In April 1970, Rick Wood was studying chemical engineering at the University of Arkansas when he heard that Carroll Shelby had stopped building Shelby Mustangs. A Shelby fan since 1965 after watching an original R-Model destroy the Corvettes at an old military airstrip-turned-racetrack, Rick saw his chance of owning a new Shelby going out the dormitory window. Then he remembered seeing a magazine ad with a list of Shelby dealers.
"I went back through a bunch of old Playboys and found the full-page ad," Rick recalls. "There was a Shelby dealer in Tulsa, but they didn't have anything I was interested in. So I ended up driving to Tall Paul's Ford Sales in Kansas City."
The salesman put Rick in a new GT350. He was disappointed. "My '67 390 Cougar would run circles around that car," he says. Next, he drove a Boss 429; he loved the power but not the handling. The salesman told him to wait in the showroom.
"Probably 30 minutes went by before he came around in a white GT500 that hadn't been cleaned or prepped." After driving it, Rick told the salesman, "That's more what I'm looking for."
Rick traded his Cougar, then sold some spare parts so he could pay off the loan on a '55 Thunderbird he had purchased the year before. "I only wanted payments on one car," he explains.
In 1970, Shelbys were rarely seen on the highway. Just 3,153 were built for '69, with 789 of them updated to '70 models with hood stripes and front chin spoiler. As one of the few people in Arkansas with a new Shelby GT500, Rick showed it off by circling the Dairy Queen in Fayetteville, recalling that people were mostly interested in the reflective side stripes. "On the white car, the stripes were bright blue. They really got attention at night."
Rick recalls a crisis just two weeks after buying the GT500. At school, he and a several other "car guys" parked their cars at the bottom of a hill. While studying for finals, Rick heard a ruckus in the dormitory hallway. He overheard someone say, "I bet that guy with the Shelby is going to be mad." Stepping outside, Rick spotted the police crowded around his Shelby and a '62 Chevy station wagon. "These two guys were packing up after finals and had left the Chevy in neutral," Rick recalls. "It hit six cars going down through the parking lot before coming to rest against my Shelby. It put a kink in front of the rear wheelwell on the driver side. I was absolutely sick."
Another time, Rick got pulled over for speeding in a small town in Arkansas. "I was probably going a little fast through Mountainburg," Rick admits. "The policeman told me I was going to have to park the car because it wasn't a legal street car. He told me, 'It's a race car; it's got a rollbar.' He was serious. He made a couple of phone calls before he was convinced that everything was in order."
Local hot rodders pretty much left the Shelby alone, Rick says, although he does remember getting talked into a street race with a '69 Z28 Camaro. It was no contest. The small-block Camaro didn't have a chance against the four-speed, 428 Cobra Jet-powered GT500.
Even though Rick wasn't a street racer, there was a time when he was hassled by the police. Then he found out why. "David Keeling bought a white '71 429 SCJ Mustang, four-speed with 4:11 rearend. He'd race anybody, anytime, anywhere. He went to the Ford dealer and ordered blue GT500 stripes for the car. The police started nailing me for street racing over in Hot Springs or somewhere. I told them they had the wrong guy. And they would say it had the blue stripes with GT500 on them. For a while David had me in conflict with the law. I finally convinced them that it wasn't me."
The Shelby served as Rick's daily driver until 1972, then it became a weekend pleasure vehicle. In 1975, he heard about a group of Shelby owners getting together in Oklahoma. "Jim Wicks was one of the first guys I met," Rick remembers. Since then, Rick has attended every one of Wicks' Mid-America Shelby Meets except during an illness in 2006.
In 1990, Rick decided the GT500 needed a freshening, even with only 30,000 miles. The dealership's lacquer repair to the 1970 accident damage was starting to crack and the car needed fresh paint. "It didn't have enough paint to start with," Rick says. "The white turned chalky and the paint was so thin that there were rust stains around the windshield molding."
Rick enlisted Mark Willey to handle the Shelby's restoration. The GT500 was taken apart, including the engine, which was dismantled and checked before reassembly with new gaskets and a complete detailing. The interior was removed, then reinstalled using the original carpet, upholstery, and trim-except for the plastic A-pillar moldings that "crumbled." After dealing with minor surface rust, the GT500 was repainted in its original Wimbledon White with blue stripes.
For Rick, it was more of a preservation effort than a restoration. He's owned the GT500 for over 40 years and plans to keep it for many more. In fact, he still owns the '55 Thunderbird he bought in 1969, along with a number of other Fords he has acquired over the years, including a 289 Cobra. "For me, cars have a personality. I think I've only sold three cars in my whole life."
Even in 1970, Rick knew he was going to own the Shelby a long time. "I bought it to keep forever," he says. "I bought it before Smokey and I got married. We've always joked that she would have to go before the GT500."