Pre-Production Prototypes- The Photographic Cars

Revised August 2018

Would you recognize a prototype 1968 Shelby ? After nearly 45 years the two "1968" photographic cars reveal themselves.

By definition, a prototype is not the same as a production car. These cars were built before regular model year production started. They were mock-ups used for photographs, testing and parts evaluation. It is likely some of these preproduction prototypes were destroyed. Two of these 1968 cars were extensively photographed. The lead times for print magazines required that some cars be available well before regular production started. Many of these pictures indicate these cars were at the Los Angeles facilities, before production was moved to Ionia, Michigan. Most of the photograph locations have also been identified.

You may be surprised to learn that the design and prototyping of 1968 Shelbys actually began in the fall of 1966! After 1967 production started, the 1968 pre-production cars began to appear. These cars were built between December 1966 and August of 1967. New research, including a careful examination of original photographs, has led to some interesting discoveries.

AO Smith was originally prepared to build as many as 8,000 Shelbys during 1968. We do know in very early part of 1967, AO Smith sent two complete sets of prototype fiberglass to Shelby's LA assembly facility. It appears these early parts were unlike the final versions that would later appear on the cars. Various other refinements would be made right up until the time production started in September of 1967. These include adding such items as the addition of the Dzus fastners, hubcaps and the new federally mandated side reflectors. Another interesting item was discovered. Early photographs show a variety of stripe and emblem combinations. Some of these alterations were simply photographic touchups. Shelby also used a little slight of hand, using two different emblem combinations on the same car. The right side of the vehicle had one configuration, while the left side had another.

Evolution of the Prototype Convertible

The red convertible (67413C9A00139) appears as a GT500 in the advertisements I have seen. The car has a front, mount antenna and the pictures show both prototype hubcaps and 10 spokes. The side stripes and emblem have been photographically altered in this picture.

We know one 1967 convertible was actually built on November 21, 1966 and sent to Shelby American. A short time later, AO Smith supplied Shelby with two sets of pre-production prototype fiberglass. One set was for the blue fastback and one set for this car. These fiberglass parts were the beginning of the 1968 program.

This picture is one of the more interesting versions I have seen. The left side shows the rocker panel stripe is full and has no model designation. Raised "GT500" letters are on the fender. The right side had a small rectangular emblem on the door, in the rocker panel stripe.

This car was reportedly stolen in the summer of 1967 and later returned to Shelby. After that, the car was repainted to be white. It retained it's original emblem and stripe configurations. That's why this picture is similar to the one above. It would also explain why the red convertible was not present at Riverside in July of 1967.

In this photo, you can see the bumper arms were also painted white. Other photos also indicate this convertible was the red car after being repainted.

Evolution of the Prototype Fastback

The blue fastback has been identified as 67401F7A00463. This is based on the physical evidence and the existing photographs. This car was originally a 1967 engineering car. I believe it's unlikely Shelby switched engines and transmissions on these prototypes. This car would have started out as a Lime Green car and been changed to Acapulco Blue.

Just like the convertible, many of the pictures were altered. The fastback commonly has ten spoke wheels. In this photograph it appears as GT350. Love the puppy!

This picture is from the original press release for the 1968 Shelbys. It shows the car as a GT350. The Turf Club was located at Hollywood Park a horse racing track. This was one of the sites where preproduction photographs were taken. Left side stripes and emblems resemble those on the convertible.

The engine looks more like a 1967 than a 1968. Note the single Holley, unpainted manifold and 1967 style valve covers. The manifold is most likely the C6AE-J aluminum intake. It's unlikely it is a 427 with air conditioning. Evidence strongly suggests this picture is the blue fastback engine. The 427 engine was planned for production. We know that the pictures made it to many of the automotive publications. You can find references in some of the literature. To the best of my knowledge, there were no factory 427 1968 Shelbys. The Ford records support this information. I suspect it was Shelby hype, as the true costs of such an endeavor must have been known.

Here is a close-up of the gas cap. The emblem is unlike any I have ever seen. Even at this early date, you can see the tail light frames never have black paint on them !

Look closely and you will notice the front fog lamps are spot lamps, not the production style driving lamps.

This picture shows many of the features that indicate this car never made it to production. The headlight buckets are molded to the upper panel. The emblems and stripes are unique. You can clearly see the lanyards (cables) on the dzus hood pins.

The Ford Long Lead Technical Conference - July 1967

By the end of July 1967, the preproduction cars began to look very much like the regular production cars. The one main difference still being the rocker panel stripes. At least two advanced prototypes were sent to Riverside Raceway in California for the official unveiling of the 1968 Shelby. These cars were the blue fastback and the white convertible. The original press release still contained many items that were not finalized for production. Items such as the 427 engine were still listed, just weeks before regular production was scheduled to start. This unveiling was referred to as the Ford Long Lead Technical Conference . It was the first look at the new 1968s for the press.

Now, for the first time, we can look a few of the rare photographs from the Long Lead Conference. These photographs were shared by Donald Farr, the editor of Mustang Monthly Magazine. The pictures were greatly reduced in size.

Carroll Shelby stands behind the blue fastback. By this time, the rear quarter panel reflectors have been updated.

This picture clearly shows the oil cooler under the front bumper. There is little doubt this is a 1967 body. But, it takes a trained eye to spot the differences.

The lanyards would be deleted after the Long Lead conference. The front end would become four separate parts.

This picture shows the air conditioning and the four speed shifter handle. It's a 1967 style shifter handle with a black knob.

Here is a closeup from the larger version.

Both cars have the Marchal spot lamps in the front grille. The one piece nose is very evident in this picture.

Shelby looks over the white convertible. The front bumper arms a clue the car was resprayed from red.

This is interior shot is a dream come true for the restorer. Unique details jump out of the picture, like the prototype horn pad.

From a distance the convertible could easily be mistaken for a production 1968.

A very special thank you to Donald Farr, Brian Styles and Chris Simon for their assistance on this webpage.

Dateline 11/25/11

The convertible prototype has been restored!

The car was unveiled at the Chicago Muscle Car Nationals in Chicago.

The restoration is unbelievable. Most of the cars finer details had been lost over time. Restoration experts worked almost entirely from original, period photographs. Even more remarkable is some recently discovered blueprints confirm their work as being accurate.

Restoring a prototype or engineering car is never easy. The cars were constantly changing at the factory.

Take a look at this photograph. You can hardly see the side emblem. A larger version of this picture was used to recreate the emblem.

Here is a picture of that emblem. It was later determined the emblem was correct per the blueprint, right down to the scale.

The original license plate was recreated.

In this picture you can see the detailed engine.

The rear quarter panel reflectors were not available when this car was built. Shelby designers knew about the new federal requirements, so they fabricated a simulated reflector. Later an actual chrome frame would be installed.

If you have some information on either of these cars please let me know. If you have any seen any other strange 1968s, I would appreciate hearing from you.