Dream Shelby GT350 Cop’s 30-year love affair. Living with my Ford Mustang. Retired traffic-cop Greg Barriera has owned his Shelby GT350 for 35 years. Walsh tells the story of one man’s love for the Shelby Mustang. Gamekeeper Turned Poacher. When a traffic cop set eyes on a speeding Shelby GT350, little did he know that it would lead to a long-lasting love affair. Mick Walsh tells the story of an enduring relationship. Photography Mick Walsh.
Indoctrinations to a favourite car don’t come more dramatic than that of Greg Barriera, a retired Californian policeman who has owned his Shelby GT350 for 34 years. Imagine the early morning scene on the famous Pacific Coast Highway in 1978; a patrolman is patiently watching the horizon for fast cars when a harddriven Mustang appears, its driver gunning the small-block V8 until he spots the police sedan.
“I was doing radar speed checks on a 30mph zone near Santa Monica when this cool car comes blasting into sight doing 80mph,” recalls Barriera. “I was a young cop, and determined to stop it. The Wimbledon White Mustang pulls up, and a guy with long hair and a beard winds down the window. I was much more interested in the car than giving him a ticket, and we soon got chatting. I knew from that moment that I had to have a GT350. The owner was Steve Beck, who’d bought his Mustang (5S258) in 1974 for $900 and still owns it today. We became good friends and still go to club events together, as well as for drives on favourite roads.”
Barriera was raised a Ford fan because his father had always been loyal to the Blue Oval: “I bought my first car, a ’1957 Fairlane retractable, when I was 14 years old. My dad put me behind the wheel and towed me home. Over the next two years, we rebuilt it, and as soon as I could drive, I was out on Van Nuys for cruise nights. I must have a done a pretty good job restoring it, because a couple of Canadian firemen offered me $2500. I traded up to a Galaxie 406, and have been into high-performance Fords ever since.”
The experience with the speeding GT350 started Barriera looking for a Shelby in earnest: “In 1981, this young recruit, Matt, turned up with a white ’66 GT350 that he’d inherited from his brother, and I had to have it. It was his only transport, so I’d see the car parked at work all the time, which really increased my desire. I’d also see it on the street when passing his house on the route home, and kept leaving notes asking him to sell it. His brother had loved the car and took it to the first Shelby American Automobile Club events, but he died of leukaemia and the young police officer took over the car. Those family connections were tough to break, but Matt gave in after six months – I think it was to stop me bothering him. I went straight to the Credit Union and drew out the $7000 asking price.”
Once it was in his hands, Barriera started researching the Mustang’s history: “It was sold new by Hayward Ford near San Francisco. It was one of the first dealer teams to race the GT350s and, driven by Dick Carter, had great success on the West Coast. My car (6S1802) was originally blue and was fitted early in its life with an aftermarket Paxton supercharger by Maier Racing in the Bay area, where the first owner, a Mr Brabant, had it serviced. The Ford had certainly been enjoyed. When I bought it in 1981, it had already been around the clock once. I’ve seen it pass twice and it’s now done about 350,000 miles. I like cars that have had a life – these low-mileage GT350s that make crazy money at auction are to me like a cheerleader who’s never seen the inside of a boys’ locker.” Living in the Santa Monica area, Barriera was close to the old Shelby factory at 6501 West Imperial Highway – adjacent to LAX airport – where the GT350s were built, as well as a wealth of specialists: “I stuck with the blower for many years and used to take it to Granatelli Motor Sports just up Highway One in Oxnard.
I became good friends with Andy Granatelli and got special service out of the back door. They were doing supercharger work for the military and developed this special green racing fluid, which they let me have for my car.
“The blower added a lot of power and lowdown torque, but it was a pain to keep in tune with the carb. When I fitted a wilder Eagle cam during an engine rebuild, Andy told me that it wouldn’t suit the supercharger but I didn’t listen. After several years, I took off the blower. I’ve been through a few 289 Hi-Po engines because I love driving hard. For 25 years, the GT350 was my daily transport, and I even took my pregnant wife to the hospital in it. The Ford is part of the family, and now my son drives it.” Early in his ownership, Barriera joined the local SAAC group and became friends with Alan Bolte, a British Shelby enthusiast who had owned his ex-Tasca Ford GT350R since 1979: “Alan talked me into joining the Cobra guys at Willow Springs for a test day. After a few laps, my stock Shelby was outgunned by all the racers – it quickly overheated and the handling just wasn’t there. From that day, I started modifying it. We built a hot engine, lowered the suspension, changed the spring rates and fitted a glassfibre front apron to make it closer to an R model. And, of course, it ran American Racing mag wheels.”
The memories of the GT350 are endless and, despite its modified tune for track use, Barriera continued to drive it to the police station: “The highlight of every morning commute was a fast run down Topanga Canyon on State Route 27. It’s a great road down through the Santa Monica Mountains to the Pacific Coast Highway. We started to time the run and got ever more competitive with faster and faster times. With no silencers and ’1965-style side-pipes exiting ahead of the rear wheels, the car was really noisy. Then one morning we reached the highway and there was a roadblock. The police officer was fuming. ‘Do you know how long we’ve been looking for you?’ he ranted. There had been endless complaints about speed and noise, and we promised never to do it again. The Mustang was parked up for a while, but we started doing the same thing with a little five-speed Datsun 1200.” The GT350 continued to provide motoring highlights, with eagerly anticipated trips out to Willow Springs twice a year. Special events included runs up to Monterey for Shelby conventions and the tribute Ford years at the Laguna Seca historics. It now seems that every GT350 and Cobra has been signed by Shelby, but the faded signatures inside the bootlid by the famous Texan and Shelby American racer/ manager Lew Spencer date back to ’1981. “No one else thought of doing it back then,” says Barriera.
Over the years, the Ford’s owner has been very involved with the local branch of the SAAC, including as its president from 1990: “One of the privileges is that you get to meet many of the key folk who were involved with developing the GT350, such as Chuck Cantwell. He was Shelby’s project manager and worked closely with Ken Miles on the Mustang programme. They spent a lot of time together at Willow Springs, and Chuck told us some great stories about scary flights when Ken borrowed Shelby’s Cessna.” In 2009, Cantwell decided that it was time to finally buy a GT350: “It was his first one because he could drive as many as he wanted when working for the factory. The Shelby community was fantastic, helping him to restore his ’1966 car (6S796), and specialists would just send him parts without an invoice. If it weren’t for Chuck, we probably wouldn’t have had a 50th anniversary to celebrate. Everyone appreciated that.”
Meeting Peter Brock, who gave the GT350 its signature style – he designed the Le Mans stripes (inspired by the Cunningham team), the wheels, the dash modifications, the side graphics and the brake scoops – was another honour: “Pete is such a cool guy, and always claims the ’1966 GT350 is his favourite Shelby.” Barriera has a real appreciation of history, and has regularly made trips down to the old factory, as well as to 142 Princeton Drive in Venice where it all started: “When we run at Willow Springs, you can’t help thinking about the historic connection because all the development driving was done there by Miles.”
Given the choice between a ’1965 and ’1966 GT350, Barriera is happy with his later example: “The early models were pretty basic race cars as Shelby pushed to get homologation for Ford, but for 1966 they’d sorted the bugs and it became a more refined road car. The values have rocketed, with collectors paying silly prices for rare ones. There was a small batch of 252 ’1965 models that was carried over to ’1966 because Shelby was worried about supply, and these now make $200k, but you can still buy a tidy 1966 model for $120k, while low-mileage, matching- number survivors are up to $175k. For the four special GT350 convertibles built at the end of ’66, you can name your price. In my book, the first two years are the only true Shelby Mustangs. In later years, he’d do anything to make a buck.”
Two years ago, Barriera made the decision to revert 6S1802 to a more civilised road car: “The early aluminium transmissions are horrible.
They pop out of gear and the synchros are weak, so I’ve kept the four-speed Top Loader. Best of all, you can pick them up for $125. The car has its original brakes, and the Detroit Locker still knocks you around. We built a fresh 289 but I kept the heater out because I never liked the heavy design and the hoses are really ugly. We also put the sound-deadening back. She tips the scales at 2925lb – but that’s still light for a ’66 car. “As you get older, your taste changes. Noise is just noise, and doesn’t make you go faster, so we’ve now reinstated the full-length exhaust, which is a little more refined. I also have a 2013 Boss 302; it is great, but unlike the older car, you just don’t feel as connected with it. In the Shelby, I can tell when the front end is pushing out, or the tail is breaking away. With the modern Mustang, you’re just along for the ride. Jay Leno once said: ‘You sell your stocks, but you never sell your Shelby.’ There are a few long-term owners in the LA region who agree with that.”
Although the car was originally Sapphire Blue, Barriera has kept the later Wimbledon White finish: “It’s the same paint from 1978 when Matt’s friends talked him into changing it, claiming that no GT350s were ever blue.” He adds, laughing: “I’ve never had an accident and the only time that it’s been tapped was when my wife was driving. I was in another Shelby and she was following in my car. She wasn’t used to the brakes and ran into the back of me!”
As an ex-policeman, Barriera is critical of modern driving standards – particularly the use of mobile phones – and doesn’t enjoy running the Ford as much as he once did, although he still takes it out every two weeks: “The highlight of the year is Super Bowl Sunday in early February. The roads are empty, and I go up to the Lake Hughes area with a group of friends. Steve [the speeder who prompted the GT350 passion] brings his car and we have a great time on canyon roads.” These days, Barriera likes nothing more than working on cars: “We have a small ranch up in the mountains. My wife loves horses, and I have a building where I play with Mustangs.” That sounds like a dream retirement to me.
Clockwise: the Mustang roaring across the Salinas River as Barriera heads home from the GT350 celebrations at Monterey; lurking in the shadows at Moss Landing; underbonnet sticker is full of promise.
“JAY LENO ONCE SAID: YOU SELL YOUR STOCKS, BUT YOU NEVER SELL YOUR SHELBY MUSTANG”
Clockwise: wheels, quarter windows, side scoops and stripes were designed by Cobra legend Peter Brock; grille was revised for 1966; Monte Carlo bar helped to stiffen the front end.
Technical Data SHELBY GT350
Sold/number built 1965-’1966/2378
Construction ladder chassis with steel body
Engine cast-iron, overhead-valve 4727cc V8, with single Holley four-choke carburettor
Max power 306bhp @ 6000rpm
Max torque 329lb ft @ 4200rpm
Transmission four-speed Borg-Warner manual or three-speed Cruise-O-Matic, RWD
Suspension: front coil springs, wishbones, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers f/r
Steering recirculating ball
Brakes discs front/drums rear
Length 15ft 6in (4724mm)
Height 4ft 31/2in (1308mm)
Width 5ft 81/4in (1734mm)
Weight 2925lb (1327kg)
Top speed 127mph
0-60mph 6.2 secs
Price new $4428 USA
Price now $120-160k USA (£80-120k UK)
“THERE HAD BEEN ENDLESS COMPLAINTS ABOUT NOISE, SO WE PROMISED NEVER TO DO IT AGAIN”
From top: GT350 has real presence on the road; to reduce production costs, 1966 interior featured rev counter in pod; assembly at Shelby factory in 1965; world’s coolest hire car.