1968 Shelby Mustang GT500 Convertible
Chassis no. 8T03S169394-01975
The evolution of the Shelby Mustang followed Fords evolution of the Mustang on which it was based. Only moments after the Mustang was introduced and took off in popularity it was apparent that the Muscle Car revolution was making big block power essential. After barely two years in production Ford redesigned the Mustang with a bigger engine compartment to make that possible. Shelby, being at the pinnacle of Fords performance offerings, seized upon the opportunity and created the GT500 with power from Fords 428 cubic inch Police Interceptor engine.
In 1968 Shelby Mustang production moved to Michigan both for greater efficiency and because the lease on Shelbys factory ran out. The workmanship and quality of the Shelby-specific fiberglass parts improved dramatically. Tuning of the 428 allowed Shelby to meet its power objectives (stated as 360hp but actually considerably more) with a single four-barrel Holley carb.
1968 also brought another important first for Shelby, the first convertibles of which only 1,124 in total were built. Only 402 of them were GT500s. Eagerly collected for years, GT500 and GT500KR convertibles are among the most sought of all Shelby models.
As popular as the Shelby Mustangs, and particularly the convertibles, were it was another 1968 Mustang that has become legendary. That was the Dark Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT Fastback driven in Bullitt by the title character, Lt. Frank Bullitt, played by Steve McQueen. The Bullitt Mustang has been so popular, for so long, and is so instantly recognizable that Ford has twice, in 2001 and again in 2008, produced a Mustang Bullitt series.
Not surprisingly if youre Bruce Willis and you have a project underway to build an updated, perfected version of the Dodge Charger R/T 440 hardtop that Bullitts Mustang chased through the hills of San Francisco it might make sense to build a comparably up to date Mustang. And what better to base it on than a damaged 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500 Convertible?
The project began in 2001 under the supervision of Bob Lyman at Lymans Automotive in Hollywood. At Bruce Williss initiation and with his constant consultation and guidance, they began a progressive program of development and improvement that eventually included the engine, drivetrain, suspension, body structure and cosmetics. Nothing was overlooked in creating the best Shelby GT500 Convertible in history.
Originally Acapulco Blue, it was repainted by Performance Paint in Torrance, California in the Bullitt Mustangs memorable Dark Highland Green. The interior was done by Thomas Tops in Hollywood in Saddle Brown leather throughout and a distinctive baseball stitch on the built in roll bars leather covering, a package that cost $28,000. An Alpine stereo completed the comfort and entertainment complement.
Under the car extensive changes and improvements vastly enhanced the stiffness and performance of the chassis but all of them were accomplished without drilling the chassis or welding on it. The only exception was seam-welding the unit body to join the front and rear subframes after Bruce Willis commented that the structure wasnt stiff enough. A complete upgraded suspension was sourced including tubular upper and lower front control arms, performance bushings and coil over Koni shock absorbers. Two crossmembers were added, but without drilling or welding. The steering was upgraded to a power rack and pinion system. Four-wheel Baer brakes with a booster complement the engines added power.
Having worked on appearance, comfort, handling and braking, the engine was no longer capable of holding up its end of the equation. It was pulled, and sent to The Balance Shop where the project was made somewhat more complicated by the fact that the engine under the hood turned out not to be a 428 but a 390.
A correctly date coded 428 was located and given to The Balance Shop where it was bored and stroked to 468 cubic inches. With a single Holley double-pumper 4-barrel, roller rockers and a modest cam, the Willis 500K Convertible has 570hp under the drivers right foot. It drives through a Centerforce clutch and 5-speed manual gearbox to a built 9 Ford rear axle with 3.54:1 Gears. All the 428 engines original accessories were rebuilt and installed with the engine in the GT500 Convertible.
The result is a thoughtfully redone, developed and professionally built Shelby Mustang GT500 Convertible that does everything well. There are only two visual hints everything isnt stock: the brightly polished Cragar S/S alloy wheels, and, if its seen in motion, a controlled suspension and body motion that tells informed onlookers that it is a serious drivers car.
Everything removed from the Shelby Mustang, including the 390 V-8, has been carefully retained, crated and boxed and will be included with the lot as auctioned, to be picked up by the buyer in Hollywood.
A tribute to Steve McQueen and the most famous chase scene in cinema history, this 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500 Convertible is something more. It is a very thoughtful, intelligently managed and progressively developed performance improvement program that built the ultimate Shelby Mustang GT500 in a nearly completely stock-appearing package.
Its competence, sharp presentation and the thoroughness of its development is a tribute to the person who initiated, sustained and guided it, Bruce Willis.