Rare 1966 Mustang Shelby GT350-H Rental Car Literally Dug Out of Yard
Not sure if this special Shelby Hertz rental ran when parked, but that was in 1981.
"As rusty as it is, and as ugly as it is, there is so much good here." True that. Rick Parker and his team from Signature Auto Classics in Columbus, Ohio, were working with a pickaxe and shovels to dig out a 1966 Shelby GT350-H that had been parked in a backyard for nearly 40 years. The registration on the license plate had expired in 1981.
The entire car had sunk into the mud and might not have been worth the trouble except it was a real Shelby, one of the 936 GT350-H models that Shelby-American produced for Hertz (hence the "H" in the name), the rental-car company, as part of the so-called Rent-A-Racer program in the '60s. Most being automatic, these sporty rental cars were once deemed slightly watered down and thus not destined to be as desirable as your average four-speed 1966 Mustang Shelby GT350.
There were many fun stories about people racing them, even installing roll cages and uninstalling them before returning the cars to Hertz, or swapping the hotter Shelby bits (including the whole engine) for pedestrian Mustang stand-ins during their rentals. Most of those were just that—stories—although Hertz's own historical view of the GT350-H program alleges escalating repair costs from such hooliganism is what brought it to a halt. Perhaps the wondrous black-with-gold-stripes Hertz paint scheme, or the oddity of a real Shelby being available for $19.95 a day, or that sneaky rental-car racer lore is what has put this car on collectors' radars. Probably all three.
This Mustang's archeological dig began in 2015, when Mike Charles walked into Signature Auto Classics and told his friend Rick Parker he had found "a Shelby in the woods."
Rick and Mike drove 50 miles to Mount Vernon, Ohio, where the Mustang slumbered in a backyard on a tract of land where the car wasn't visible from the street or the rear of the house. They knocked on the door, but nobody was home. Rick's wife, Jacquie, wrote a letter to the address. A couple weeks later, Jacquie got a call from Carol Delano.
"Carol called and told me she has had tree trimmers there, and gas meter people, and UPS [asking about the car], but nobody had ever written her a letter. She invited us up, and we spent several hours with her on a Saturday," says Rick.
"I took an iPad and showed her my car because I also have a 1966 GT350-H—in better shape. She was impressed that we really did have interest in saving the car, not as a quick flip," says Jacquie.
Rick and Jacquie told Carol they had a restoration business, and told her, "If we can help you, [let us know]." They didn't try to buy the car, but five years later, they got the chance. Everett, one of the owner's two sons, wanted to restore the car and hired Rick to assess the cost to repair the rust.
Back at Signature Auto Classics, Jacquie opened the reference photos. Rick singled out a picture under the hood and said, "Here's one of the things we're concerned about tomorrow. This is where the steering box bolts." Rust revealed breaks in the unibody, which compromised extraction, to the extent Rick told us, "We are worried about the car splitting apart."
That's why Rick called Cal's Towing for help. Rick brought his four employees, as well. He didn't need "eight people to go move this car, but it's an adventure for the younger employees to see what it's like out there."
Larry, Randy (aka Mongo), Blake, and Sean were enthused to drop their restoration work for an afternoon adventure "in the trenches," a figure of speech which proved literal as they ended up digging under the car to free it from the mud.
Derek, the Mustang owners' other son, met us at the house and told us that his parents bought this Shelby from Hertz in Ashland, Ohio, just 42 miles north. His mom, Carol, drove this Shelby to work and as a result was "one of the more popular elementary school teachers."
The black paint was still original, as were those gold stripes. Rusty hood hinges allowed prying up the hood only "about 10 inches."
Once the car was safely loaded on the rollback—without having split apart—we headed south to Rick's shop in Columbus where a crowd gathered. Rick trained his flashlight on the engine bay to reveal the 289, which looked like a stock Cobra engine. Rick had already seen the Shelby VIN tag when he first pried up the hood four years ago. Then he pointed out the dual-point distributor, special four-blade radiator fan, open-element air cleaner, and the Ford Autolite 4100 series carburetor with its manual choke (these carbs run $2,500 at a swap meet and very hard to find). The header-like cast iron exhaust manifolds had been replaced with a set of headers, which appeared to be vintage Cyclones.
We can't wait to see how it gets better if and when the restoration gets rolling. In the meantime, we can't peel our eyes from the photos of the rare Mustang where it sat interred for so long.