Chuck Cantwell with the prototype '67 GT500.
Chuck Cantwell, 1964-1968
Chuck Cantwell has a good reason to remember his first hectic days at Shelby American in late 1964. "When I first came out, they had 10 or 11 cars they wanted to get finished by Christmas, which we did. Then I flew back to Michigan on Christmas Eve and got married the day after Christmas. My wife and I drove out to California between Christmas and New Year's with a little U-Haul trailer. Of course, the first thing they told me at Shelby was that we were going to be working six days a week, 10 hours a day. So I didn't get to see much of my new wife for a while."
Like many other employees, Chuck was doing the right things at the right time when he got the call from Shelby American. He was working for GM Styling in Detroit and was also racing an MG-B in the local sports car club. "One of the fellows from Chevrolet engineering went to work for Ray Geddes at Ford. When Ford decided to do the GT350 program, they needed someone as project engineer. So I flew out to California and interviewed with Carroll and Peyton Cramer. I got an offer and accepted it around the first of October 1964."
As project manager for the GT350, Chuck was instrumental in the design and production of the Shelby Mustangs, both street and R-model. "I spent the first three weeks at Ford going over program objectives. Ken Miles and crew had done a couple of notchbacks. They'd worked up the suspension and a lot of the parts. So we had an idea of what we wanted to do. But we had to solidify the designs and sources for the parts. We knew pretty much what the engine parts were going to be. Pete Brock had done a styling car with some of the emblem stuff, which changed when the GT350 name was decided on. He'd done the race car rear windshield and figured out what to do with the back seat taken out. We finalized a lot of those details after I got out there."
Working with Ford's San Jose assembly plant was also part of the job. "We knew what we weren't going to use but we didn't know what we could delete or add on the assembly line. I spent a day or so with the folks in San Jose and learned that the cars had to drive off the assembly line, so we couldn't delete all the engine parts we weren't going to use. And they couldn't put on headers and that kind of stuff. It was during that trip that I found the export brace on the assembly line. It was there for export cars so we were able to spec that for the car.
"If they could substitute something without screwing up the production line, they would do it, like putting in the transmissions. For the race cars, they would leave out the sealant and fillers to take out some weight. We had to define the special order numbers (DSO, for Dealer Special Order) so we could keep it simple. Once we had the specs, then we could order by a group number. That way, they could do everything the same."
Chuck recalls that sourcing the special performance parts was time consuming. "We had a Ford purchasing guy who came out. He'd done some source work out there before for race cars and knew fiberglass guys, the Buddy Bar casting people, and so on. We started out painting the stripes, then we got a vinyl shop to do them so they could be applied all at once. The headers were stock Tri-Ys from Cyclone. Everything that went on a car, I was involved with it in one way or another.
"By the time we got the '65s done, making changes as we went along, we had to start on the '66 car; per normal, we were behind on it by the time we started. The quarter-windows had to be designed. It took some time to get sources to make up the pieces and decide how to put them together. We started '66 with all the '65 modifications still on the cars. That changed after a while, which was sort of a production relief thing. Then the '67s came right on top of that and we had the GT500 to deal with. For 1968, Ford sent guys out and we worked with them on the design. Then they took it back to Michigan so they could build the cars at A.O. Smith."