1/1/24 By Pete Disher

"Pilot" plant cars are extremely rare. Ford built a handful of cars every year before the production lines started. These cars were used to identify potential problems that would arise once the lines were started. In this case, the car in question, retains its original Ford identification number. That may be even more rare. I believe many of these pilot cars were actually given new serial numbers and simply sold off. A few were undoubtedly used for testing and engineering. This one was sent to Shelby Engineering to become one of the very first 1969 Shelbys.

A lot of people are not very flexible when it comes to their understanding of how Shelbys were built. This car does not have the typical VIN designation of "48". I dont think anyone can argue it is not a Shelby. A pilot car, A Shelby prototype, an engineering car are all applicable titles here. [Prototypes are built before production starts. Engineering cars are production cars used by the engineering department to conduct testing and evaluation].

The first "S" in the serial number indicates this was a non production pilot Mustang built at the Highland Park assembly. It was originally scheduled to be built on July 29, 1968. Ford sometimes used a specific date to schedule special builds. July 29 is easily a full month before actual production lines in nearby Dearborn would start building the 1969 models.

This car was loaded with options when it was assembled. Formally designated an "Introductory Show Unit" it featured Candyapple Red paint and a black knitted interior. Additional options included: 390 4 four barrel engine, 4 speed transmission, GT equipment, rim blow steering wheel, clock, power steering, tilt, console, fold down seat, air conditioning, am/fm stereo, interior decor, exterior decor, tinted glass, head rests, racing mirrors and deluxe seat belts. I think it would be easier to just say "one of everything, please".

There are a couple things noticeably absent. First and foremost is the 428 Cobra Jet engine. It's unclear why the car was originally built with a 390. Perhaps the originally plan did not include a trip to Shelby Engineering? That problem would be addressed promptly. The second thing that is noticeably missing is the Mach 1 code.

1969 Shelby production would not start until November of 1968, so we know this car was converted to Shelby specifications sometime between August and the end of November, 1968. Interestingly, another a pilot plant car would find its way to Shelby Engineering. This car was originally designated 9S02S100026. This car had an identical option list.

This original photograph is from the Ford archive. This photograph is part of a much larger series of photographs of a prototype Shelby. After much research it was determined all these photographs are likely pilot car "26". If you look at the photographs, car "26" has the rear antenna mounted on the driver's side, rear quarter panel. While our featured car, "29" has the antenna mounted on the passenger side, rear quarter panel. This appears to be one of the only differences between the two pilot cars after they got to Shelby Engineering. Because these two cars were originally ordered with the same options, the engine assemblies were likely also identical in appearance. After studying all the photographs, I am confident the car in these photos still has the original 390 engine.

Once the car arrived at Shelby Engineering, it was assigned an engineering tracking number. In this photo, you can see 9S02S100029 was assigned "69ST 304". These numbers would help the engineers identify the specific cars and what their exact purpose was. Some cars assigned to engineering were simply cosmetic builds, while others were used for things like efi and suspension testing.

Because our pilot car was one of the very first Shelbys built, many if not all the "Shelby" parts were also prototypes. Fiberglass (FRP) was not production quality. Things like seat belts were tagged "EXP" or experimental. While the parts were functional, they certainly did not look like what was to come. Shelby Engineering notes indicated the car also received a 428 Cobra Jet engine. Initially it appears the engineers were focusing on the visible outward appearance of the car and not the mechanicals.

So what do you do with a engineering car when your done with it? History has told us many of these cars were simply retrofitted to production specifications and sold off. Many of them sold, to unsuspecting buyers overseas. 9S02S100029 would be donated to a Community College near Grand Rapids, Michigan. The car was part of the auto shop program for many years, until eventually it had outlasted its usefullness.

In May of 1985, Kurt Knoll, a Grand Rapids car enthusiast, purchased the car from the college for $6400. That was a signifcant amount of money for that car at the time. Kurt kept the car in his shop, rarely showing it to anyone. It is very likely Kurt was just a little ahead of his time. He certainly recognized the significance of the car as it related to Shelby history.

After Kurt passed away, his family was left with the decision on what to do with the unrestored car. In 2023, the car was sold to a collector. I was lucky enough to be involved in some of the discussions revolving around the sale of this car and I think everyone was treated more than fairly.

If you have on information on this car or information on the other engineering cars not mentioned, please drop me an email at Coralsnake68@hotmail.com