Hello dear readers! Most of you know me from my monthly article on baseball called Rounding the Bases. There are three passions that I have been obsessed with my entire life. Baseball and sports in general, music, and vintage automobiles. In September 2022, I was fortunate to take Jack and Libby Wenger up on their offer to become the General Manager of WW Motor Cars. We are located on both sides of Main Street in downtown Broadway and most days until the cold sets in, you can drive by and see an array of cars in various states of restoration or repair inside of our garage and body shop. One of my responsibilities is assisting with the Broadway Fall Festival and Vintage Car Show the first weekend of September. Over 100 cars, trucks, and even a bus took part in the festivities. Attending many such events over the years has made me kind of jaded and it takes something very special to get my attention. My favorite vehicle, old or new, is the Ford Mustang. I have owned five different Mustangs over the years and have enjoyed them all. When the final eighteen months of house payments are in the rear-view mirror, maybe number six will find a home in my driveway. Imagine my surprise when one of the rarest of all Mustangs came rumbling down Main Street! The 1966 Shelby GT350H. The original rent a racer!
A little background is necessary because some of you might not know the difference between a Shelby Mustang and a regular one. Carroll Shelby was a famous race car driver until he developed heart problems and could no longer drive. He could still design and build cars though. When Mustangs were first introduced in 1964, a V8 engine was an option but the performance of the Mustang was sacrificed to keep the price down. Shelby loved the Mustang like everyone else and was eager to get his hands on one and modify the engine, steering and suspension to make it a better performing car. He made a deal with Ford and 1965 was the first year the modified Pony was released. 513 were available for sale and the Shelby Mustang became one of the most sought-after cars of the time.
The popularity of the previous year’s run of cars convinced Shelby to expand his California operations. Production ramped up to 2386 modified Mustangs. This included an order from a rental car company named Hertz for 1000 vehicles with a special paint and stripe color scheme. Black paint with gold striping. My favorite car of all time.
Hertz at the time had a program called the Hertz Sports Club. Members 25 and older were able to get first crack at renting the performance cars available and got discounted rates with the cost of the subscription. The 1965 model Shelby was the car that their customers asked about the most and they kept calling and writing letters encouraging the company to purchase a few to rent. The folks at headquarters thought it would be a great addition to the club and would sell more memberships. Shelby got an order for 400 more cars than he modified the entire previous year. The price for renting one of fastest street legal cars in the US? 17 dollars a day and .17 cents per mile.
The first 85 rental racers were equipped with a manual transmission. There were reports of the cars being returned on Monday with a roll bar welded to the interior, a requisite for being able to compete at a drag strip. Numerous vehicles were wrecked and totaled because the drivers were not prepared for how fast they were and lost control. To make the cars a little safer and tamp down some of the performance, the rest of the cars included an automatic transmission. This was a one-year experiment for Hertz that was a success for the Hertz Sports Club and for Shelby America. What was a little-known modified Mustang from a small California company turned into a highly sought after car nationwide. Shelby basically used the Hertz program for people to test drive the cars and the demand went through the roof. The main problem for Hertz was that the mechanics did not have the proper knowledge to work on the high-performance cars once they were returned. It was a struggle to keep them on the rental lot. Shelby and Ford continued to make small subsets of the modified Mustangs through 1969. The rental cars were sold off to Ford dealerships by Hertz in 1967 after the promotion ended. There isn’t an accurate number of how many are left.
Jerry Hanson is the owner of the GT350H that I spotted at the car show. His story of how he attained one of these rare Shelby’s is quite an interesting one. Jerry was 17 years old in 1973 when he purchased the car for the princely sum of $1400. The car was in good condition, and he drove it often. Jerry’s future wife was courted in the car, they drove away from the church when they were married in it. She was driven to the hospital quickly when their child arrived. Many people have similar stories of keeping a classic in the garage as the expenses of life keep them from driving or restoring their beloved vehicle. Lots of people, including myself, must make the awful decision to sell in order to make ends meet. Jerry held on to the Shelby for 35 years until life slowed down enough to restore this piece of American history. He used his 40 years of bodywork and mechanical experience from working at Woodstock Dodge to bring the rent a racer back to life. It now lives a comfortable life being driven to car shows around the Valley. One other fact about this gem that really makes it special. When Jerry bought the car, it had an automatic transmission like most of the Hertz cars. Upon further investigation, manual transmission components were found. This was one of the 85 out of 1000 that were produced! Jerry doesn’t know if the car was sent back to Shelby for an automatic or if a previous owner installed it. The car was restored to its original 4 speed transmission. This makes it one of the rarest Shelby’s ever produced.
Hope you enjoyed this article and learned something in the process. Happy motoring everyone! Stop by the shop on Main St. Monday through Thursday from 7 until 5:30 and mention this article and I’ll give you a quick tour of our facility.