Driving Impressions and Tech Talk

A blast from the past
Doug Belliveau
June 2, 2000

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69 Shelby Mustang Cobra

I'd like to say that my recent experience with a 1960's muscle car constitutes a blast from my past. But that would be like telling a story about the big fish that got away. You see, unlike many baby-boomers, I did not grow up with any big-block V-8 automobiles in my driveway. In fact, my father taught me to drive in a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle. That was the car in which I almost ejected my dad from the passenger seat when I accidentally downshifted to first gear while going 30 mph.

In my younger days, I did have two experiences driving cars with V-8 engines. But neither fell into the muscle car classification. When I was a senior in high school, I took my girlfriend out on a date, driving my mother's 1977 Chevrolet Impala with a 305 engine. While goofing around trying to impress her, I introduced the car's grill to the backend of a large pickup truck. Needless to say, Mom wasn't too thrilled when she saw the damage, especially since I was specifically instructed not to drive her car while she was away.

When I graduated college and accepted a job in another state, I bought a used 1975 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. There's no word to describe that vehicle other than BEHEMOTH. It's 455 engine sucked up fuel like a fighter jet with the afterburners on. At 21 feet in length, my co-workers used to tease me about the beast having its own zip code. The car had seen better days, the paint was shot, and it had a leak around the windshield. When I took my future wife out on a date, I had to make sure there was no rain in the forecast. Why she ever married me after driving her around in that tank is beyond me.

During the late 1980's and early 1990's, I drove a series of compact four-cylinder economy cars. My wife and I had two young children, and money did not grow on any of the trees in my backyard. It wasn't until last year that I got a car I really enjoy driving. After much contemplation, I bought a bright-red 1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT. With goodies such as a sunroof, CD player and power everything, this vehicle makes my 60-mile per day commute almost enjoyable. With the Ram-Air feature, the 3.4 liter V-6 pumps out a respectable 175 horsepower and 205 foot-pounds of torque. This baby accelerates and handles like a dream, and the bold styling gets me some nice compliments.

After driving my GT for the past year, it was impossible for me to be prepared for my next automobile encounter. Last fall, I was at my brother-in-law's house for a family party. Being that it was a nice day out, he was prompted to say "let's take the 'Stang for a spin". A wave of excitement immediately washed over me. That's because the 'Stang is no ordinary run-of-the-mill car. It's a 1969 Shelby Mustang Cobra GT 500 fastback. One of only 1536 produced, the Shelby is a collector edition.

So off came the car cover, revealing what can only be described as classic American Muscle. I stared at the candy apple red paint, black rear louvers, and the yellow base stripes embossed with the reflective GT 500 label. This was a sight of beauty. My brother-in-law had spent the past two years getting this car into tip-top shape, meticulously replacing worn pieces of the interior and exterior with authentic parts. I was snapped back to reality when the ignition key brought this icon of American automobile dominance to life. This car could be at home in a museum, but now it was suddenly very alive.

I jumped in the passenger seat and strapped myself into the racing style harness. Looking around, I noticed the roll bar above my head. This was one serious muscle car. The engine rumbled along as we slowly made our way down the driveway. It was yearning to be set free like a lion breaking out of its cage. When we got on to the highway, the 428 engine with 355 horsepower and 440 foot-pounds of torque did not disappoint. Needless to say, it only took us a few seconds to get up to cruising speed. Previous testing of the car produced 30 mph in 2.4 seconds, 60 mph in 6.0 seconds, and 14 seconds for the quarter-mile. It really was a shame that the local highway speed limit is only 55 mph. That is a serious injustice to a car that was made to fly.

This Mustang had no cruise control, anti-lock brakes, or traction control. As a matter of fact, even a radio was an option on this model. A long list of amenities and creature comforts is not what this car is about. It's about raw, unadulterated power and awesome acceleration. As we drove along a country highway in southern New Jersey, the whole interior shook, and rattles were almost deafening. But that just added to the experience of driving a classic American muscle car. After all, that's why people in the racing business wear ear protection!

A few minutes into our cruise, my brother-in-law suddenly pulled to the side of the road. I thought something had gone wrong. What he said to me next threw me for a loop. "It's your turn to drive". Words cannot describe my reaction to his statement. I was half excited, half terrified to death by the thought of driving such a classic. I took a minute to make sure he really wanted me to drive his Mustang. When I was convinced he was serious, we traded places. For the first time in my life I imagined what it must be like to be a race car driver.

Not wanting to get cheated out of the experience, I hit the accelerator hard. Within three seconds, the car shot into second gear, spinning the tires aggressively. A few seconds later, the tires chirped once more as we hit third gear. There's a certain feeling you get when driving a high-horsepower, rear-wheel drive car that can't be explained. It must be experienced. And what an experience this was for me! That day, I wish I could have driven that car all over the state. Unfortunately, we came upon his driveway way too soon.

I really like the performance, comfort and convenience of my Grand Am GT. But there is nothing that can compare to the muscle car driving experience I had that day. That is, unless someone lets me drive their 800-horsepower Winston Cup race car. Any volunteers?

GT 500 Specs
Max BHP: 355 bhp @ 3,200rpm *excess of 400 bhp produced in some tests
Max Torque: 440 lbs-ft @ 3,400rpm
Bore: 4.13"
Stroke: 3.98"
Displacement: 428cid, 7019cc
Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
Induction system: Ram Air, single Holley four-barrel, 735 cfm
Exhaust system: Standard dual exhaust
Fuel consumption:11-12 mpg
Chassis: Frame Unibody, welded
Body: Steel & fiberglass
Front suspension: Unequal arms, independent coil springs, anti-sway bars, heavy duty adjustable tube shocks
Rear suspension: Hotchkiss-type, unsymmetrical, variable-rate semi-elliptical leaf springs, heavy-duty adjustable tube shocks
Tire type and size: Goodyear Super Wide-Oval F60-15
Wheelbase: 108"
Overall height: 50.6"
Overall width: 71.9"
Overall length: 190.62"
Curb weight: 4,230 lbs.
MSRP: $5,262
Automatic Transmission option: $30
Original Dealer: Dick Brown Ford, Gretna, LA

Note: All Photos copyright 2000 AutoRacing1.com and Doug Belliveau

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