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Wild Horses

January 2012

By Tim Suddard

Freshening Our Shelby’s Body Without Destroying That Wonderful Patina

Any car project should start with a test drive, that all-important chance to get to know a vehicle in all of its glorious strengths and flaws. Any work that begins without this basic introduction is sometime little more than a shot in the dark.

Sometimes, however, taking a car for a test drive is easier said than done.

It took three breakdowns, four fuel filters, and several interesting Side of the-road encounters to ready our 1967 Shelby GT350 for its maiden voyage. Fortunately, once char actually happened, is revealed that our car wasn't in such horrible shape.

Sure, it looked rough as a cob, but there were plenty of fight left in that battered shell. The engine still pulled nicely, although some issue with the accelerator pump kept the small-block Ford from singing at full song, better yet, it didn't leave a smoke screen in its wake. Perhaps this was going to work after all.

Our initial plan for this one was deceptively, even dangerously, simple. Since the car was basically intact, we wanted to preserve the patina while restoring the mechanical bits. It sounds so easy when it's started like that, doesn't it?

The reality was, as usual, a bit different. A rolling restoration may seem simpler than a ground-up job, but in reality it's often easier to totally strip the car and then plop the bare tub on a rotisserie so the repairs can be performed correctly. Sure, a total restoration usually rakes up more shop space, bur it ensures full access to every nook and cranny.

An even bigger challenge with rolling restorations is answering the question of where to stop. Project creep is almost inevitable, since the improvements in one area often highlight flaws in another.

We can testify to the latter. Although we had initially planned on just refurbishing our Shelby's suspension and getting the car running well, we soon realized that it was pretty silly to put gleaming new components on a dirty chassis. So we came up with a plan that seemed like the only logical choice for this project.

We decided to restore our GT350's floors, suspension and engine Compartment to Mustang Club of America concours-correct standard.

That sent our plan for a rolling restoration out the window, since a concours-level preparation of these components would mean we needed to first remove the drivetrain. While this solution may seem extreme, it felt like the only proper way to tackle the job. It would also give us a first-rate foundation for any later restoration work.

There's an upside to this extra work, since it would give us a chance to properly inspect and rejuvenate the drivetrain we could also replace the weeping gaskets and worn-out components. And heck, if we were going to remove the Shelby's nose anyway, why not get in there and repaint the area underneath the fenders? Mustn't forget the radiator support, and while we're mixing paint, might as well plug the extra holes in the firewall and make sure everything is nice and pretty.

Hear the sliding sound? that's our feet losing traction as we start heading down a slippery slope.

We kicked off our initial "rolling" restoration by immobilizing the car: We pulled the engine. It's a bit of a counter intuitive start, but this allowed easy cleaning and inspection of the lump. We found that we had a 1966 289 block fitted with 1970 302 heads and markings suggested it had been rebuilt before-probably balanced and blueprinted, too. Even better news: The car also came with a correct HiPo 289 engine block.

Jere Dotten, our expert assistant on this project, dug deeper and found that we had a mild performance camshaft. While the distributor and the carburetor were not original, the transmission, differential, a/c compressor radiator and power steering components were date-coded to indicate they were original to the car.

Pulling the engine was relatively easy but we also had to remove all of the underhood components, like the wiring harness and battery box. The grill came off too. Small parts were bagged and tagged while larger items were evaluated and then bead-blasted in preparation for paint, plating or powder coating. Although the disassembly was fairly extensive there was a plan to it: We left the front end assembled and instead a replacement rear end so that the car could still be pushed around the shop. The original transmission and differential were stripped and readied for the rebuilders.

Once the nose was stripped we were able to start the metalwork. Our floors had been replaced by a previous owner, but the job was botched: The edges of the new panels overlapped the original floors. So out came the interior bits Then we ordered new floor pans from NPD in anticipation of completely redoing the Job.

Once we received the replacement parts, however, the troughs in the pans didn't look deep enough, so we decided to move to Plan B: We cut the old floor panels from the car and properly butt-welded them back into place. We then ground away the new seam, blending away the repair.

Once we had repositioned our old replacement floors, we needed to install a patch panel. We used a toe board purchased from NPD.

We were relieved to find that a thorough steam-cleaning of the chassis did not turn up any further problems. Our work was quickly rewarded with the emergence of the original reddish brown primer finish.

Our battery box area was a bit crusty, too, but again we exercised some Judgment on this repair.

Back in the day, when various metal replacement panels didn't exist, we restorers had to learn to make our own. Once aftermarket repair pieces became available, it was the fashion to simply use the entire panel for the repair.

Nowadays, especially among the concours crowd, the focus is to retain as much original sheet metal as possible-especially in a car like our Shelby, which is covered in date codes. So although we purchased a replacement for our battery box from NPD, we ended up cutting it into pieces to make small repair patches In the end we used may be a 6x10-inch portion of a replacement panel originally measuring some 2x3 feet.

How many times can one poor old car be dropped onto jack stands? After a while, those seemingly minor blemishes add up. Prescott gently massaged the tacking points back to perfection.

We sprayed that bare sheet metal with the appropriate red-oxide primer and black topcoat. We also applied a final coat of POR-15 to the inside of the car to exterminate and seal out any recurring rust.

Our brake lines looked ancient, so we ordered new ones from Classic Tube, a longtime supplier to the Mustang market We have used their replacement lines before and were impressed with their concours-correct, non-stainless pieces for the Shelby. Orlando Mustang's Peter Geister said these lines would be Just line for a car that receives proper care, and as a bonus they'd be easier to install than stainless ones.

We did turn away from absolute originality with our flex lines however, by replacing the original rubber hoses with braided stainless-steel pieces We like the improved brake feel that these hoses offer, and believe they make the car safer.

Although technically still in the disassembly phase, we had already started refurbishing some parts. The transmission mount original Shelby exhaust hangers and other pieces were sent through the bead-blaster and then repainted by Peter Geisler Jr of Orlando Mustang.

Previous owners had not been kind to our Shelby's firewall as it was riddled with holes for add-on equipment like alarms and aftermarket ignitions. We fill-welded each hole and then carefully ground down the repairs for a concours-ready look.

had butchered our transmission tunnel as well, apparently in an effort to install an aftermarket shifter. The shifter opening had been crudely cut and chiseled. A parts car provided the sheet metal ring that was designed for this opening, while the repair itself was concealed under a brace that wraps up and over the tunnel.

Our lead man on the bodywork was Tom Prescott, a longtime friend and owner of The Body Werks. Here he welds closed a crack he found in a shock tower before priming the area.

TICK, TOCK

Can you hear that? That's the clock on the wall. We originally budgeted about $5000 and Six weeks for the restoration we planned to complete before our GT350's first event, the Gong To The Sun Rally. Unfortunately we learned that while this plan may have looked good on paper once we factored in parts delivery time and a little something called reality the process ended up taking longer. For us anyway it was simply not possible to do a proper rebuilt on our chassis in SIX weeks especially when life tossed in a few extra obstacles We were forced to Withdraw from The Going To The Sun Rally, which saddened us almost beyond belief, since its one of our first favorite events We adjusted our goal posts With a plan to unveil the car at the Texas 1000 Rally in early November.

At this point we were still on track, if just barely the chassis was on this way to completion but that left a tot of car still to be considered. For starters, we'd probably need a fully functioning, reliable engine before setting out for a 1000-mile jaunt across Texas, right?

So it's back to the salt mines for the race to the finish Keep your fingers crossed.

We found more holes to fill in the trunk. These had been drilled over time to add extras like an aftermarket fuel pump, air shocks and even a trailer hitch! NPD patch panels were used to fix the right hand corner of the trunk opening, too.

To facilitate these repairs, the rear fascia panel, taillights, bumper and valance were removed. At this point we had everything off the car except for the doors, the dash and the glass. The smart thing to do would have been to paint the whole thing while we had it disassembled, but we decided to stick with our rat rod idea-at least for the time being.

Once the metalwork was finished we were able to prepare the front chassis for paint. Although sand blasting is not appropriate for exterior panels--it's a surefire way to warp them--it was an efficient approach for tackling the surface rust we found under the hood. This was most likely the remains of battery and radiator leaks, and the fastest way to kill the rust for the long term was to sand-blast back to clean metal

Did we mention that everything is date-coded on these cars? Even the horns are stamped. Once we determined that ours were still working correctly, we bead-blasted and repainted them semigloss black. Don't forget to plug the openings before bead-blasting these pieces.

Concours restoration means that no detail is spared, including the hood hinges. We bead-blasted and then Parkeized the Shelby's hinges along with the distributor hold-down clamp, throttle linkage, and a few other small parts. Parkerizing is a sort of pickling process that turns bare metal parts a dark gray see the sidebar below for details on this original factory finish.