Striking a Balance Between Preservation and Present Needs

Photography by Tim Suddard unless otherwise credited

Our 1967 Shelby GT350 has driven the line between original-patina car and full restoration. We’ve grappled quite a bit with how to address the car’s cosmetic rust, but for now we’ve restored it underneath and left a good bit of patina on its topside.

Honestly, we’ve been more in the mood to properly restore the whole thing, but those who’ve seen it as-is typically favor leaving it worn. We’re a bit puzzled by this reaction, since the current coat of paint is just a cheap, poorly prepped quickie job from some unremarkable day in the car’s past. It’s neither significantly original nor of any quality, but it certainly has an appeal for many people. 

In previous installments of the project series, the car’s underside and engine bay were restored to a factory-like appearance (read: not overrestored). Unfortunately, we’ve still got to deal with rust in the doors, and the glass really needs to come out so we can address the rust in the window channels. Blending the paint in these areas could cost as much as a full respray.

We’ve had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that all of this work and expense will leave us without a more tangible outcome, like a straight and professional quality job. For now, we’ll just treat this more like a rolling restoration. We can blend in the paint, and if we decide on a full respray, we can remove the trim—but not the windows—and fairly easily finish the job. We’ll have more money in it, as we’ll have done some things twice, but we do these projects mainly to demonstrate the work to you. 

Photography credit: Scott R. Lear

When we started, there wasn’t an unblemished panel on the car. It really was too far gone to leave as-is. The fiberglass hood and deck lid were rare and original Shelby pieces, but they had issues. They were originally painted in lacquer, while the rest of the car was painted in enamel, like all Shelbys of the time. Our rear deck lid had very little paint on it. Our hood suffered from a chemical spill and some minor damage repair. These pieces needed to be stripped, sandblasted on their undersides, gel-coated and then painted in lacquer to be correct.

The car had obviously pranged its nose, and the damage looked even more severe underneath. This was abuse, not patina, and it needed to be fixed.

The original bumpers were badly rusted and a bit dented. Even the paint behind them was in pretty bad shape. We upgraded to better-looking used bumpers sourced from Orlando Mustang.

The right-front fender had been hit slightly, fixed once, and then hit again. In the 1970s, the Shelby was just another used car that kids drove, not a priceless collectible. This one had led a hard life.

Second Wind

Speaking of giving the people what they want, we decided to embrace our Shelby’s patina and save as much of it as possible. However, the outside was marred by some obvious rust holes and other damage that compromised the car’s safety and watertightness. We needed to arrest this deterioration before it got worse.

We had already restored much of the interior, but that smell—left by the rats that inhabited our Shelby before we found it—was still very evident inside the car. This was due primarily to a compromised headliner, obviously still full of whatever the rats left behind. We made the decision to finish the inside of the car, too.

We went back to our partner on this project, National Parts Depot, and as usual, they had a full range of parts in stock at reasonable prices. Everything we’d need to make this project relatively inexpensive and easy was available, from weather seals to door panel pieces.

We set a budget of around $5000 for this next round of restoration with hopes of having no more rust, no more leaks, a finished interior, and an exterior that moved up a letter grade or two. 

To save money, keep the patina, and upgrade the car, we planned to install better-quality used parts. For example, rather than buy a new gas cap, we found a very nice used one at the Charlotte AutoFair for around $100. As it turned out, it came off a car just two serial numbers away from ours. This is just one of the tricks restorers can use to upgrade parts but save patina.

We also replaced our totally rusty bumpers with significantly better-looking used ones from Orlando Mustang. New bumpers would have looked inappropriate, but ones with just a few blemishes turned out to be a good compromise.

More problems: Because of poor paint adhesion on early galvanized panels, the entire right side of the cowl was devoid of paint.

Our windshield and rear window seal were dried and cracked. This was causing water to invade the interior, which had to be addressed right away. Fortunately, National Parts Depot had new, very nicely made seals in stock at very reasonable prices.

Rust was just starting to form in the rocker panels. This, too, had to be fixed properly before it grew any worse.

Inside, things were no better. Ripped door handles cut our skin when we entered this car in the Texas 1000 rally. The door seals were all junk, and the interior needed new paint as well. While some call this patina, we call it a mess.

Immediate Change of Plans

Unfortunately, restoration is a slippery slope. As soon as you’ve got one part of a car looking good, unrestored bits begin to appear lifeless next to that shiny new paint or chrome.

In our case, this contrast was even more in our faces because we didn’t really have nice patina to begin with. Our paint even peeled when we removed some stickers we had applied. We were not expecting that.

As it always happens, we had more rust than we thought. The bottoms of our doors required quite a bit of repair, and since they were original, date-coded pieces, we had to save them. We had a little more rust around the windows than we anticipated, and the right-front fender was pretty hammered as well.

Our plan to throw just a few days and about $1000 at the exterior turned into weeks of effort and about four times that budget.

Detailer extraordinaire Tim McNair valiantly tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. While he got much of the car to shine, we still needed to do a lot of paintwork.

Tom Prescott started by grinding down the rusty spot on the fender to bare metal. Yes, he should have been wearing better eye protection, better hearing protection and a mask, but he’s old-school and we’re not his mother.

Halfway there, the dents were gone and our nose was painted with a high-filling primer. We left the original stripe intact, along with any other features we thought we could save. 

For our fiberglass pieces, we used PPG Duracryl DDL acrylic lacquer. It gave our Shelby Mustang the perfect period-correct look.

Tom purposely buffed through our freshly painted door to add back some patina.

He then blended the new paint back to gray primer that we’d laid down earlier. This duplicated the original, worn patina quite well.

Always the wizard, Tom Prescott managed to get the badly dented roof perfectly straight with just a hammer and dolly.

As we mentioned earlier, the plan was to paint very little of the car, but this time there was so much damage—and Tom got a bit carried away. 

We sprayed pieces like the door and hood latches, which were originally anodized, with an Eastwood gold, red or green zinc paint system that also included a silver base coat. This stuff looked surprisingly original and has held up well on other projects we’ve done.

National Parts Depot sent us a new dash pad to replace the original car’s badly sagging original unit. First, we painted the entire inside with NPD’s original-looking metallic black paint.

The entire insides of the doors were cleaned, wire-brushed or sandblasted as needed, repaired, and then coated with POR-15. We followed that POR-15 with Eastwood’s Heavy-Duty Anti Rust, which is a semisoft, Waxoyl-like coating.

Our finished doors looked fantastic. As we mentioned in an earlier article, we used quieting strips from Quiet Ride Solutions in the doors as well as the rest of the interior. We highly recommend their entire Mustang-ready kit, as it really cools and quiets the car.

Our gauge cluster didn’t escape our attention. By cleaning and painting the dials and adding a new bezel from NPD, we got our gauges looking and working like new again.

This is what our deck lid looked like at first. Patina, our foot—the thing was damaged and toasted after years of abuse. We had to fix it correctly. Fortunately, all the fiberglass panels were original to the car.

Step one was to strip the deck lid to the bare fiberglass. We used a dual-action sander with 100-grit paper for the topside and media-blasted the underside.

Repairs were made with traditional fiberglass epoxy. This stuff is available at any auto body supply shop, and we have covered its use in the May 2009 issue of Classic Motorsports.

Next, we applied fresh gel coat to the panel. Fiberglass is nearly always gel-coated first to give it more strength, a better finish and less porosity.

Finally, we painted the deck lid with Duracryl DDL PPG paint. This synthetic lacquer is the closest you can legally get to the original paint used on Shelby fiberglass pieces in the 1960s.

The front of each door had small rust holes. Our goal was to fix the rust without replacing the original, date-coded door panels or painting them entirely. First, we covered the rest of the door with tape, cardboard and a wet rag. Then, we marked what we needed to cut out.

 Next, we cut out the rusty area with a cutoff wheel. Notice the eye, hand and ear protection.

After sandblasting the inside of the door panel, we coated the inside of the door with POR-15 rust-preventative paint.

We carefully cut out a repair patch from similar metal and test-fit it.


Next, we tack-welded it in place. We slowly went all around the patch, stopping between welds to keep heat, and thus metal warpage, to a minimum.​​​​​​​

With the panel entirely seam-welded in place, we ground our welds flat. This also needed to be done slowly to keep heat to a minimum. We would grind for 30 seconds, then wait a few minutes until the metal cooled again​​​​​​​.

Once we were done grinding, the repair looked like this—not too bad considering we did it in a home shop with equipment any gearhead can own. Both Lincoln and HTP make great low-cost welding equipment. ​​​​​​​

Our finished repair was ready for putty and paint. The entire job took about an hour and cost us $20. POR-15 was our only purchase—we used scrap material from another patch panel we had lying around.​​​​​​​

The Verdict

Bottom line: Despite the obstacles, this project turned out pretty well.

On the downside, we have neither fish nor fowl. We don’t have a concours-original GT350, and we don’t have an amazing, original barn-find GT350 either. 

The upside: What we do have is a driver-level car with a few blemishes that is totally restored both inside and underneath. We have eliminated all the rust, and with reasonable care, the car will not deteriorate any further. All the leaks and mechanical issues are fixed, and the car runs and drives wonderfully. It’s fast, fun, and when we get to the end of the day on a rally or tour, we can hang out at the bar without obsessing about where we parked the car or if it picked up any nicks or stone chips on the way.

A car like this is worth just around $100,000. We have about $75,000 to $80,000 in it, so we aren’t even upside-down. Of course, we have hundreds of hours of our own labor in it as well. We won’t recoup that cost, but we love doing this stuff and would do it anyway, so let’s not worry about that. We also learned a lot and had a lot of fun playing with old Mustangs again.

If we spent another $5000 to $10,000, we could make the car perfect and it would be worth another $5000 to $10,000. By not restoring the car all the way to perfect in this last thrash, we probably wasted about $1000, as some of the work will have to be done again. A lot of the work, like fixing the rusty doors and damaged fiberglass pieces, will not have to be redone, though, as they were fixed properly this time around.

This Shelby is essentially finished, but we’ve got more in store for the project. We’re planning one more story on suspension tuning. This is obviously not a bone-stock trailer queen, so we won’t hurt it by playing around with the suspension. Plus, a lot of today’s rallies offer some track opportunities, and it could be fun to further surprise folks with the capabilities of one of these old ponies.

We are essentially done with the Shelby and relatively happy with it. While we have neither a mint, original barn find nor a restored trailer queen, we do have a decent-looking original Shelby Mustang—one that has updated power and absolutely hauls ass. And no, this project is not for sale.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Ford, Shelby, GT350 and Patina articles.
More like this
cyncrvr New Reader
9/3/20 2:57 p.m.

Well done. I like the middle ground. Looks good but you can still drive it.

noddaz UltraDork
9/5/20 8:02 p.m.

Looks great!  And there is nothing wrong with middle ground.  You can have a classic AND drive it too.

murphmi New Reader
3/16/21 8:09 a.m.

The most important thing for me is what you said about being able, in good conscience, drive the thing in a rally and go for beers afterwards without fearing door dings in the parking lot (tho I would try to park it in a spot away from potential idiots).

I have a (rich) friend who regularly drove his vintage '29 Bentley, worth way more than I'm worth, in vintage races. I asked him how he could ever consider doing that--wasn't he worried about totaling it? He just smiled and replied, "That's what you have insurance for!" 

Thank you, Haggerty. 

dean1484 MegaDork
3/16/21 5:32 p.m.

I think the biggest reason why you don't want to make it concourse is that it is approachable. It is friendly and inviting. Overly restored cars while absolutely gorges seem to loose there sole. They loose that intangible that somthing that makes them special yet friendly.  

I think you struck the perfect balance. Congrats on completing it and thank you for truly preserving that intangible special something that so many cars loose when they are restored to like new condition. 

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
3/18/21 8:08 a.m.

Thanks for all the nice comments. This is still one of my favorite cars.


Bardan New Reader
6/28/21 3:59 p.m.

I was at a "Cars n Coffee" last Saturday and a guy showed up with an original Superbird. The car had through rust in every panel. Lots of it and in areas that if you cut it out intending on welding new in, you probably would just find more rust. He was just going to leave it that way. 

Looks like this Shelby got the right amount restore without over doing it.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
7/1/21 9:43 a.m.

I need to get the Shelby back on the lift and sort out a few mechanical bits as well. Never enough time!

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners