By Ron Bramlett
Before reading this article, there’s something you must understand. In 2005, Wilhelm Motor Works was granted a contract to build a prototype G.T.350C for Shelby’s approval. The G.T.350Cs you see here were built while Wilhelm Motor Works held that contract and all three were to be a licensed product of the Shelby automotive family of performance cars. However, during their construction, events took place which has taken the Shelby status away from them. Those events include three lawsuits, one of which Shelby was found to have breached the contract which led to these cars being built and, because of the breach, a $250 Million dollar lawsuit thereafter. Because of this, everyone should agree that these are special cars. After all, how many cars can claim to be the cause of so large a lawsuit? In any event, these Mustang Convertibles are not being called Shelbys by anyone. This article is about when, where and why they were built which is what makes them the special cars that they are today.
The story of the G.T.350C starts in 2002 with another famous Shelby Mustang, the G.T.500E Eleanor. As told by Jon Wilhelm of Wilhelm Motor Works, after seeing the 2000 release of “Gone In Sixty Seconds”, Wilhelm went to Carroll Shelby and requested the rights to build Eleanor Mustangs to sell to the public with Shelby’s endorsement. According to Wilhelm, an agreement was made and Wilhelm met Steve Sanderson of Sanderson Sales and Marketing who engaged in selling Shelby Cobras. Because of their marketing expertise, it was agreed that Sanderson Sales and Marketing would be the sales outlet for the Eleanors once they were completed. This led to Jon Wilhelm and Steve Sanderson setting out to find someone to work with to actually build the G.T.500E Eleanor Mustangs. They found Doug Hasty at Unique Motorcars and the project moved forward.
It didn’t take long before Jon Wilhelm was out and Steve Sanderson and Doug Hasty went forward without him, renaming Hasty’s company Unique Performance. Since Wilhelm and Shelby had an agreement about the building of Eleanor Mustangs, Wilhelm complained to Shelby about the others stealing his idea and forcing him out. As it turned out, Wilhelm Motor Works ended up taking Shelby to court to enforce this agreement. It’s at this time that the G.T.350C idea started to become a reality. At the SEMA Convention in Las Vegas in November, 2004, Wilhelm scheduled a meeting with Ron Bramlett and David Bramlett of Mustangs Plus in Stockton, California. Mustangs Plus supplied many parts and products to Unique Performance for the building of the Eleanor Mustangs and Ron Bramlett and Jon Wilhelm had gotten to know each other before Wilhelm had left Unique. During that meeting, Wilhelm told the Bramletts that he was suing Shelby over the Eleanor Mustang and thought that Shelby might allow him to become a Shelby licensee and build another type of Shelby Mustang if he dropped the lawsuit. He then asked the Bramletts if they would be interested in working on a project with him to build Shelby-licensed and endorsed specialty Mustangs. The Bramletts told Wilhelm that if he and Shelby reached an agreement and if he got such a contract, to call them and let them know.
In June of 2005, Wilhelm was at Mustangs Plus with a signed contract from Shelby in hand to build an unlimited amount of 1964-1/2 to 1970 G.T.350C Mustangs and an unlimited amount of 1964-1/2 to 1970 G.T.350CR Mustangs. In effect, a contract that was potentially worth millions of dollars. The “C” was to stand for “Continuation” and the “CR” was to stand for “Continuation Retractable”. Yes, Wilhelm Motor Works planned to build Retractable Hard Top Shelby Mustangs, too. Since the contract was for an unlimited amount of Shelby endorsed cars, and after the Bramletts verified the contract, the Bramletts decided to work with Wilhelm to build the G.T.350C Prototype. After all, a project of this size definitely would sell some cars. The contract called for the prototype to be delivered to Shelby in Las Vegas on or before December, 2005 for approval. Since Wilhelm had been a part of getting the approval from Shelby on the Eleanor Mustang project, he felt he knew what it would take to get a quick approval so that Wilhelm Motor Works could get started selling G.T.350Cs. In July, 2005, the building of the Prototype was started.
A Red G.T.350 clone had been bought in the Midwest and shipped to Mustangs Plus to become the Prototype G.T.350C. Upon arrival at Mustangs Plus, the car was stripped of its drivetrain, suspension, brakes and interior. The body was in very nice condition with above average paint. Since Wilhelm said that the paint on the prototype was not as important as the performance, driveability and the theme of the car, it was determined that as much as possible of the existing paint would stay on the car to speed up the building process. One problem was the hood, which had been badly damaged and repaired. A new G.T.350 style fiberglass hood was fitted and painted, all the body panels were re-aligned as best as possible and paint touch up and polishing were done as needed. Underneath, everything was repainted and resealed before going on to the drivetrain, suspension, brakes and interior.
For the engine, a Ford Racing Performance Parts 340 hp aluminum-headed crate motor was chosen and installed. The parts used to build the G.T.350Cs had to available and be a brand name for customer confidence. Also, an endless supply from Ford would be available. As for the transmission, Wilhelm wanted an automatic transmission in the prototype because he felt that would be best for those wanting to test drive the car. Everything in the drivetrain was either new or rebuilt to new and installed. Also, on the prototype the interior needed to make a statement. Simple, but bold. To make this statement, Wilhelm had special seat upholstery made with the G.T.350C and Carroll Shelby’s signature stitched into it. These were to be made available as a Shelby licensed product to sell once the G.T.350C was approved and introduced.