by Bill Micsan (4/3/08)
I was living in Sacramento in October, 1969 and having saved a whopping $800 for a decent used car, I called on a classified ad in the local Sacramento Bee newspaper. It was a 1966 Shelby G.T.350H with 55,000 miles on it. The owner was asking $2100 and would not come down one dime on the price, so I had to pass on the car. I believed that I would never be able to afford a Shelby-American automobile, and certainly never a Cobra. I decided to look for a nice '64 Fairlane with a 4 bbl carburetor, as I've always loved the '64s and I knew I would never find a '64 289 Hi-Po for $800.
A couple of weeks later I was cruising Fulton St. (one of Sacramento's two main auto rows) with a Ford/Shelby enthusiast friend of mine who sold cars for a living. We checked several car lots looking for that special Fairlane. Suddenly my heart stopped. I spotted a Black & Gold Shelby Mustang on a used car lot, in their Featured Car Corner. I slammed on the brakes, yanked the wheel and slid to a stop in the car lot.
The lone salesman on duty agreed to let me test drive the car, so he locked up the sales office and got in the car with my friend. I took it out and drove up and down Fulton Ave. The solid feel of the car, the quick, responsive steering, and the throttle response excited me right away, but the C-4 automatic transmission was shifting very erratically, repeatedly kicking up and down. I was depressed at the thought of an expensive transmission rebuild, as well as the $1950 asking price, so I drove the Shelby back to the lot. I told the salesman about my bad feelings about the faulty transmission and he went back inside his office, figuring that he lost the sale. But I just couldn't turn my back on this car. My friend had previously owned one of the first Hi-Po 289s built, an early 1963 Fairlane with a 3-speed column shifter (4-speeds weren't available for the Fairlane's yet). He remembered that 289 Hi-Pos had manual chokes. So he pulled off the air cleaner and we noticed that the choke plate was stuck almost completely closed. This was the cause of the erratically shifting transmission.
Having made this discovery, we walked into the sales office and I told the salesman I'd give him $1750 for the Shelby since the transmission was shot. He turned around and made, what I still believe was a bogus phone call to the lot owner, to get permission to sell the Shelby for $200 off of the asking price. The salesman's reply was OK, which promptly scared the hell out of me. Now where was I going to get the rest of the money, having saved only $800? After thinking it over for a few minutes, I agreed to buy the Shelby and gave him $100 down. The next morning I was at my local my Bank of America where I took out a loan for the balance. Obviously, it turned out to be a good buy, from a used car lot named "Best Buy Auto Sales."
Discussing this car with the salesman, while filling out the paperwork for the purchase, I found out an interesting fact. This Shelby happened to be the exact same car I had called on from the Sacramento Bee ad a couple of weeks earlier. The former owner, who wouldn't come down on his price for me, eventually took the car to Best Buy Auto Sales,and traded it for some beater plus $1200 cash so he could finish school at Sacramento State College.
That "faulty" C-4 automatic transmission, by the way, is still in the car, never having been rebuilt after being run quite hard over the years, and making thousands of power shifts. The original engine, however, didn't fare as well. Coming home from the Riverside 500 NASCAR race in January of 1971, on top of Route 66's Cajon Pass out of San Bernardino, the crankshaft snapped in half just at the joint of the first crank throw while I was doing 70 mph. The car shook violently. Coming off of a two-day race weekend drunk, I promptly rolled the car to a stop on the side of the highway. A friend was following me and I jumped into his car and rode back to Sacramento with him. I didn¹t want any "assistance" from the Highway Patrol if they happened to come by that night.
A couple of days later I rented a new 1971 Ford 3/4-ton pick-up from Burton Motors in Sacramento (they charged $17 per day, but no mileage for some reason) and a tow bar, and drove back down to get the Shelby. I soon discovered that it had been towed away and impounded. The CHP claimed that I left the doors unlocked (not true), and they had the car towed off the freeway and impounded at a nearby service station lot. Since they couldn't find the Mustang VIN # or the Mustang warranty plate inside the driver's door, they thought the car was possibly a stolen vehicle and would not release it to me until a CHP Department Inspector examined it. I tried to explain that the car wasn't a regular Ford Mustang, and that it had a different VIN # than a regular Mustang, but they wouldn't listen to me. So I had to wait till the next day. I slept overnight in the front seat of the rented pickup, in freezing weather, parked behind the service station office next to where the car was impounded.
One CHP inspector covered the entire Mojave Desert region at that time. When he finally showed up the next day and I explained to him that the car was a Shelby Mustang, he immediately released it to me without any questions. By that time it was getting late and I had no taillight setup for towing the car home in the dark. So, when it got dark I just turned on the Shelby's lights. They stayed on for about 5 hours during the very long, very slow, non-stop, 8-hour drive home. Before I left the station the attendant charged me $3 to disconnect the driveshaft at the rear U-joint and wire it to the underside of the car so the transmission would not turn.
Within a couple of months of getting the car home I purchased a new Ford service 289 Hi-Po short block and installed the original heads and other parts on the new block. That short block, which I still own today, cost me $405.00 in 1971!
For several years after installing the new engine I ran the Shelby very hard on the winding Sierra foothill back roads near Sacramento almost every summer weekend. Luckily I never stacked it up or hurt myself. Other traffic on those back roads was almost nonexistent back then. I also raced it in the old Georgetown Hillclimb near Coloma, California for three years in the 1970s, and ran a few autocrosses with it.
Oh, and regarding that broken choke cable that was in the car when I bought it- I just replaced it last week (no sense rushing into things). Chokes aren¹t a necessity on these car where I live.
My Hertz Shelby is still in very original condition, but not a "survivor" because of the usual things done to it to keep it looking like new, yet original. It's also still a driver, but taken mostly only to car shows these days. I have been a SAAC member since day one, and a member of the SOA for a about a month or two before that. As for previous owners, I know of one for certain before me, and believe that there was one more owner prior to him and after Hertz.
Some original features of my Hertz Shelby:
1) Steel framed glass hood
2) 715 CFM Holley 4 bbl carburetor
3) Mustang master cylinder (not the cylinder added to many Hertz Shelby's)
4) Mustang GT grille (solid black), with a black wire mesh bug screen attached to the inside of the grille (possibly added by Hertz)