1966 Shelby Ford Mustang
Old or new, you wouldn’t call any Shelby product a “cheap thrill” today, but it’s just the description that initially drew Scott Wahl to the car you see here.
“I was a junior in high school in 1974, and drove a ’66 Mustang coupe with a 289 and automatic,” explains Wahl. “It was a nice car that I bought from my mom for $600, but it paled when compared to the GTOs, 442s, Roadrunners, and Z28s that filled the school parking lot. A close friend had recently shown me a 1972 Motor Trend magazine article entitled ‘Cheap Thrills,’ which highlighted several ’60s muscle cars that could be had for affordable prices. The list included early 442s, ’64-’67 GTOs, ’67-’69 Formula S Barracudas, and the ’65-’66 GT350s. Motor Trend described the GT350 as “sort of a Cobra with a roof,” and touted that the more abundant ’66 model could probably be picked up for $2,500-$3,500. I was definitely interested.” Fate was with Wahl at a youthful 17 years of age, for he was about to score a ’66 GT350 for much less.
“Not two weeks after reading the Motor Trend article, I was walking with the same buddy through the campus parking lot when we spotted a white Mustang fastback. As we got closer, we picked up on the all-important visual cluesùlower sidescoops, rear quarter-windows, and hoodscoop. Strangely, it had no stripes, but on closer inspection we could see that a cheap paintjob had been painted over the rocker stripes.”
Wahl went on to describe how he and his friend waited for the owner to return–a teacher applying for a job. He wouldn’t score the car right away, but after working on the owner for several months, a deal was consummated for just $1,000. Remember this was the era of OPEC oil embargos and long gas lines, and the teacher articulated being interested in a car that would get better fuel economy–perhaps a Karmann Ghia. Big mistake!
Wahl proceeded to drive the GT350H for the next 10 years–enough seat time to become entrenched in a “drive it” mentality that continues to this day. It was about a year before he realized the car was originally a red Hertz car, and much later that he came to understand that only 50 or so of the former rentals had been bathed in the Candyapple hue. A multitude of modification and restoration phases have occurred over the years, but rather than get bogged down in relating the ins and outs of such, we’ll stick to reporting on the current state of affairs.
You can probably predict that Wahl isn’t a concourse nuts and bolts guy if his car is featured in the pages herein. You’d be right, but the owner also has a healthy respect for what Carroll and company churned out of their Los Angeles airport digs so many years ago. The result is predominately old-school, but with enough new to create a blend which is hard to argue with. The return to red was an easy decision, but rather than the exact factory color, Wahl opted for Porsche Guards Red in a single-stage PPG Delstar–as applied by Kelly Taylor Restoration in Sammamish, Washington. The Porsche color pops in a way that the original does not, and just as on day one, makes its statement sans over-the-top LeMans stripes.
The addition of an R-model front apron is the only deviation from stock sheetmetal, and combines with lowering springs and 16-inch V45s for an aggressive look. The in-cabin view is likewise near stock, but altered enough to please Wahl and offer an even better performance vibe than original.
For example, the steering wheel isn’t original to the car, but is a period wood Shelby/Secura over-the-counter unit that is far more attractive than the standard Shelby simulated wood piece. The rear seat delete shelf is inspired by the ’65 GT350 playbook, but perhaps the best deviation from stock involves the billiard ball-topped Hurst shifter protruding from the trans tunnel. We all know that a high percentage of Hertz GT350s came equipped with a C4 automatic, and this one (SFM6S835) was no different as delivered. Interestingly, an owner prior to Wahl swapped in the wide-ratio Top Loader that still does duty today, now augmented by a Centerforce clutch and pressure plate combination.
Under the hood, the scene isn’t far from circa 1966, which in the case of a Shelby, is hardly a bad thing. Sharp eyes will detect the valve cover spacers which allow Crane roller rockers to lift oversized 1.94/1.60 valves in ported Hi-Po 289 iron castings. Likewise, they may note the 715-cfm Holley that was standard issue on four-speed ’66 GT350s, rather than the 460-cfm Autolite four-barrel that was common to most automatic cars. The matching numbers motor also sports forged pistons and a healthy Crane solid lifter cam, but bucks the stroker trend with a true 289 cubes plus 0.030.
Now, the car would be faster with a long-stroke, large displacement engine, but keep in mind the favorable weight of a vintage machine like this. Wahl says his ’66 tips the scales at just shy of 2,900 pounds, which is close to 1,000 pounds lighter than the V-8 offerings of the current S197 Mustang generation. The comparative flyweight goes a long way in helping understand that a healthy 289 can still be plenty of fun in a properly prepped vintage chassis.
Speaking of chassis, Wahl has enhanced the road-race-inspired Shelby setup with select components from Global West, Koni, and others. Of course, these days it’s all in the name of an enhanced driving experience, rather than pushing the envelope of ultimate speed. Wahl surely relishes spirited time behind the wheel, but maturity and economic considerations banish any boy racer antics to years past. The decades since the influential Motor Trend story have seen the GT350 morph from “cheap thrill” into an icon of a golden era, demanding a level of respect and care that was unimaginable in 1974. Wahl has been along the entire time, and it continues to be a great ride.
The matching numbers motor also sports forged pistons and a healthy Crane solid lifter cam, but bucks the stroker trend with a true 289 cubes plus 0.030.