Car of the Week: 1968 Mustang GT-350

By Brian Earnest

In spite of all its machismo, fearsome looks and tire-smoking reputation, one of the things Mark Spaude likes most about his sweet 1968 Shelby Mustang is it’s simply a nice car to drive. It’s pretty reliable, it runs good and it drives like a dream, especially for a muscle car.

But, ironically, it’s probably because the car was running so lousy at one time that Spaude got the chance to buy his coveted Mustang.

Spaude, a resident of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., first spotted the stunning Sunlit Gold Shelby while it was doing some hot laps on the Road America race course in Elkhart Lake, Wis., so he knew the car ran well enough to drive. What he didn’t know was that the car was for sale and wasn’t as bad of a runner as the previous owner thought.

“I knew it could run because I saw it on the track,” Spaude said. “I didn’t drive it, but (the owner) said there were some drive train problems with it, that’s why he was selling it … There were two perfect Boss 302s there that were also for sale, and they were about the same money as the Shelby, but of course the Shelby is a lot more rare, and we were really attracted to the color. So I went to Minneapolis (where the previous owner lived), did the deal, drove back home and it did have some drive train problems. It would just vibrate like crazy.

“His mechanics couldn’t figure out what it was, but we found out it was a flywheel that had been shaved three or four times, so when you let the clutch in, sometimes it would be real bad, sometimes it wouldn’t be so bad. But it had some problems.”

Spaude quickly ordered an NOS flywheel, fixed a balky main bearing, installed some new pistons after the cylinders we re-bored, and in a few short months had his Shelby humming like a Swiss watch.

“That was probably 25,000 miles ago, and the car runs like a top now!” Spaude said. “That would have been about 15 years ago … Now we drive the car all over the place.”

Spaude had previously owned a ’67 Mustang coupe and restored a ’66 convertible. He has also since sprung for a 2007 Shelby GT-500 and assembled a Shelby Daytona Coupe replica, but he has a special soft spot for his gold ’68 fastback. The car is certainly rare — there were only 1,053 fastback Shelbys built for 1968, and only 57 of those were Sunlit Gold — and has turned out to be a surprisingly comfortable road trip car for Mark and his wife Debbie. Not only that, but the couple has apparently given a permanent home to a car that needed one — it had been globe-trotted through a long list of previous owners before the Spaude’s took the title.

“There have been eight owners, which is really unusual,” said Spaude, who got the car with about 87,000 miles on the odometer and has since put on about 41,000 more for a total of 128,000. “The good thing about it is all of them were picky about keeping it original. As a matter of fact, even the mileage is pretty well documented. The only owner we don’t know was the original owner. We know the dealer the car was delivered to, but we don’t know the original owner.

“I always liked the Mustangs and just happened to be in a position to buy it and I thought I had enough friends and stuff that I could solve the mechanical problems it was having. It seemed like just the right time, and the color was very attractive because it was rare.”

And unlike all the Shelby’s previous owners, Spaude hasn’t been tempted to sell it. “I’d be divorced if I tried to sell the car,” he said with a chuckle.

The 1968 Shelbys underwent some significant changes from the ’67s, including gaining a new engine. A 302-cid small block replaced the 289 and was rated at 250 hp with the standard four-speed. Outside, rectangular fog lamps were added to the grille opening, and a twin-opening air scoop was moved up to the front of the hood, just behind the fiberglass nose. Functional louvers were placed near the windshield, and in back, the tail lamps consisted of segmented squares.

Spaude’s car has the black interior — Shelbys were also available with a saddle color — and optional air-conditioning, power steering, power brakes and push-button radio.

“This is an interesting car. It has the original order form that Shelby used to order stuff, and it also has the original sales invoice, and the complete build sheet,” Spaude noted. “The other thing I have is an actual copy of the office ledger of the Shelby cars that were shipped out of the factory.”

Spaude said that Mardi Report research shows that his Shelby is one of just five Sunlet Gold ’68 fastbacks that came with a four-speed, factory air-conditioning and the black knit bucket seat interior.

The car was repainted once, “probably at least 20 years ago by a restorer in Texas,” but otherwise remains largely original. Spaude put in a new rear end with more mileage-friendly gearing, but has done little else to the car beyond minor repairs and the engine surgery 15 years ago.

“The car has the original drive train, and all sheet metal is original,” he said. “The interior is all original and I even have the original mats in there. The only thing I’ve done to the paint is basically buff it out … The paint is shrinking and it will probably need to repainted at some point since I drive it so much.

“The car is so original that you don’t want to do anything to it … I got a front bumper I’d like to re-chrome, but that’s about it. The car is so reliable, I wouldn’t be afraid to drive it anywhere in the country.”

Actually, Spaude has already made several long trips around the country is his head-turning Mustang, including voyages to Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn. He insists he isn’t interested in owning any cars he can’t drive all day — even 40-year-old muscle cars worth well into six figures.

“Driving it is just awesome. People ask me, ‘Aren’t you afraid somebody is going to hit you?’ I say no, actually what’s going to happen is they are going to hit the car next to me because everyone is going to be looking at my car,” Spaude laughed. “And that’s typical of a lot of these old cars… I really don’t have any reservations. Obviously, with the value of the cars now, you’re concerned about it being stolen, but the love of the thing is to drive it.”

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