Hard-core Shelby enthusiasts will recognize the name of Chuck Cantwell as readily as anyone associated with the genesis of the GT350. For the rest of us, a bit of an introduction may be in order.
As plans for a high-performance Mustang were coming together at Shelby American in late 1964, Cantwell was hired as the "Cobra Mustang" project engineerùor as he was sometimes known, the project manager. "Titles weren't so important back then," laughs Cantwell today, but no matter the label, the responsibility of his new post was clearùhe was the man in charge of the GT350 program.
Of course, even those who aren't particularly familiar with individual contributions understand that the GT350 became a winner on all fronts, and quickly became an automobile of legendary stature. With this as background, one would have to view Cantwell as a father figure of sorts for the Shelby Mustang, while his approachable nature and keen memory of the glory days makes him one of our hobby's veritable treasures.
Cantwell is a man whose life is now dedicated primarily to family, but also filled with pertinent speaking engagements and special appearances at various automotive museums and conventions. By all accounts, he's happy to relate the past as often as asked about it.
"I joined Shelby in October 1964 after spending some years in the styling department of General Motors," he relates. "Ken Miles and Phil Remington had pretty well determined what the GT350 would consist of, but the rest of the work remained. Specifications had to be worked out, designs finalized, suppliers identified, etc."
Those chores and many others would fall under Cantwell's direction, and he describes the early days at Shelby American as crazy-busy with long hours melding day and night, weekdays, and weekends.
Cantwell had a hand in virtually all aspects of the early Shelby Mustang, including on-track development and an occasional SCCA B-Production outing behind the wheel of the earliest R-model. He soon found himself wearing even more hats when given the engineering reigns to Shelby American's new Trans-Am team in late 1965, a role he continued to play through the end of his tenure with the company in late 1968. After contributing mightily to the success of Shelby American through the heydays of the mid-1960s, Cantwell sensed the end of the race program was near. In October 1968, he took a position with Roger Penske to manage his race shop and Chevrolet/Sunoco road race teams, which would prove greatly successful in the ensuing years.
With a brief introduction of Cantwell complete, we move on to the Sapphire Blue '66 GT350 before you. Yes, this is Cantwell's personal GT350, and while you might surmise that he's held the pink slip to this and other Shelby products over the years, the startling truth is that this 2009 purchase was Cantwell's first Shelby American automobile.
"I could drive just about anything I wanted at work," recalls Cantwell when asked why he didn't own a Shelby earlier. "And at home I needed something more practicalùit just never happened."
Timing had much to do with the final impetus, as well as being more involved in all things Shelby since his 2002 retirement from Lockheed Martin. As for this car, serial number 6S796, "A friend of mine named Stan Hallinan owned it for some 37 years and ended up selling it to me in 2009. Stan and I first met during the 1967 Trans-Am season when our team set up shop at the Ford dealer where he worked in preparation for the nearby Bryar race."
Cantwell tells us his '66 was originally purchased in New Hampshire but was repossessed when the first owner shipped out with the Navy. "By the early 1970s, it had been purchased by an acquaintance of Stan's," Cantwell says. "He did some autocrossing with it before selling it to Stan." Hallinan may have raced the car a bit himself but soon parked it in his garage where it would remain virtually untouched for over 35 years.
Considering Cantwell’s considerable...
Considering Cantwell’s considerable history with Roger Penske’s Sunoco/Chevrolet team, we got a kick out of seeing him filling his GT350’s tank with Sunoco fuel.
Chuck Cantwell looks pleased...
Chuck Cantwell looks pleased as he surveys Shelby American’s first efforts with the Mustang GT350, circa 1965. (Photo courtesy Chuck Cantwell collection)