If you talk to Mustang enthusiasts Mark Hovander and John Atzbach, you’ll hear how history has a tendency to come full circle. The two friends have come together to tour the country with their original 1965 Shelby GT350 prototypes, reunited 40 years since they were built to develop street and racing versions of the historic special-edition Ford Mustang.
When Hovander spent the summer of 1980 in Alaska, working on a crab fishing boat to save up for a 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang, he brought with him a ripped-out ad for the car from an old Shelby American magazine. Almost thirty years later, Hovander’s child-like longing for the iconic American sports car would be satiated.
“I figured this would give me inspiration during the 20-hour workdays,” said Hovander in a statement, “but little did I know that nearly 30 years later I would own the very car pictured in that ad.”
The ad featured one of three prototype 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang models, specifically the street-car version with VIN number 5S003 (S for street). The other two prototypes, prepped for racing development, were numbered 5R001 and 5R002 (R for race). Each Shelby GT350 prototype was a white K-code 1965 Ford Mustang fastback equipped with the high-performance 271-hp, 289-cubic-inch V-8 engine. The other R-model 5R001, is kept in a private, undisclosed location and has remained hidden from the public for a number of years.
By the time Hovander located the 5S003 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang, research indicated that it had been improperly restored to R-model specifications in 1979 and raced in vintage competition until 1992. It was only after consulting Carroll Shelby’s production records (happened upon in Shelby’s attic in the mid-1980s—you can’t make this stuff up) and 5R002 was discovered in Monterey, Mexico, that Hovander realized the mistake. If somebody were to write a movie about all this, we’d be first in line with buttered popcorn and 3-D glasses in hand.
Atzbach acquired the racing-spec 5R002 model from Shelby American Collection museum owner Steve Volk. He and Hovander set out on a mission to meticulously restore 5R002 and 5S003 to their original prototype conditions, to be ready to celebrate 50 years of the Ford Mustang in April 2014. No detail was overlooked, including tracking down 50-year-old parts and finishing the two prototypes in original-formula PPG white paint from the same batch, side-by-side.
Even the 5S003’s original wheels, visible in the 1965 advertising shots, were located for the car’s restoration. In a cunning shortcut to save time and money, the driver’s side of the 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang used a pair of stock stamped-steel wheels, while the passenger’s side had Cragar cast-aluminum wheels. The effect in photos was that it appeared as if there were two different cars were shot. Hovander’s Shelby is a living example of that decision.
It’s fantastic to see such passion manifest so clearly in the two restored Shelby GT350 prototypes. Although Hovander and Atzbach deserve a lot of credit for their dedication to recreating history, they had a lot of help along the way. “I love the whole history of Shelby American—the cars that were built there, but most importantly, the people who created them,” said Atzbach. “I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of the original Shelby American employees who are still with us today, and I can only say great things about them.”
Hovander and Atzbach will show their matching 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang fastbacks at the 40th annual Mid America Ford and Shelby Nationals event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The 1960s classics will then appear at six more events before the tour comes to a close. This kind of restoration story serves as a salient reminder that you never know how things are going to turn out, and it’s not always a total pipe dream to lust after your far-off dream car. Keep your eyes open and things might just come full circle.