Under The Hood 2

Shelby Flag1

Gary Miller
1968 Shelby GT-350, 302, 4-Speed

Yup, I was one of those guys that got my learners permit ON my 16th birthday. There was a congressman, Mr. Ritter, who lived down the street from us and was willing to personally take my application with him to Harrisburg and wait there as they did the proper paperwork. That evening when he knocked on the door he handed over that important piece of paper all cars enthusiasts love. Problem was I had no car to drive but Mom's AMC Hornet wagon. I worked that year as a busboy/dishwasher at an upscale restaurant to buy my first car and pay for insurance. On October 29, 1981, at around my 17th Birthday, I bought a 1971 Monte Carlo from my uncle and that was a nice car. I liked Mustangs, but this was a great deal. Upon graduation from school and getting a full-time job, I saved up and got a second car on October 8th of 1982. That car was a 1970 Mustang fastback just painted and striped like a Boss 302. The car was white with a black interior, 302-2V engine, auto trans, power steering, manual brakes, and with wide tires out back. Yeah, and a single exhaust with a glass pack muffler!!

That was a fun car to drive and the interior was so much more sporty with great fitting seats than the Monte Carlo. Brakes, worse than the Monte Carlo. I used it for nice weather driving and cruising the strip in Allentown. I had some plans for the car when I got some extra money. Not much of that since I was having to pay insurance for 2 cars at age 19. Fred, my insurance agent, loved me. Well by next October it needed the state inspection done and it would not pass. It was then I learned some things about Mustangs............floor and frame rust!! Being 18 and not knowing about Mustangs and buying from a stranger, these things happen. I was glued to that car from first sight on that fresh paint, stripes, and noise. I spent my money on a For Sale sign and sold it to a kid just like me, hooked on the look.

I wanted to get another Mustang. I sold my 70 Stang on Oct 10th 1983 and then within 24 hours of that day, on Oct 12 1983, I purchased a 70 Maverick. Swing and a miss? Not as bad a choice as you might think. It was that car I found out about the joys and the positives of a beater!! Wanting a Mustang and knowing things to look for I continued on. My uncle is a car nut and knows many others like him so he knew I was looking. We both found cars for sale about the same time. He knew of a couple who owned several Stangs and they decided to sell a 1970 Mach 1 -- Bright yellow, 351C-4V, 4-speed, shaker, spoilers and slats. I can't remember the price they were asking. Then I came across an ad in the classic/antique section of car listings in the local paper, The Morning Call, for a 1968 Shelby GT-350, 302, 4-speed, blue w/ stripes. Me and a friend went to look at it quickly. Nice new paint and stripes with new chrome. I fell for that before. This time we looked UNDER the car also. A few things that needed work or replacement but much better than my first Mustang. When talking to my uncle about both cars and asking his opinion, he mentioned the Shelby should be a better investment in the long run.

August 8, 1984. That is the date I signed the loan application to finance the amount of $5,218.68, at an annual percentage rate of 15.5% for the next 36 months of payments. Mom and Dad also signed on the bottom as co-makers security agreement persons on 8/10/84. I was 19 years old on that date and in 3 years that car was gonna be mine, free and clear. We drove up several days later and went to the local notary for the transfer. Told them I paid $4,000 for it, ( hey, we all do that) and drove it home.

Like most used cars there were some things to be fixed or replaced. I can't remember the exact order, but I think it is pretty close. First problem seen while looking at the car underside and suspension was the rear air shocks had the air lines burned through when the exhaust was installed. This caused the rear to sag lower than the front and gave it a goofy look. Having purchased the small type Chiltons Manual, and having my Dad's tools nearby, my friends and I were ready to do this. I got replacement rear leaf springs and 4 KYB shocks. The manual section didn't have a long list of things to do for spring replacement, maybe about 8 steps. As most manuals, step 8 was probably written something like this.......Step 8: Install parts in the reverse order. So we start and steps 1-3 go pretty good. Step 4 sounds simpler and easier than the first 3 steps. It was only a 4 word process.........Remove front hanger bolts. I'm smiling as I grab the wrenches. After some bad words and a breaker bar, the nuts on the inside frame rail come off. Now just getting the bolt out through the spring eyes was all that was needed to get the worn items off. WOW !! these are REALLY tight. No, they are not even turning. Having sprayed these with Liquid Wrench liberally before nut removal and they STILL aren't turning is not a good thing. Trying to just hammer them out from the inside isn't budging them either. Using all the simple tools at my garage, and those small hand held propane bottle torches, we had to go bigger to get it done.

Air tools, that has got to work we thought! I had this old, small, several person hand-me-down, freebie air compressor. I owned no air tools so I rented an impact gun from an auto parts store. Kevin and I tried that gun all we could, until we broke my non-impact socket. No luck getting that darn bolt to turn in either direction, but we think we had a better plan. The parts store also rented and air chisel. We don't need to turn the bolt, just keep impact hammering on the end until you drive it out. With tool and compressor ready we got into position. If you ever used that tool you know two things about it very quickly. One is that it uses the air supply up rapidly. The amount of good solid impacts before it petered out was a fraction of the time compared to how long we had to wait until the compressor refilled with air. Second is how much those things bounce and step around as you are trying to drive down directly on top of something, especially just the threaded end of a seized bolt. So, as we tried, the tip was bouncing, slipping, kicking back, jamming, the works until it really turned for the worse and the gun itself somehow made contact with the lower rocker panel chrome strip that is on the bottom of 68 Shelby's. Now I was really mad so things got really noisy and ugly. However long this attempt went on the only progress was denting the strip, not even moving those bolts a bit.

All of us ran out of ideas, then my Dad thought of one. His brother was a firefighter for the city so he asked what might be on a truck that could get these bolts out. He asked the crew what they could think of, and a guy replied the torch set-up on the big pumper. My uncle says this guy is good with torches as he would cut cars apart if needed to extract crash victims on emergency calls. This was before the hydraulics tools used today were the common equipment on trucks. Remember this happened many years ago when the rules for city employees wasn't as strict or regulated as today. The next time they worked a second shift and had no calls they brought the big truck over with the entire crew. All they asked was to have a water hose or fire extinguisher handy, just in case. I drug down a hose from the house. The truck showed up, parked in the middle of the alley blocking traffic, got the torch set out, and the entire firehouse crew got out to watch and talk. Man, that torch operator was good. Those spring eyes and bolts were cut apart and laying on the floor in no time. All this was done with the complete interior and carpeting installed, and it never even smelled. And it cost less than those tool rentals, free! Well, I guess the residents of Allentown actually flipped the bill, but it was DONE!!!!!!!!!!! Just like the Maverick cemented the good of owning a beater, this is still talked about 30+ years later when Kevin and myself work on cars. When we get to that point when a job is an absolute blocking point when you didn't think it would be, we look at each other and say “remove front hanger bolts”.

Things weren’t always that bad, and projects went smooth. I started taking the car to shows soon after I got it. Always popular vote classes and local, but usually won a nice trophy. 1985 was my first show trophy and then with the flier handouts I went to many more. Local and Mustang themed shows were my favorites. I remember seeing Diana fill out the entry forms for many years at the First PA Mustang show held in Coopersburg. That is still one show I strive to make every year because of the memories of meeting future friends and club members. Then I heard about SAAC from people at shows and went to those back in the late eighties. Great Gorge was the first SAAC show I attended. My parents went along also. I remember that was a HUGE turnout of cars and people. Cars I've never seen or heard of were throughout the parking lot, Cobras, TRV's, Sunbeam Tigers, Panteras, and probably others. Pocono Raceway was where the high speed driving event was held, so we went there. That looked neat and someday I want to take my car on the track and go fast!!

Since I was driving the car more I kept fixing items here and there - brakes, headliner, dynamite sticks thinking it would help with the tail lights and such. I did a plug change when I got it but now I'll do more. One of those was a coolant flush. Loosened the radiator petcock and drained the coolant, then went to the engine block drain plugs. Damn, those have a stupid square head. All I have for taking that out is an open end wrench. Guess you all know how that turned out, round huh. Got a socket of any size hammered on, a propane bottle torch on high, and a breaker bar. Got them turning and loose so things are working out. Upon removal of the one plug nothing ran out. I'll try the other side. That side was dry also. Tried poking a copper wire in there, nothing. Borrowed a special air pressure gun from a local garage they used to open drain holes with no success. This block was blocked on the bottom. In talking to my uncle he said best to pull the engine and have it cooked out. Again Kevin, myself and others would work on engine removal evenings using borrowed and rented tools. With the engine at the rebuilder it was found to have a piston skirt crack on one piston. My uncle told me this and I remember asking how much would it be to fix that one. He kinda gave me that look like it was a dumb question to ask. He explained that you do them ALL while it is apart, not only one. I was young, never did this, and was worried about what this was going to cost. I was still on payments, 2-3 car insurances to pay, and usual other things going on that take money. Anyway, engine got done, new dress-up items like valve covers and air cleaner purchased, new flywheel and clutch set also while it was all apart. I'm ready to go next season.

Next SAAC event in the area was again at Great Gorge. This time I was a SAAC member so I did the entire event, including open track at Pocono!! I was nervous as I never ran on a track and had to attend the drivers meeting. Did all that, had a helmet and sunglasses, and the weather was great. I paid good money to do this so I want to make it worthwhile!! I was in the beginner group and that was fine by me. I ran the car hard, hey, new engine so why not. That course was set up using about 97% of the entire tri-oval NASCAR track, with only a small infield chicane after turn one. That meant a heck of a lot of high RPM's while running for about 20 minutes or so per group. I was rippin' it up flat out and taking that chicane as fast as possible. On the second time out it was a repeat of the first, flat out on the straights and fast through the turns. Time to come in and the more I slow down the more rattles and noise I hear and the more nervous I get. By the time I come to a stop with all the racket, the more I think my heart will stop. NO, I just didn't wreck it, did I? I went to this event by myself and really at that point did not really know anyone that well yet. Once I calmed down and got to look the engine over, I found what had happened, or so I could only hope and pray. Like that saying in racing, “It's the small stuff that kills you”. What I found was the two nuts on the driver side exhaust manifold dropped off allowing the pipe to hang low and make the rattle and noise. Again, I learned that day about retorquing nuts and bolts after major repairs. Being new at this I never thought of bringing tools or parts. So I had to walk around the garage area and parking area to find someone with a toolbox AND two of those thread nuts. I got the correct tools but the nuts were not correct. So a super hot car and exhaust to work on and the wrong thread nuts. Now a search for a jack. Ready to go and man did I struggle with the heat and incompatible threads. It felt like I was trying to force on a 1/4-20 and a 10-32 nut onto those 2 studs. I finally got them installed and returned all borrowed items only to find out the day was over. That was a bummer to pay big bucks for a little track time but two good things came from that day. My car was pictured in a major Mustang publication while it was running in the chicane! The second was those two replacement nuts never worked loose for over two decades until I needed to replace the donut.

Years later and many shows during that time have brought me into this great group of people. If memory serves me, it was Dominic and Diana who I would see at every Coopersburg show. She working registration and Dom would always come over and talk due to the fact that he somehow was always stuck parking the Shelby class. Tom always had something there, usually a different car every year, but something. I especially remember the all blue ERA Cobra at that show. Some day I want one of those!!! Then my Mom mentioned about a Shelby Mustang club starting up in the Forks / Easton area. She had seen an ad in the local paper looking for members to join and to call this phone number. I called and the gentleman who answered was Dan Reiter. Giving me directions, I went to that first and very small attended meeting. It was there I met Tom Paxson and plans were set to have fun with cars and to gather other like-minded individuals along the way. As the following years piled on, meeting locations changed, some faces coming and going, and cars coming and going, some more so than others, it's been enjoyable and memorable. Best part is more people to meet and memories to build upon.

Having a car like the Shelby is something special. The looks and attention you get when you drive it or go to shows is really a good feeling. Hearing others talk about the car they have, or the ones they sold and regret, are always entertaining. I still have, drive and show the Shelby all these years later, but others Mustangs have come and gone also. Those cars will have their stories told here also.

Gary Miller