"This is what we call 'Just a good, old G.T. 350.'" That's how Jim Wicks introduced us to John Atzbach's '66 Shelby G.T. 350, a 68,000-mile survivor that looks like a blast back to the early 1970s when vintage Shelbys were little more than used cars. For those of us who experienced that era, the low-mileage cars with dinged up, faded paint and period-correct aftermarket speed equipment churns up nostalgia even more than concours perfect examples. Atzbach's Guardsman Blue G.T. 350 exudes 1970s nostalgia, bringing back memories of lusting after these cars on used car lots back in the days when the $2,500 on the windshield was more than we could afford.
The G.T. 350 is the latest of a series of survivor Mustang musclecars that Wicks has arranged for us to drive during his Mid America Ford and Shelby Nationals, an event that he started as a picnic in 1977. We've driven a 21,000-mile '70 Boss 429 and 51,000-mile '65 GT350, both owned by Wicks, followed last year by Atzbach's 10,400-mile '68 Shelby G.T. 500KR. Younger than most vintage Shelby collectors, Atzbach says he's always loved early Shelbys and is fortunate that his career success allows him to maintain a collection. He keeps some at his home near Seattle, while Wicks stores and maintains others, including the survivor '66 GT350, in Oklahoma.
According to the Shelby American Automobile Club's SAAC Registry for '65-'67 Shelbys, 6S1769 was ordered on April 18, 1966, and shipped to El Paso Auto Center in Texas with an invoice of $3,755, which included Le Mans stripes and freight. Horn-Williams Motor Company in Dallas sold the G.T. 350 to its first owner, Del Lanier. It went through four subsequent owners before being acquired by Atzbach several years ago. For some reason, none of the previous owners added a lot of miles to the odometer. When we arrived at the Tulsa Southern Hills Marriott, the faded blue G.T. 350 was parked in front of the lobby among the concours show cars and newer Shelby Mustangs. Wicks handed over the keys with no further instruction other than, "Just give it about a half-throttle tap and it'll fire right up."
My first opportunity to drive the Shelby comes during Mid America's evening cruise from the hotel to the Brady Arts District in downtown Tulsa. First, I open the fiberglass hood to see what's underneath. The 289 Hi-Po is clean – Wicks says he thinks it was rebuilt years ago - yet there's still plenty of patina, which is enhanced by the yellow Accel spark plug wires and red replacement heater hoses. The Shelby mods are all there – finned aluminum "Cobra – Power by Ford" valve covers, Holley carb on an aluminum intake, Try-Y headers (a bit rusty, as expected), export brace, Monte Carlo bar, and orange Koni shocks peeking out of the shock mounts. Shelby rated the Cobra version at 306 horsepower, 35 more than Ford's 271hp rating for the Hi-Po.
After sliding into the black vinyl bucket seat, I survey the surroundings. Yes, the interior is showing its age, as expected from a 46 year-old Mustang. The door panels are wrinkled, the carpet is faded to a dark reddish tint, and there's a crack in the dash pad, but that's the way they were in the 1970s. Other than the Shelby items--wood steering wheel, dash-mounted tachometer, and competition seat belts--it's your basic '66 Mustang interior.
The seat belt latches with authority, but adjustment is tough due to the aged and stiff belt material. I finally tug hard enough to feel secure. Following Wicks' earlier starting instructions, I lightly tap the gas pedal and twist the key. The 289 Hi-Po fires instantly, just as Wicks promised, and settles in at a 900 rpm idle, as indicated by the original yet still working tach. The exhaust is louder than expected; someone from the car's distant past installed glass packs, another common 1970s modification.