Finding two consecutively numbered Mustangs is a long shot--you stand a better chance of being struck by lightning in Southern California, which typically has two thunderstorms a year. The odds for finding three consecutively numbered Mustangs are even lower--you stand a greater chance of being hit by a meteor. But, in Southern Arizona last year, I was struck by lightning and smacked by a stray meteor.
At the Copperstate Mustang Club's annual show in Chandler, I bumped into three Candyapple Red '68 Shelby GT350 fastbacks. I knew one them well, owned by Brian Gates from Los Angeles. The other two I saw for the first time at the show. It didn't take the owners long to share something fascinating and unusual: They had three consecutively numbered '68 GT350s.
What seems to make sense is that these three Shelbys rolled off the Metuchen, New Jersey, assembly line consecutively if you go by the body buck tags' rotation numbers, which positioned them on the line during assembly. For example, 8T02J116116 had a rotation number of 442. The unit behind 116116 had a rotation number of 443, with the next unit being 444. Units 443 and 444 aren't accounted for at press time. Unit 445 happens to be 8T02J116117, one of the three GT350s represented here. It is possible 8T02J116118 is 443 or 444, but this remains unknown. Our point is simple: These GT350s were consecutive at Metuchen at the time of assembly before they were shipped to A.O. Smith in Ionia, Michigan, for their Shelby conversion.
When these Shelbys rolled off the Metuchen and Ionia assembly lines, they were identical in every respect, with interior, engine, transmission, and axle ratios being the same. Today, they are quite different.
Some Like It Mostly Stock
Steve McDowell likes his Shelbys factory original. In the beginning, his GT350, 8T02J116116-0343, was identical to the others in this spread. Today, it couldn't be more different. It's your garden-variety GT350 with a 302-4V, a C4 automatic, peg-leg gears, Candyapple Red, black Interior Decor Group, and Shelby 10-spokes. Steve found his Shelby in Ohio. It was rough around the edges, but restorable. He turned over the powertrain to Duffee Motorsports in Phoenix to rebuild the engine and driveline. He hauled the rest of the car to The Mustang Shop in Chandler, Arizona, for a full restoration.
What may not be apparent at first sight is this Shelby's status as a front-clip car. The Mustang Shop went to work making the front clip right and carrying out an exceptional restoration. Ironically, Gary Ellsworth, who owns one of the other cars in this story, did the restoration work. Gary couldn't help but notice Steve's similar numbers.
Steve's restoration efforts include some notable improvements: tri-Y headers, ported and polished cylinder heads, a multi-angle valve job, an aluminum driveshaft, and more. These are nice, hidden improvements that don't affect the car's visual demeanor.
Steve's GT350 is an outstanding example of what Ford and Shelby Automotive were building in 1968.
He didn't miss a beat in his restoration efforts and the exceptional detail. When we asked Steve what the greatest challenge was for him during the restoration, he responded, "Convincing my wife to give me more money for the restoration."
Some Like It Unrestored
This is probably one of the few times you'll see an unrestored and unkempt Mustang in a Mustang Monthly spread. Timing and circumstances that allowed this Shelby to be part of an unusual story. Gary Ellsworth of Southern Arizona found this unrestored Candyapple Red GT350, 8T02J116117-00344, in a small mountain town not far from home. It virtually fell into his hands, which doesn't happen often with collectible Shelby Mustangs. Because this GT350 has never been restored, it can safely be said it matches 8T02J116116 right down to the AM radio.
Brian Likes It Hot
For die-hard Shelby purists, Brian and Dorothy Gates may have done something sacrilegious. They took an original Southern California GT350, 8T02J116118-00345, and built a nice restomod. Most owners don't modify Shelby Mustangs. People are quick to ask Brian why he modified a collectible Shelby, and he's quick to answer with, "Because I could."
Brian is an extraordinary car builder who has access to a lot of talent around the Los Angeles area. Study the nuances of his GT350 and you can see what we're talking about. Check out the Shelby 10-spokes in black and red, with yellow appointments. Underhood is a powerful 347ci stroker small-block built by Trans Am Racing using the original Mexican-block 302. Now it produces 395 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque.
Inside, Brian personalized his GT350 with help from Mustang Country, being sure not to cut anything that would keep this Shelby from being a stocker again someday. Brian's car-building logic is simple: build a car you can enjoy today, but always with the option of going back to original.
Aside from the engine, Brian has kept the driveline stock using the factory C4 transmission and 9-inch rearend with 3.50:1 Traction-Lok gears. On the ground are four-wheel disc brakes with CNC discs in front and Stainless Steel Brakes disc brakes in back. Total Control coilover technology makes a big difference in handling up front. Five-leaf, heavy-duty leaf springs, Shelby underride traction bars, and KYB shocks get the job done in back.