S110576-00056 (see below for tag documentation)

Engineering Designation: “ST2 - -“ (dashed info currently missing)

Factory License Plate number: “14M --- “ (dashed info currently missing)

The first regular production 1968 Shelbys were built in late November 1967.

Known engineering modifications to vehicle. Recorded by SAAC from factory paperwork:

Torque sensitive rear axle Believed to be Traction-lok
Fuel Injection Currently not believed to be Conelec (other systems were used such as Lucas and Bosch)
Supercharger Currently believed to be Paxton
428 Cobra Jet installed

Believed to be repainted Gold at factory

1997 Shelby World Registry Entry

00056. GT500. Although it was the next car built following-
00041 (which is presumed to be the first '68 Shelby built)
factory records indicate this car was delivered to
Shelby Engineering 10/1/67. It was company car assigned to
Ray Geddes, it was listed on an inventory of company cars
to be sold (for $3168.47). It is very likley the very first GT500
Convertible built. It was also a test bed for the fuel injected,
supercharged 428CJ engine with emissions equipment and
traction sensitive differential. Like -00041, this car was
described as being painted bronze, but it believed to have been
gold. Also like -00041, no other information about its equip-
ment, present owner or present whereabouts are known.


Current History of vehicle:

Shelby Automotive Engineering Department, 10/18/67 Assigned to Ray Geddes

Purchased by Terry Olexsy, date unknown (1970 ?)

Car repainted to dark metallic brown by Olexsy

Car repainted back to Sunlit Gold

Purchased by William Hanratty (circa 1980)

Purchased by Edward Herremans (circa 1981)

Current Owner: Chuck W., Michigan


Car # 301 is the first GT350 convertible built. It is also featured on this website. The owner, Randy, is helping the restoration by providing information about his car.

Notes added for # 301 information in green
Items on vehicle prior to restoration:



1967 style steering wheel. Says "FIV" on front spoke.

Bob has identified this as an over-the-counter wheel. Decision to replace it with deluxe woodgrain wheel was made, but we will keep this wheel with the car.
#301 deluxe steering wheel / #101 deluxe steering wheel



1967 style door sill plates. "Shelby American Inc, Los Angeles, CA"



1967 dated steel wheels with original small letter GY Speedway 350 tire (spare)

Rim is dated July 67 and tire is date April 67. Tire date code is "YS02015" Believed to be original.




Knee pad

Standard for early car

A -Pillar pads

Standard

Hood seal

Not used on all V-8s at NJ plant. Depends on the engine size.




Front Grille Brackets

Slightly different designs, no beveled corners or slots for hood adjusters



Shock tower caps
Nuts are crudely welded to backs. Is this original?



Bumperettes

Standard all 68 Shelbys, mounting brackets indicate presence

#302 present but chrome

Plastic washer for rear cranks


Fiberglass parts- the quarter panel end caps, headlight buckets, hood and front valance are hand layed. Note the mounting blocks and green fiberglass.
Identified as pre-production fiberglass.





Is this a remnant of a fuel injection system? This electric fuel pump is probably a Holley. Although it matches the location of the "pumpolator" in the engineering bluebrint for fuel injection. It was mounted where the washer bottle normally is located.




Rear seat belt relocation, the rear belt anchors have been moved to the support beside the rear seat. There is no trace of the anchor on the floor.



This feature is found on "early" production Mustang as well.

Unique front seat belt configuration. I found "rear" seat belts on the front seats. One one each side the belts have the plastic protective sleeves like the rear belts.
#301 same, with additional "protectors"





Dash emblem, red backround. I looked at a reproduction and this snake has longer fangs. Reproduction on top for comparison



Grille windlace there are three pieces, not five
#301 same windlace configuration


Oversized oil cooler holes



Non- standard console ash tray



Unique hardware



Fuel line clamps -under car

Rear valance screws


Unique tail light treatment (I also have supporting documents on this)
#301 & #101 same design


Trunk latch - shape

Decal on sunvisor- remenants found




Original C-6 serial numbered Transmission / H servo / PGB-W



Rear Axle undated "SPEC" case with traction lok, unknown ratio at this time. No ID tag present




Rear brake Hose




Ink stamped Horn. One side only!

1969 Shelby wheels. According to the original owner the car left Shelby with these wheels. Hubcaps were in trunk.

1969 door mirrors

1969 High back bucket seats

To be replaced with deluxe 68 seats



Tags on car:


Original build tag, Note Q code engine
#301 same configuration, but non-wavy edges




The first GT350 Convertible built 8T03J110577-00301 has survived. This car is in NC. The owner, Randy C has supported this project.

The first GT350 Fastback built (8T02J110578-00339) and the first GT500 Fastback built (8T02S110575-00041) are both missing.



Note: Information on the Marti report is before the car was sent to Engineering Department. I do not believe the 428 CJ, Supercharger or fuel injection parts left the Shelby plant.






This car is being restored to it's former glory. Chuck has a good head start, because many hard to find items are still on the car. The engineering department likely returned the car to production specs before the car was sold. Chuck is considering a 428 CJ with a supercharger to power the convertible. That combined with the original, factory, aluminum GT500 intake, might make this the baddest GT500 ever built.

If you run across one of the fastbacks listed below or see any original photos of these four, gold cars please email me.



PROJECT MIDAS


Every project needs a code name. When Chuck asked me to restore his GT500, the answer was "absolutely". Together we worked out a schedule and a plan.

After much discussion, we determined the only part of the original engine Chuck has left is the aluminum intake manifold. Chuck asked for a little advice at this point. My thought process went like this, the original motor is gone. Most likely it will not turn up. This special GT500 recieved a 428 Cobra Jet engine at the factory. This is documented. I suggest we reinstall a 428 CJ and build the car to it's original engineering specifications. Oh yeah, the car also had a supercharger. So, a plain wrapper and a kick-@$$ engine. The most unique 1968 Shelby ever built was ready for a restoration.

Chuck wanted to know how long it would take to round up the parts. My answer was simple, "...it could take a very long time to round up a date coded 1968 428 Cobra Jet engine assembly. I guess Chuck wanted to prove me wrong. He came up with a date coded block (actually two) in less than a week!

Together we discussed all the considerations for this project. Here is a just a partial listing.

> Find a date coded 1968 428 Cobra Jet engine assembly
> Keep the engine true to 1968 specifications, complete with Thermactor emmissions (smog)
> Try to find pictures of a big block Paxton setup, enlist needed help, check feasability
> Work out a pulley arrangement for the add-on supercharger
> Work out vacuum and choke diagrams
> Come up with a useable PCV system

That doesn't seem to difficult, now does it? Put a blower on a Cobra Jet and keep it true to 1968 specs. Ha!

In the next update I will discuss how we are going to solve some of these issues.



Some good progress has been made on the car. I have been busy documenting the odd features and trying to determine what is factory correct. It is a good thing that I have a working knowledge of 1968 Shelbys.

Chuck, the owner found enough engine castings to build a date coded 1968 Cobra Jet engine. We had some wiggle room in this area, because the car was born with a 428 Police Interceptor. That motor was later replaced at the factory with a 428 Cobra Jet. Every 428 CJ I have seen was equipped with Thermactor emissions (smog). So, I collected all the necessary pieces to reinstall the system. It was determined that the driver’s side smog tube would have to be slightly modified to accommodate the supercharger.

The next step was to find some photographs of a vintage big block supercharger. I quickly found out, the Paxton system was really built for small blocks. I was able to find some contemporary versions that were fabricated by various talented restorers. I did find a few vintage pictures of a dual supercharged Cobra, but it was later determined the brackets were not original to the car. This of course, means a supercharger bracket would have to be fabricated. I wonder if the factory did take pictures of their supercharged, big blocks ?

My desire was to keep the supercharger system as original as possible. I wanted the supercharger mounted on the driver’s side. I also wanted to use the Paxton air plenum to completely enclose the carburetor. I wasn’t even sure if that was possible. The physical dimensions of the large motor created some unique challenges. After several versions of the supercharger mounting bracket were throw on the scrap pile, I came up with a good compromise. The bracket would also provide support for the power steering pump.


Test fitting the Paxton in # 1701


I did a test fit and found the aluminum GT500 intake manifold is slightly shorter than the 428 CJ manifold. This provided additional clearance for the air box. Actually, I estimated there was at least 5 inches of hood clearance ! Surprisingly, the air box was smaller than a stock Cobra Jet intake manifold with an air cleaner. Because the supercharger is mounted in the same place as an air conditioning compressor, there were no clearance issues. The original washer bottle would have to be relocated, removed or replaced.

I re-routed the engine drive belts to accommodate the supercharger. The belt system is similar to the air conditioning configuration used in 1968.

The supercharger air box does not use a warm air choke. The solution to this was to use the 1967 Shelby big block choke tube setup. Just my luck, the filter used by the 1967 GT500 was super rare. Most of the vacuum fittings remain intact. I did use a system similar to that used on the 1965 Shelby by eliminating the PCV tube. I continue to examine the vacuum hose setup.



The first GT350 Convertible built: 8T03J110577-00301, a gold and black, 4spd.
The first GT350 Fastback built: 8T02J110578-00339, a gold and black, automatic.

The first GT500 Fastback built: 8T03J110575-00041, a gold and black, Automatic.
The first GT500 Convertible built: 8T03S110576-00056, a gold and black, automatic.



Update 7/4/2010

I only restore 1968 Shelbys part time. When I took in # 56, Chuck, the owner, knew there would be some waiting. The good news is work has resumed. In the last few weeks we have addressed some big issues and the body fit process will soon begin. I have been collecting parts for a while and just a few things remain to tidy up.

One of the question I have always had revolved around some of the fiberglass on this unique car. Several pieces of the fiberglass do not appear to be original injection molded parts. This question has been resolved after some very extensive discussions on the SAAC forum (www.saacforum.com) and observations of some very early built cars.



I first saw a similar valance while doing a vehicle inspection on # 311. That red GT350 also had the hand laid style valance. While researching the history of that car, it became unlikely the valance had been replaced. Obviously, two similar valances is not conclusive evidence. A post on the forum revealed as many as a dozen early cars with similar valances. Further discussions led to the discovery of some AO Smith memos that revealed the use of hand laid fiberglass early in production. In the picture above you can see the stranded material on the backside of the lower valance. The mounting ear has also been reconstructed. These lower valances are also a two piece in design, not one large part.



Unlike most early built cars, # 56 also has these same style headlight buckets and quarter panel end caps. Here is picture of the headlight bucket mounting points. These are not quite as pretty as the regular production parts. The square mounting blocks are one of the features of this early fiberglass. The bonding agent for the blocks appears to be the same as the stuff used to glue the GT500 KR hood plenums later in the year.



This quarter panel end cap is actually a two piece design. I think there is little doubt these parts were all made at the same time, by the same people. Portions of the hood are also hand laid. I have noted several variations of the hoods throughout 1968 production. It should be noted these parts are rather unique. The hand laid fiberglass was not used in large numbers. The exception being the lower front valances. The parts may have been used for several weeks early in production. I would not expect to find any fiberglass like this on cars built after December of 1967.



Many of the fiberglass parts appear to be regular production injection molded parts. The front header panel, side scoops, the decklid and the rear valance all appear to be original. These parts are not hand laid. I suspect these molds were the first to be completed.



I have also assembled a very nice set of hubcaps for the car. This may be the only 1968 Shelby to have left the factory with 1969 wheels. The original owner reports that he purchased the car in 1969 without the hubcaps. We have decided to recreate the car as it was before it left AO Smith, so therefore, the hubcaps are a necessity.



Hopefully more next time as the body panels get reassembled to the car. I also have planned a trip to see # 301 in person and document some of this early car's features.



October, 2011

To say the pace on this car has been slow would be an understatement. The good news is we are rolling again. I did have a chance to see #301 in person and the information obtained from that car will certainly help in this restoration.



The console is a mini restoration project. You can easily spend several hours detailing it. I take the entire thing apart and give it a good cleaning. Some dye is usually needed. Try to save as many parts as you can. Carpet and vinyl can be reglued. I noticed the studs differed from the regular consoles. The original gauges have no grounding lugs on the back.





The bellypan is a custom part, made to carry the extra supercharger gauges. These black faced gauges are place holders. I am thinking about having a pair of custom supercharger gauges made to order. There are original part numbers for supercharger gauges from Stewart Warner, but I have never seen the gauges.



Just in case you weren't paying attention, # 301 was the first GT350 built. It was a Hertz convertible prototype. Even though that car has been restored. It did answer a number of questions regarding construction. The car had some very unusual rear spring snubbers similar to those found on 1967 models. I inspected #56 closely and could find no solid evidence these snubbers were installed. Other features of the early cars were confirmed. This included the fact that early 1968 New Jersey built convertibles do not have outboard, rear seat anchors in the floor. The seat belts are mounted to the interior reinforcements.



The right door was replaced. You can see how many coats of paint were on the outside. The paint was sanded back to see the true body line. It's always a good idea to perform a body fit if you are replacing body panels. The scoop was also refitted to the rear quarter panel. Taking a little extra time before your shoot your body color will really make the car look better later.



This is how the fender should fit to the body. A nice gap between the door and fender is achieved by first properly aligning the door to the body. You also want a nice fender to cowl gap.



Once your fender is aligned, you can align the hood. This hood was massaged to near perfection. Unlike regular production hoods, this hood has a "kitty hair" bottom. Originally it appears there was a very crude ram air chamber installed. The decision was made to document that and leave it off the car.



The original fenders were reused. This is the way I received them. I was kind of hoping for some exotic side stripes, but you can clearly see the "GT 500" script from the original stripe kit. This will be removed before final primer. You may have also noticed it appears the factory incorrectly drilled one of the emblem holes.



In the back, the trunk lid was installed with the hinge springs. The hinges will be painted on the car just like the factory did. The decklid is one of the few fiberglass parts that matches the regular production parts. I suspect it was the first part finished at Smith, because it also has another application- The California Specials.

Almost everything else appears to be prototype fiberglass. The end cap was reworked hard by AO Smith. It's hard to see in this picture, but the factory added a lot of material along the vertical edge. This material is red like the glue that was used to bond the fiberglass parts together. The fiberglass itself has a green tint to it and is mostly transparent.



I am hoping to see some Sunlit Gold in the next update. Keep your fingers crossed.





January 2012

You didn't have your fingers crossed! Progress on the car has been steady, but slow. We did get some finish primer on part of the car. Here's the update. We definitely should have Gold paint by April 1.




The painstaking process of body fit continues with the headlight buckets. The body fit was never very good from the factory. Shelby complained about the first five cars (#56 being one of those five). I had to strike a balance between quality workmanship and just slapping the car together. The fact that the original, preproduction fiberglass was identified and could be reused still amazes me. It's difficult to tell the bodyman not to make it perfect. This car will be built to a much higher standard than the original version.



Here you can see all of the body seams are resealed. Some of these seams were originally sprayed with sealer. These will be recovered with a spray sealer.



Upper door hinges always get a bead of caulk. This is a detail many restorers miss. The lower hinges are not caulked. You can check the sealer location and types in the assembly manual.



In the back, the seams are also caulked. These will get painted over by body color. They will become nearly invisible.



This engine compartment is actually in primer. A final check will be made before the final blackout is sprayed. The original engine bays I have seen tend to be a little glossy.





April 1, 2012

Project Midas slips into second gear. Paint and bodywork are done. The car is tenatively scheduled to appear in public next summer. Let's see how it looks.... I have already started to hang a few parts.


You have probably seen this large wad of caulk pushed into the seams. Careful consideration was made to put them back in the correct places.


Original primer had a lot of dripping from the factory. The best experts believe the floor pans were sprayed by spray jets in the floor of the paint department.


The Sunlit Gold is looking really good. This car was painted once at the Ford plant in New Jersey and a second time by AO Smith. Fred Goodell, Shelby's Chief Engineer, was not happy.


The sound deadner was recreated in the trunk. Becuase this was a very early car, we made it look like the assembly manual call out. As production increased, so did the variations.


If you look closely, you can see the roll bar mounting holes. This was one of the first roll bars installed by Smith. It was temorarily screwed into several locations, before the sweet spot was located. It was then welded to the body. The Shelby retracting seat belt anchors were also welded the body on this car.


The first five production cars had these small, aluminum cans riveted into the tail light panels. This would be later be changed to a steel block-off plate. For a short time, only four plates were used. The two large, outboard plates were added to seal the trunk.


Here is a picture of the cans installed from the rear. These cans provide extra clearance for the tail light wiring. There were no block-offs in the outboard openings.


The VIN tag was located on the right side in 1968 only. You don't ever want these to get lost. This original windshield tag actually says the car was built as a "C" engine code.


The original build tag was painted on the chassis, just like the factory. This engine code is the letter "Q". Strange things can happen on the production line. All the other numbers, including the consecutive unit numbers are a match! This will make the experts run for their whiskey.


Now its time to dig out all those NOS parts I have been collecting. This wiring harness will be exposed in the trunk. The near perfect harness came from the Bob Perkin's collection. I didn't tell Bob, I was cutting the sockets off. Sorry Bob!





July 4, 2012 update-

Work is slow but steady. Remarkably, another new document has surfaced. The windshield has been installed. The engine castings have arrived and are currently at the machine shop.





This document is dated 5/28/70. The Shelby plant was already closed at this time. It shows the car as having 14,000 miles. All of those were put on by the engineering department. The starter, convertible top, fog lights and tires all need attention. The car was sold "as is" for $1400. The was a "loss" of $2500 to Ford. We are pretty sure this is the price the first owner paid for the "used" car. It also seems to support his claim the car left Smith with 1969 wheels.


Here is the new, scripted windshield with the trim moldings installed. If your ar rebuilding a car, I highly recommend a new piece of glass.


This is the Paxton mockup. Some of the smaller issues are being resolved. The idea is to keep it "period correct". The Cobra Jet castings will go together to represent a motor built after the car was built. The final finishes have not been determined. I am definetly going to re-use the original intake manifold from the car. Everthing done will reflect the time frame the car was at Shelby Engineering.


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