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Northwestern Ford and the Playboy Shelbys

Northwestern Ford was located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During the late 1960's it was one of the Midwest's most dynamic and energetic dealerships. Northwestern was Wisconsin's only authorized Shelby franchise. In other words, all the new Shelbys in Wisconsin went through Northwestern.

Northwestern Ford was started in 1916 by Louis Snetcamp. Snetcamp began by selling Ford's "Model-T". Snetcamp was active in the dealership until his retirement in the mid 1960s. Around 1965, John Bearce and Leonard Rohrbach (Snetcamp's nephew) purchased the dealership from Snetcamp.

Louis Snetcamp left this stock to the Home for Lutherans. They were gracious enough to share it with me.

The original Northwestern Ford was located at 2428 W. North Avenue in Milwaukee. Today it is a vacant lot. In April of 1966, the dealership moved to a new location on Silver Spring Drive.

I was very fortunate to spend some time with John Bearce. He is an interesting person with a long history of being around high performance automobiles. Many of the pictures for this article were provided by Mr. Bearce. Let's go to the grand opening of Northwestern Ford's new location on April 22, 1966.

Here is a copy of the invitation sent out to over 1500 Milwaukee area residents.

The grand opening of Northwestern Ford was a BIG event. No less than fifty billboards covered the Milwaukee metro area. Both of Milwaukee's major newspapers carried articles prior to the event. Many of the smaller papers also covered it. Advertising also occurred on local television and radio stations.

A large parade featured ten Model-T cars, including one that was sold new at Northwestern in 1916. It also included Ford's full line of products for 1966 and a GT40. Pictured left to right are Rohrbach, Bearce and Snetcamp.

Local TV personality, Ward Allen and Albert the Alley Cat were in the parade. Allen was the weatherman from Channel 6. Albert the Alley Cat was his co-host. Albert was also the mascot for Northwestern. He was featured in many TV and print ads. During the parade, a young high school student wore the Alley Cat costume. It should be noted Albert was normally a puppet. { Pete's joke: Albert actually had a brother named Filbert. They were twins, but Filbert was left handed } Pictures courtesy of Ron Kurer at .

Once the parade was over, everyone was invited to the showroom. The showroom featured several beauty queens, including a former Miss Wisconsin. Green Bay Packer lineman, Jerry Kramer, signed autographs and tried to fit into a GT40. Also present were Ford dignitaries and the man himself . . . Carroll Shelby.

Inside visitors had a chance to win the use of a new Mustang for a year. The "Lucky Key" contest also included a chance to use a new Galaxie for a year. There were refreshments and free balloons for the kids.

Northwestern Ford was home to one the largest Mustang Clubs in the country. Here is a patch from the Mustang Club.

Because Northwestern Ford was Wisconsin's only authorized Shelby franchise, they provided new cars to smaller dealerships throughout the state. If your car is listed as "dealership unknown" in the Registry, it may have been sent to a non-franchise dealership. This picture shows a 1968 Shelby at nearby Swendson Ford across town. Swendson was not an authorized Shelby dealer. You can see the advertising poster from Playboy magazine on the hood.

Here's another example; Craig Skala's car (Serial Number 44) went to Northwestern Ford. But, it was actually sold new from Zweifel Ford, yet another Milwaukee dealership.

Craig uncovered this interesting feature common to many Northwestern cars. The stock Dzus hood pins were removed and a locking hood pin assembly was installed in its place. A small key is needed to unlock the hood. I have seen several cars from the dealership with this feature.

The original invoice above, actually shows the dealer add-on for the hood locks. Bob, the owner, also paid for dealer underseal. Remarkably, Bob, still owns the red GT500KR today (Serial Number 3556).

This owner's manual is from Pat's GT500KR. Pat is the second owner of the car (Serial Number 4258). Notice the Northwestern stamping.

This character is "little Profit". He started appearing in Northwestern Ford's 1967 advertising. He was the replacement for Albert the Alley Cat. While searching for information on my own 1968 Shelby, I came across another "little Profit". He was moonlighting for a Plymouth dealership in Baltimore. Little Profit originated from a national advertising agency.

On April 15th, 1968 Northwestern Ford had NASCAR Champion, Fred Lorenzen helping promote new Ford products. Fred appeared with the LeMans winning GT40 and the new 1968 Shelby convertible. He also appeared at the local department store (Gimbel-Schusters). This announcement is from the Milwaukee Journal.

Bob Perkins uncovered this original decal. The dealership put these on some cars and handed them out to customers. These little puzzle pieces are still floating around. According to Mr. Kemp, a Northwestern salesman, the Shelbys did not receive Northwestern nameplates.

Jim Cowles of Shelby Parts and Restorations in Green Bay uncovered this original Northwestern invoice. It is for a 1969 Shelby.

He also found this original envelope provided by the dealership for storing your title. If you need parts or help with your Shelby, Jim is a great resource.

I thought I would share this car with you. Quite honestly, it is the best, unrestored car I have ever looked at. A few things have been changed, but very few. It is a treasure trove of 1970 production information. I would really like to thank Perry for sharing this car. I really could not believe that a Northwestern car had survived in this condition.

The car has less than 7,000 original miles on it. The original owner recognized the potential value and parked it.

There is a lot to keep you busy in the engine bay. It is filled with markings and color codes.

This is the definition of a "survivor". Check out the detail on these hoses and the "slop" gray paint on the brace.

The door jams are a sight to behold. The yellow glue is smeared to hold the stripes in place.

The original space saver even has a small white bag for the lug nuts. The mag wheel lugs would not work on the space saver rim.


Dianne Chandler was Miss September 1966. She also made a visit to Northwestern Ford to promote the new Shelbys. Thanks for the picture Dianne ;-)

Most people are familiar with the pink 1969 Shelby GT500 that was given to the Playmate of the Year. That car actually started out as a Pastel Gray fastback (1969 - Serial Number 1027). It was automatic transmission car without A/C. Almost forgotten are the ten Playboy convertibles from 1968. Shelby had a long running association with Playboy and Northwestern Ford. He visited the dealership frequently.

The convertibles were sent to the Playboy mansion in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The cars had no special identification. In fact, all cars were standard production colors. Six of these convertibles would be sent from Northwestern Ford. The remaining four cars were invoiced to Minar Ford in Minneapolis, Minnesota some 250 miles away.

Here is a picture of a young Hugh Hefner celebrating the grand opening of Lake Geneva. The picture appeared on the front page of the Lake Geneva newspaper in May of 1968.

The cars were used at the mansion, most likely for special guests and staff. All the cars were prepped by the dealerships at the cost of $50. There were five GT350s and five GT500s. The cars stayed at the mansion anywhere from 2-12 months.

The mansion actually opened on Monday 5/6/68. It appears that all ten cars were at the mansion for the opening. Mr. Hefner organized a parade to attract attention. Carroll Shelby participated in the parade. One of Northwestern's salesmen told me Shelby rode in a 427 Cobra. The owner of the car asked Shelby to punch the thin, aluminum skin. Shelby looked at the owner with a puzzled expression. "Punch it . . . and take this marker to autograph the car" Shelby knew how to keep his customers happy and he complied.

Here are the serial numbers of the 1968 Shelby "Playboy" convertibles:

8T03S173639-01989 8T03S173659-02057
8T03S177988-02476 8T03S179578-02755
8T03S179596-02775 8T03J180321-02888
8T03J180347-02991 8T03J183075-03086
8T03J183076-03088 8T03J183081-03093

Here is # 2888, one of the original Playboy convertibles. Thanks Clark!

Brad sent a picture of his Talledega. Sometimes we forget these dealers sold other cool cars, not just Shelbys.

Speed Unlimited was the high performance parts division of Northwestern. This flyer would eventually lead me to find a salesman and the owner.

[This GT40 has been identified as GT/108]

The salesman, Croydon Kemp, told me this incredible story. The GT40s were no strangers to Northwestern Ford. One of the famous cars had appeared at the grand opening event. Several more would show up at the dealership over the years, mostly for promotional events. The Ford Motor Company knew the promotional value of these championship cars. Shortly after one such car arrived at Northwestern, an individual with a lot of pull decided he wanted to drive the car. Ford obviously did not want anyone to drive the supercar. Remember, these cars were beating the pants of Ferraris and capable of 200 plus miles per hour - in the 1960s. As a matter of fact, Ford made sure no one would drive the car (or so they thought). They had removed the clutch and the ignition. Northwestern Ford was a high performance orientated dealership. To illustrate that, Northwestern mechanics were able to make the car road worthy in no time flat. If you are going to drive one of Mr. Ford's champions there is no better place than Elkhart Lake. Elkhart Lake is 60 miles from Milwaukee and things went just fine at the track. Things were going really well until the car left the winding country road on the ride home. When the car was finally returned to Northwestern, mechanics not only had to remove the parts they had installed earlier, but now they had to fabricate some new parts to repair the crash damage. They finished the repairs just minutes before the Ford transporter arrived to pick up the car from the dealership. I marveled at the story wondering if it could be true ?

A special note from Croydon Kemp (added: 1/1/2013)

Hey Pete: I stumbled on your site today and wanted to give you some more information. I am the Mr. Kemp, salesman you refer to on your website. The display (ONLY) GT-40 we made run for Elkhart lake was, in fact, Lee Iacocca's personal car. I was dark blue with a powder blue stripe along the side at the rocker panels.

Regarding the 427 Cobra that Carroll knocked a dent onto was a blue car owned buy a guy from Illinois, I can't remember his name. I was in the right seat at the time and Carroll was sitting on the rear deck. I saw Carroll several years ago at Elkhart Lake for a promo and asked him if he remembered punching a dent in the guys car and he did. We both had a good laugh. The guy told me later the he valued the dent at $10,000.00 on resale. This happened at the Playboy club opening. We couldn't get a Cobra from the factory because they sold faster than Shelby could make them. So this car was gotten through a dealer in Illinois.

FYI: Talk about all the crazy stuff we did at Northwestern. One day a doctor from Fox Point comes in and I sell him a 1967 Galaxie 500 convertible with the 428 option and 4sp manual trans plus every heavy duty option he could buy. The car flew. Three weeks after delivery he calls me up and say's "This thing's a sled. I need it to go faster."

Turns out the good doctor was a Wisconsin Avenue sleeper (drag racer). He would park by the museum and sucker kids into dragging him down the avenue. Apparently he didn't like to loose, but some body blew his doors off and no amount of money was to high to win these 2 block drags. So we ordered him a SOHC NASCAR engine and transmission. It took us two weeks to stuff this monster into the Galaxie. The headers where monster 2" tubes and required the wheel wells be cut out to clear. Ford didn't make mufflers big enough so we used Chrysler big block mufflers.

The first time we lit the engine it idled so rough that you couldn't drive it in town, so we had Isky grind a set of 3/4 race cams for it. Weeks later with the new cams installed and every thing running well the good doctor picked it up at a cost of around $8000.00 (that was a lot of money at the time). It rolled out the door and came back 30 minutes later making all kinds of racket. Well when he punched it going down the freeway the back pressure blew the mufflers off (Unbelievable). So, we welded the entire exhaust system together. Last time I saw the car was when I drove past the museum that Saturday night in my GT500 demo and there he was like a spider in a web.

Best Regards Croydon Kemp

This is Thomas Schelble's original business card. Schelble sold many Shelbys and convinced Bearce to get his Sports Car Club of America racing license.

My friend, Pat, found this picture. The 1970 Shelby convertible (lower, right) was provided by Northwestern Ford. The car is lettered "Northwestern Ford USAC pace car". The race was in Milwaukee. What a day, Shelbys and Superbirds.

John Bearce left Northwestern Ford in 1969. The dealership closed its doors in the early 1970s, after more than 54 years of business. John went on to open his own Ford dealership and set several land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He was also a very successful road racer. He raced trucks in Baja and South America.

John Bearce poses with two Shelby Cobras. The Cobra on the left is a rare 40th Anniversary Edition.

John Bearce has been selling Fords for over 52 years. Today, John has several dealerships in central Illinois. He is an authorized Shelby dealer. He sells new Ford GT500s and new Shelby CSX 4000 series cars. If you are need of a new Shelby, I highly recommend you contact Mr. Bearce. You may never have a chance like this again.

Before I left, John Bearce turned and smiled. He said, " know the GT40 story ? It is true. We couldn't order parts for the car, so we had to make them and no one found out for forty years."

I would like to thank John and Amy Bearce for their contributions to this page. I would also like to thank Mr. Kemp, the Northwestern Ford salesman.

Carroll Shelby takes a minute to promote his already famous cars, April 1966

I am very honored to have received these photos from Ronnie Spain. Ronnie is one the authorities on GT40s and has written several books on these great cars.

This GT40 Mark I was at Road America. Note the lettering on the side of the car.

It might look like a modern day car show, but it's not. These cars are all out for a day at the track. Northwestern Ford frequented Elkhart lake in the late 1960s.

Ronnie believes this is GT 40 chassis # 1064.

...I found the same license plate on eBay :-)

Jay C., the owner, did one better. He sent along this picture of the the original car! He should have the restoration finished soon.

Here is an updated picture of the painted car.

This advertisement was found on eBay. It originally appeared in an old racing program.

I have seen several Northwestern cars with this clear, dealer decal. So far, only one Shelby has appeared with the name.

Service Department Files

Sometime ago, I received several files from Northwestern Ford's Service Department. I thought I would share a few of them with you.

I won't share the specifics, but I thought this might give you some flavor of what went on back in the day. Certainly some of these items are very unique. I wouldn't even trying making one of these claims, unless you have the original papers to back it up.

*1967* A receipt for two 427 heads. Apparently, the wrong heads were installed. Although it doesnt say when the 427 was installed, the owner is known to have had a 1967 Shelby purchased new at Northwestern.

*1968* An invoice for "R & R 3.00-1 rear axle and install 3.89-1" Apparently, the factory mistakenly installed a 3.00 axle in a GT350. This caused the speedometer to be off considerably. Northwestern had to install the correct 3.89 gear set to correct the problem. Not to mention it was probably a little slower than the other GT350s.

*1969* A letter to Shelby dated 5/20/69...

Claim Number 6674

The additional five hours requested in labor time is for transfering a complete motor from a new Shelby in stock to this unit to retain customer satisfaction. With only 700 miles on the unit the customer created a real problem as our Mr Schelbe told him we were having a engine sent in by air frieght when in reality the critical parts order came back back ordered. On top of this the wheel call back program hit at the same time and this really got the owner up in arms. Customer now has his unit all repaired and wheel program completed. He was quite pleased when he left.

So there are at least two 1969 Northwestern cars that do not have "original" engines.

This would be one of the last "Northwestern" Ads. The name was changed to Formolo Ford and the muscle cars became distant memories.

This Ben Berlin, Northwestern's Sales Manager. The GT40s were common place.

If you were interested in a demonstration of Ford performance, this was the place to come.

This was Ben's company car. A nice perk.

This is Ben's son, Mickey, accepting his trophy in Northwestern's showroom for winning Ford's punt,pass,and kick competition in 1967.

His daughter, Lori is standing next to a Northwestern demo at the autocross races. That's the old Milwaukee County Stadium in the background.

This is Todd, the youngest child. Todd, found the webpage and shared these old photographs.

Ken sent me this picture. It is part of an original sign that hung on a fence outside the dealership. It's now part of his collection :-)


Mike's Memories

If you have anything from Northwestern Ford, I would appreciate you getting a hold of me.