Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
December 15, 2013
Photos By: David Newhardt, Al Rogers

Additional photography: Courtesy of Mecum Auto Auctions and the Shelby American Automobile Club

In 1967, $7,500 was a lot of money for a Mustang, even a Shelby G.T. 500 powered by an aluminum-headed 427 from the racing GT40s. So the idea of a special 427-powered "Super Snake" G.T. 500, as proposed by Mel Burns Ford salesman Don McCain, was deemed too expensive and shelved.

Of course, no one, not even Carroll Shelby, could have imagined that the only Super Snake, with its special 427 for a Goodyear tire test, would one day sell for $1.3 million.

That's what happened at Mecum Auction's Spring Classic last May in Indianapolis, setting a new auction sales record for a production-based Mustang. In fact, a second Mustang also topped the previous record of $990,000 (for a '65 Shelby R-Model) when the original Eleanor hero car, driven by actor Nicolas Cage in the 2000 movie Gone in 60 Seconds, brought a cool $1 million.

In all, it was a $2.3 million dollar day for two special Mustangs.

So what's going on? Are Mustang values headed back to their pre-recession levels?

Perhaps, but only for unique and special cars. According to Mecum marketing director Sam Murtough, "The market is doing very well right now. But the true collectors are paying for documented, investment grade cars, and they are paying according to quality."

It's interesting that both record-setting cars were '67 fastbacks, one a historic, one-off Shelby and the other a pop culture icon that spawned one of the most popular replica crazes in automotive history. We'd have to say that the '67 fastback, and the '68 fastback by association, remains the most popular of all vintage Mustang body styles.

In all, the Mecum auction generated $49.2 million in sales, with 1,142 of 1,706 cars topping their reserves and going to new owners. Other notable Mustang sales included a pair of '69 Boss 429s at $255,000 and $225,000—about right for today's market—along with a '65 K-GT fastback that hammered for a surprising $91,000.

427 G.T. 500

After its use for a Goodyear tire test in early 1967 (see "The Super Snake Story" sidebar), the G.T. 500 Super Snake, Shelby VIN 67402F4A00544, was sold to a pair of Braniff Airways pilots who drag raced the car before selling it to Texan Bobby Pierce in 1970. Pierce owned the historic Shelby for 25 years, including when it was featured in Mustang Monthly in the early 1980s. The Super Snake passed through several other owners before being purchased by collector Richard Ellis in 2008. Ellis made the effort to return the 26,000-mile Super Snake to its tire test condition, even locating what is likely the only existing set of Goodyear Thunderbolt 7.75x15 skinny whitewall tires.

"The Thunderbolts were made for … well, boring family cars in the 1960s," Ellis said for Mecum's press release, "which is why nobody reproduces them or has even heard of them. I found what has to be the only surviving set in a warehouse in Akron, Ohio. I'm sure Shelby pulled the original Thunderbolts and threw them away. Now, when you see a picture of the Super Snake and it's got skinny whitewall tires, you know it is either from the Goodyear test or from the time it spent in my collection."

Mecum was not at liberty to reveal the identity of the buyer, other than to state that he's a Canadian who traveled to the Mecum auction in Indianapolis specifically to purchase the '67 G.T. 500 Super Snake. According to eyewitnesses, he arrived just before the car crossed the block.

"He's on Cloud Nine," stated Murtough. "He's a die-hard Shelby collector."

Go Baby Go!

Prior to the auction, Mecum knew something special could happen with the '67 "Eleanor" fastback, Ford VIN 7R02C179710, originally built by Cinema Vehicle Services as the "hero" car for the 2000 movie Gone in 60 Seconds. Unlike the many replicas out there, this one is the real deal; it's the car actually driven by actor Nicholas Cage for close-up shots and used for posters and other promotional materials. A number of Eleanors were built and abused for the chase scene stunts, but this "beauty car" survived unscathed, right down to the Steve Stanford-designed fiberglass body panels, Ford Racing 351 crate engine, and "Go Baby Go" shift knob button.

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As our readers know all too well, Gone in 60 Seconds and its Eleanor Mustang triggered a replica revolution with body panels offered by Cinema Vehicle Services and others. Unique Performance in Texas got in on the act by rebuilding '67 fastbacks into GT500E models with Carroll Shelby's blessing before getting nabbed for title washing.

Offered for sale by Ray Claridge, owner of CVS, which has maintained ownership of the car for the past 13 years, the hero Eleanor Mustang was featured in Mecum's pre-event publicity. "As we started the promotion for the Indy auction, it took on a life of its own," says Murtough. "Web info went viral and excitement was off the charts. We estimated that bids would reach between $400,000 and $600,000. But two people wanted it badly. The reserve came off at $600,000 and it sold for $1 million."

The buyer's identity has not been disclosed.

"Thirteen years later and Eleanor is still drawing a crowd everywhere it goes," said Claridge in a Mecum interview. "It's a timeless car. I think Eleanor has proved her worth."

The Super Snake Story

No question about it, Shelby Mustangs bring top dollar in today's collector marketplace. They're coveted due to their special appearance, low production, and performance heritage. But stir in a special 427 engine along with documentation, including a Goodyear promotional video, that it was driven by Carroll Shelby at a tire test, and you're looking at the cream of the collector crop.

According to the Shelby American Automobile Club, Carroll Shelby asked Shelby American chief engineer Fred Goodell to install a GT40 Mk II 427 engine, with aluminum heads and solid lifters, in a '67 G.T. 500 for a tire test on Goodyear's five-mile banked oval in San Angelo, Texas. With members of the press invited, including Time and Life magazines, Carroll made the trip as well, driving members of the media around the track at speeds up to 150 mph. During the actual testing of Goodyear's new Thunderbolt tires, the Shelby set a record by averaging 142 mph for a continuous 500 miles.

With its test duty completed, Goodell searched for a buyer, eventually reaching out to former Shelby American field sales representative Don McCain, who had moved to performance dealer Mel Burns Ford in California. McCain recognized the opportunity to offer a unique 427-powered G.T. 500 through the Mel Burns dealership, similar to high-performance Chevy offerings from Yenko and Mr. Norm on the east coast, and suggested a run of 50 cars. However, when it was determined that such a car, even with a detuned 427, would retail in 427 Cobra territory at $7,500, McCain's idea was shelved.