Lost, found, then mostly stored for the past 18 years, Shelby’s '68 Green Hornet prototype will make a triumphant return to the spotlight at Barrett-Jackson
If cars could talk, few would have a more interesting story than the “Green Hornet,” an early-production ’68 Mustang hardtop that served as a prototype for both Ford and Shelby Automotive. Few prototypes survived the crusher; the Green Hornet was a prototype twice, yet somehow managed to escape a flattened fate.
On January 19, the original Green Hornet will go across the auction block at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction—during primetime on SPEED.
“It was far ahead of its time,” says current Green Hornet owner and Barrett-Jackson CEO Craig Jackson. "It was Shelby’s prototype for four-wheel disc brakes, fuel-injection, and independent rear suspension. I think Shelby was going after the Corvette.”
Interestingly, it was another Shelby hardtop, a '67 prototype known as “Little Red,” that inspired Ford to offer the special-edition California Special in 1968. With the thought of taking the GT/CS concept national as a GT/Sport Coupe, at least two GT/SC prototype hardtops were built, including 8F01S104288, a Lime Gold hardtop with the 390 big-block, C6 automatic, and Deluxe Ivy Gold interior. According to California Special historian Paul Newitt, Ford’s pilot plant equipped the GT/SC prototypes with Shelby-like non-functional side scoops, spoilered trunk lid, and rear panel with ’65 Thunderbird taillights. The GT/SC idea was eventually shelved, but instead of sending 8F01S104288 to the crusher, Ford shipped it to Shelby Automotive in nearby Ionia, Michigan, so Shelby could use it to try out some experimental concepts for future production.
In an interview with Newitt, Shelby Chief Engineer Fred Goodell recalled replacing the 390 with a Shelby engineered experimental 428 Cobra Jet and upgrading the automatic transmission to a Shelby-modified truck C6 with a Lincoln torque converter and cast-iron tailshaft. The stock Mustang front end was replaced with a '68 Shelby fiberglass nose and hood before custom painter Sonny Fee repainted the car in show-quality Gold Luster Green Metallic, along with adding “EXP 500” stripes and black vinyl roof. The interior was fitted with a Shelby console and other interior items.
But the Green Hornet’s story doesn’t end there. While at Shelby Automotive, it was also used as a test vehicle for a Conelec fuel-injection system and independent rear suspension.
Based on research by Shelby American Automobile Club registrar Vince Liska, the Conelec fuel-injection was installed on ten Shelbys, including the Green Hornet, in an effort to find a way to reduce emissions. As described by Newitt in the November 1994 Mustang Monthly, “Former Bendix engineer Dave Long went off on his own after Bendix shelved its Electrojector system. Long remained dedicated to his efforts and later designed the simplified Conelec EFI system that kept fuel pressure below 15 psi to make it safe for retrofit applications.”
The Conelec direct multi-port system was very similar to later EFI retrofit systems. It included an intake with injectors, throttle body in place of a carburetor, fuel return line, and a small computer that mounted behind the Mustang’s glove box.
Shelby also used the Green Hornet to test a Shelby-developed experimental independent rear suspension set-up that used factory mounting points to replace the original nine-inch rearend and leaf springs. With the goal of better handling, smoother ride, and increased traction, it’s not hard to imagine that the IRS was seen as something that could help future Shelbys compete against Corvettes. Equipped with disc brakes, the IRS would have provided Shelby with the Mustang’s first four-wheel disc brake system.
As if experimental fuel-injection and IRS wasn’t enough, the Green Hornet was also the test-bed for the first power-retractable radio antenna mounted in the driver’s side rear fender.
According to Goodell in a SAAC interview, the Green Hornet and Little Red hardtops, like other prototypes at the time, were sent to the crusher after serving their duty as test beds. Newitt reported the demise in the first edition of his 1988 book, Mustang GT/California Special Recognition Guide and Owner’s Manual.
But in late 1988, Newitt received a letter from Michigan’s Randy Darrow, who owned a Shelbyized '68 Mustang hardtop that sure seemed like it could be the Green Hornet as described in Newitt’s book.
Darrow’s father, a Ford dealer, had purchased the Mustang for Randy from Ford’s Employee and Auction Resale Lot in 1971. Someone had replaced the EFI and IRS with a standard cast-iron intake and nine-inch rearend, but the Shelby components and EXP 500 stripes told Randy that the car might have a prototype history. The previous owner, a marketing manager in the used corporate car department, had told Randy’s dad that the Mustang was “the only Shelby G.T. 500 notchback of its kind.” After his father replaced the original Shelby 10-spoke wheels with '68 GT styled steels, Darrow drove the car to school for several years.
At first Newitt was skeptical, but a call to Goodell confirmed the VIN as the original Green Hornet. Goodell and Darrow also corresponded to discuss the details. In 1993, Martin Euler at Classic and Muscle Mustang Restoration in Midland, Michigan, restored the Green Hornet. Fortunately, the experimental 428 Cobra Jet engine and modified C6 were still in place, and Randy had kept the 10-spoke Shelby wheels. Euler and Goodell collaborated during the restoration to best restore the car as it existed at Shelby in 1968. The original painter even provided the formula for the metallic paint. Under Goodell’s direction, Euler recreated the fully functioning IRS. Unable to locate a Conelec fuel-injection system, a Holley Pro-Jection setup was installed instead.
In February 1995, the Green Hornet was purchased by Steve Davis, who many will recognize as today’s president of the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction. Davis subsequently sold the car to collector Marty Mazman, with the stipulation that Davis get first right of refusal should the car go up for sale in the future. When Mazman downsized his collection in 2004, Davis bought the car back, then sold it to B-J CEO Craig Jackson.
When asked why he’s decided to sell, Jackson replied, “I like to own cars that I can drive. The Green Hornet is just too special to put at risk on the road.”
As a one-of-a-kind hardtop with prototype history with both Ford and Shelby, the Green Hornet is also the type of car that will stir up a lot of interest at Barrett-Jackson. It’ll be interesting to see if this historic Shelby makes more history in Scottsdale.