One of two pivotal Experimental cars built by Shelby has been found in a Texas field, 50 years after it disappeared – and the owner had no idea what he owned...
Shelby’s 'Little Red' prototype Mustang GT500 EXP has been found in Texas after years of searching – making for one of the most significant finds in American car collector history.
The big-block Shelby notchback coupe was one of a pair of 'experimental' cars built by Ford Motor Company and Shelby American. It was an important developmental car, which showcased a variety of ideas, from a restyled body to adding a Paxton supercharger to the big-block V8.
Little Red eventually became the model for Ford’s 1968 Mustang California Special but once finished with it was moved into storage – and there the trail went cold.
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'Finding Little Red is the discovery of a lifetime,' said Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson, who led the search. 'This Shelby prototype has been one of the most sought-after and elusive vehicles in postwar history.
'Countless enthusiasts and experts have searched for Little Red since it went missing in the 1960s. Many believed it was destroyed when the car was no longer needed. I’m excited to announce that was not the case. We’ve found Little Red and we intend to meticulously restore this legendary car back to its original glory.'
The team that discovered Little Red was led by Jackson and restoration specialist Jason Billups. It was eventually discovered in rural North Texas, where it has been stored by the same owner for more than two decades. The car was revealed during the Woodward Dream Cruise weekend in Detroit.
The idea to look for Little Red was prompted by the restoration of the other legendary Shelby prototype coupe, the Green Hornet (below). They were the only notchback coupes ever produced to wear the Shelby nameplate, and Craig Jackson and Billups discussed what the chances might be of finding the fabled 1967 Shelby Experimental Coupe.
'Locating Little Red was tantamount to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack,' said Billups. 'After our initial research we realized that, like others before us, we were using the wrong search criteria.
'Everyone looked for Little Red using the Shelby serial number, which would eventually lead to a dead end. We took a different approach and located the car’s original Ford VIN number, which wasn’t easily discoverable. That VIN led us to its original registration and eventually to its last owner.'
Billups managed to make contact with the owner via social media in February, and agreed to meet in Dallas, Texas. On 3 March 3 2018, Billups, automotive journalist Al Rogers and Ford Mustang and Shelby specialist Todd Hollar, were allowed access to the Texas property where Little Red has spent the last 20 years.
Renowned Ford Mustang expert Kevin Marti (who also helped verify the second Bullitt Mustang) confirmed the find as the missing experimental car, and the team also verified its authenticity using cross references, serial numbers, date codes and other confidential documents proving the vehicle was, in fact, the missing Shelby prototype, Little Red.
'March 3rd will be forever etched in the history books,' said Rogers. 'Walking up to Little Red was like being on hallowed ground. This car was long thought by the experts to be forever lost to history. Even the owner was not aware that his vehicle was Shelby American’s iconic 1967 Shelby Experimental Coupe.
'We can’t be more excited to have been a part of Craig Jackson’s team and have the chance to bring this important car back to its original glory. We’re especially honored to be a part of Little Red’s restoration over the next several months, which will be carefully documented and shared with Shelby, Mustang and Ford enthusiasts around the world.'
Little Red has been stored outdoors for nearly two decades, and is consequently in need of comprehensive restoration. The work will be fully documented on www.ShelbyPrototypeCoupes.com and include photos, videos and a storyboard to detail each step of the rebuild.
Shell and Pennzoil are helping to support the documentation of Little Red’s restoration. 'As brands that have been part of American and worldwide automotive history for more than 100 years, we understand the importance of heritage. So, with that in mind, we’re thrilled to join Craig Jackson and his team on this historic journey to return Little Red to its original glory,' said Mark Henry, brand and communications manager, Shell Lubricants.
'This will be one of the greatest stories of automotive history ever told, and we look forward to having a role in making it come alive for generations to come.'
The team is also appealing to members of the public to submit personal accounts, stories and photos that feature Little Red – making this the first time that a collector car will be substantiated using a crowdsourcing initiative on www.ShelbyPrototypeCoupes.com.