Car of the Week: 1969 Shelby GT350H fastback

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Rock music legend Alice Cooper will probably never pass through the tiny town of Mellen, Wis. But if he does, hopefully he looks up Paul Amman, because the pair will have at least one thing in common. Both have been owners — Amman prefers to call them “care takers” — of the fantastic Grabber Orange 1969 Shelby GT350H Hertz “Rent-A-Racer” that Amman loves to show off these days. The car still has Cooper’s signature in three places, in case old Alice didn’t remember it, dating back to when he sold the car at a Barrett-Jackson auction in 2003.

Amman admits to getting a kick out of the fact that the Shelby has had a famous previous owner in its lineage, but that certainly wasn’t the deciding factor when he bought the car seven years ago. In fact, Amman didn’t even know the car had been part of Cooper’s stable when he began making overtures about buying it.

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“The man in Arkansas [that was selling the car] did not tell me Alice Cooper owned the car. I found it out before I bought it from another guy in Texas, because I was looking at a ’68 down there, too,” Amman recalled. “He said, ‘I know the guy who owned that car, and I know Alice Cooper owned that car.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s funny he wouldn’t mention that.’

“… So I asked him about it, and he says, ‘I didn’t want to tell you he owned this car. They say he bites the heads off chickens and snakes, so I didn’t want to bring it up.’ I thought it was kind of cool. I guess it adds something if you’re an Alice Cooper fan. I could care less.

“But it’s neat. I’ve had people bow down on the ground to this car. That’s sickness right there!”

Actually, it was Amman who was stricken with Shelby fever from a young age. He admitted he wasn’t familiar with the high-performance creations from Carol Shelby until he went looking for his first new car. “It all started back in 1969 when I was 20 years old. I went to the local Ford dealer to buy a Mach 1, and they were a Shelby dealer,” he said. “I had no idea what a Shelby was, but I thought it was kind of cool and for 700 or 800 bucks more, I bought one of those instead.

“Well, then time went by and it’s the old story – you have kids and you have to get rid of it. Then my son-in-law, about 12, 13 years ago, said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Shelby again?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it would be, real cool.’ Before long, Amman had located and bought a red 1970 GT350 that was just like the one he had in high school. After that came a Chevelle and GTO — “the other old cars that I used to have back then,” he chuckles.

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It was the Shelbys that appealed to him most, however, and he decided he could justify having a second GT350 in exchange for parting with the Chevelle and GTO. The stunning orange example that turned into the third Shelby he has owned has certainly been worth the trade-off. The car has 64,000 original miles, is wonderfully original, and has plenty of history behind it. Paul and his wife, Sue, have loads of fun showing it off on their summer car show travels, and the couple have been proud to add their names to a lengthy roster of previous owners — many of who were in the same Georgia family.

“It sat in Georgia for years. One family, same last name, different first names,” Paul said. “And I actually called them … I did a search of their last name and just picked a last name out in one of the suburbs … I asked the guy who picked up the phone, ‘Do you know anybody in your family that ever owned an orange ’69 Shelby Mustang?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, my grandmother did.’ I said, ‘Well, I think I have it up here.’ It was the grandson. I asked him if he ever drove it and he said yeah, twice. I said, ‘Well, you’re never going to believe who owned it since your grandmother did — Alice Cooper.’ He said, ‘Nooooo!’”

Amman didn’t actually drive the Shelby before he was able to buy it. The previous owner insisted on driving the car during Amman’s visit, and he even drove it on the car hauler when the deal was completed. That’s when things got a little weird for Amman.

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“I never drove it until I got it back to Wisconsin, and this is the spooky thing. When I pulled it out of the trailer, backed it up, I turned on the radio, and ‘School’s Out’ [a famous Alice Cooper song] was playing. That’s the honest-to-God truth!”

The Georgia family apparently owned the Mustang mostly as an investment, and over the years, sold it from one kin to another. It eventually wound up in Cooper’s sizeable fleet, then was pushed over the block at Barrett-Jackson. Of course, all that was after the car was a wild and wholly member of the famed Hertz Shelby fleet. That legendary arrangement actually started in 1965, when Shelby American struck up a deal with the prominent rental car agency to promote their new 1966 Shelby Mustangs. A total of 1,001 Shelbys entered the Hertz fleet that year, all sporting the 289-cid Hi-Po engine rated at 306 hp with 329 ft.-lbs. of torque. For $17 a day and 17 cents a mile, you could rent yourself a muscle car and go have some serious pavement scorching fun. The arrangement returned in 1968 when only 252 GT350H cars joined the Hertz fleet. For 1969, just 152 Shelbys were ticketed for rental car duty, including Amman’s car.

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He isn’t sure how many wound up being painted Grabber Orange, but the loud color certainly helps an already unique car stand out. “The ’66s, 800 were black and gold, 200 were any color,” he said. “In ’68 they were any color, and in ’69 they were any color. Then it ’06 and ‘07, when they came out with the modern ones, they went back to the black and gold again.

“I haven’t seen another orange one like this.”

The orange paint on the Shelby is still original — almost. The car was actually repainted by the factory almost immediately after it was delivered. Beyond that, the car has had very little done to it over the years.

“The Shelbys had tons of trouble with the Grabber Orange paint back in those days,” Amman said. “And when Hertz owned it at 35 miles, this car was entirely repainted because of the blistering paint, except for the roof, and the door on one side and the passenger front fender.

“It has had some touch-up, a little here and there over the years. Typically, these cars get a little rust problem at the corner of the doors. Somebody else did it along the way, and I’m probably going to be doing it again because I can see a little something there.

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“It has a lot of cracks in the fiberglass in the hood, and that’s life after 45 years. It should be left alone as much as it can be, at this point in time.”

Certainly, one of the Shelby Mustang’s calling cards was its extensive use of fiberglass. It was found on the fender, hood and rear cap panels. The Shelby hood had five recessed NASA-type hood scoops. The leading edge was trimmed with a chrome strip that curved around and down to meet the unique Shelby bumper. A chrome strip formed a wide rectangle as it ran around the outside of the flat-black grille. Lucas driving lights that added a degree of nighttime safety were attached to the underside of the bumper.

Side stripes in the middle of the body ran the entire length of the car. The rear brakes were cooled through a scoop mounted just ahead of the wheel well. On convertibles it was in line with the body stripe, on fastbacks it sat just behind the door handle.

A set of sequential tail lights mirrored the 1965 Thunderbird. A pair of rectangular exhaust tips, separated from the fuel filler only by the width of the rear bumper, were part of a fire-hazard recall later in the year.

Early in the year, Blue, Green, Yellow and Orange “Grabber” colors and Competition Orange were added to Black Jade, Acapulco Blue, Gulfstream Aqua, Pastel Gray, Candy Apple Red and Royal Maroon. Interiors came in Black, White and Red (less than 80) with high-back bucket seats, a vinyl-covered “Rim Blow” steering wheel and a center console appearing as part of the deluxe Mustang equipment. The door panels and dashboard had many fake wood inserts.

Instead of stamped steel wheels, 1969 Shelby buyers got 15 x 7-inch five-spoke rims shod with Goodyear E-70×15 wide oval tires (F-60×15 tires were optional). Some Shelbys wound up with Boss 302 “Magnum 500” wheels when a defect in the stock rim forced a recall.

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Power was supplied by Ford’s new 351-cid/290-hp Windsor V-8 with a 470-cfm Autolite four-barrel carburetor. A four-speed manual transmission was standard with a four-speed close-ratio manual and automatic on the options list. The big-brother GT500 had the big 428-cid Cobra Jet V-8.

In all, 1,087 GT-350 fastbacks ($4,434); 194 GT-350 convertibles ($4,753); 1,534 GT-500 fastbacks ($4,709); and 335 GT-500 convertibles ($5,027) were sold for the 1969 model year.

Shelby Mustang production ended in 1969, with the leftovers updated and made into 1970 models with new vehicle identification numbers, black hood stripes, a chin spoiler, and a mandatory emissions control unit. Amman’s red 1970 Shelby is one of those 1969 holdovers.

Amman isn’t sure how many of the 64,000-plus clicks on the odometer were acquired during his car’s rental days, but he suspects a good majority of them. A few years back he bought a 2007 Hertz Shelby that had about 30,000 miles on the odometer after just one year. “They do put miles on them,” he noted.

Amman chuckles about his reaction when he finally drove a vintage Shelby after not having been behind the wheel for many years. “When you don’t drive one for 25 years like I didn’t, when I first got that other one, I thought there was something wrong with everything. I thought there was something wrong with the suspension, with the [handling]. It was sloppy and bad by today’s standards. But you do get used to it again. That’s the way they were.”

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Amman is philosophical about owning his pair of Shelbys. There are plenty of cars in the collector world that he could own if he preferred to get his kicks doing lots of driving. Putting miles on his former Hertz Rent-A-Racer, however, is definitely something he avoids.

“I’m very careful, yeah,” he said. “I drove it a little more at first, but we had tons of problems with it; alternator, brakes freezing up, master cylinder … It was from sitting so much… These days we have a two-car hauler and we take both of the Shelbys with us. During the summer the car lives in the trailer and only comes out for shows.”

“I’ve been around these cars for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for them, and you’re really just spending a portion of your life taking care of them for somebody else. There are only so many of these.”

And the connection to Alice Cooper? Amman can take it or leave it. He’s just glad Cooper preserved the car well enough that he can enjoy owning it, too.

“I can’t say that I’m a big fan of his or anything,” Amman laughed. “I’ve never been to an Alice Cooper concert in my life.”

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