- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

For those with 40-year-long memories, the mere mention of the days when anyone could go to the Hertz store and rent a ‘Mustang’ that had undergone severe tweaking by racing legend Carroll Shelby will bring a smile.

The first few of the 1,000 Shelby cars were equipped with standard four-speed manual transmissions.

After the people who rented then returned them with very abused transmissions and clutches, Shelby switched to heavy-duty automatic transmissions for the rest of the cars.

After serving time as rent-a-racers, the cars were refurbished and then sold to an anxious public that wanted a Shelby Mustang at an affordable price.

Not all of the rent-a-racers were abused. Records show that one of the black cars with gold racing stripes was first sent to regional distributor Koons Ford in Falls Church for transshipment to Hertz Car Rental in Richmond.

The MSRP window sticker on the car was very succinct: *GT 350 Street ….$3,54700. *Hertz Special wheel..10555. *Freight……..93.75.AM radio……..4545. *Hertz inspection….2000.

The total came to $3,811.75 and Hertz probably rented it out as often as possible to get its investment back and then returned the car to the local Ford dealer, who refurbished it and sold it.

A Richmond man, Frank Bernardini, reportedly bought the rent-a-racer primarily so he and his son could restore it together. Before they got started, ill health claimed his son. The Shelby then sat untouched until 1970 when a Charlottesville man, Roy McClanahan, convinced the owner that he could provide a good home for the car.

At that time the car had been driven about 23,000 rental miles. The previous owner threw in a number of parts with the deal that would be handy when and if the car was restored. One of those items was a rare supercharger, which wasn’t on the car originally but could have been.

Mr. McClanahan maintained the car and in the next 18 years added only 8,000 miles to the total on the odometer. During those 18 years his brother-in-law, Oz Lamonds, persisted in his quest to purchase the car that still had the original spare tire, the rare three-spoke, walnut steering wheel and the aviation-type seat belts that were a stock item.

Every time the two men got together Mr. Lamonds would inquire about the price of the Shelby GT350H and Mr. McClanahan would set the price just a hair too high. Finally, Mr. Lamonds remembers, at a family picnic in 1988 the same old question was asked and was answered by the same old answer. However, that time Mr. Lamonds said, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’

A surprised Mr. McClanahan agreed but insisted that he be paid in cash and within a week, terms Mr. Lamonds could live with.

A week later Mr. Lamonds delivered the cash to Charlottesville, praying every mile, he says, ‘Lord, don’t let me crash and lose all this cash.’ He knew his brother-in-law always took good care of his cars so he had no doubt that he could drive it home to Manassas, which he did. ‘It was made to fly,’ he says with a nod to the 140-mph speedometer. ‘I had chill bumps the whole way,’ he says.

Racing hood pins secure the fiberglass engine hood that has a functional air scoop. The notched front bumper forces more air to the engine. A couple of holes in that bumper direct cooling air to the front brakes. Air scoops on the sides of the car at the rear of the side indentations draw air into the rear brakes.

A decal on the dashboard warns: ‘This vehicle is equipped with competition brakes. Heavier than normal brake pedal pressure may be required.’

All the rent-a-racers were built by Shelby American Inc. in Los Angeles but they were not all identical. Some had metal engine hoods and most, but not all, were painted black with gold racing stripes. Lifting the engine hood exposes the beefed-up engine with valve covers boldly proclaiming ‘Cobra powered by Ford.’

The original Ford engine number has been replaced by a metal plate stamped ‘SFM6S1927,’ the SFM identifying this car as a Shelby Ford Mustang. ‘It is a interesting car in that it has no power anything on it in order to increase the horsepower,’ Mr. Lamonds says.

At the bottom of the powerful engine is an eight-quart oil pan to help keep the circulating oil cool during extreme conditions. ‘I would never race my car,’ Mr. Lamonds says emphatically.

That doesn’t mean others didn’t during its rent-a-racer days.

Opening the tiny trunk lid shows that most of what little luggage space there is occupied by the original bias-ply spare tire. The second set of tires are the four tires on the ground and are mounted on 10-spoke 15-inch aluminum wheels. Regular Mustangs have a blind triangular shaped area to the rear of the glass in the doors. Shelby has replaced that with a triangular plexiglass window on both sides of the car.

By 2002 the all-original car was showing signs of aging, so Mr. Lamonds had his Shelby freshened up with an outstanding repaint and new rubber around the doors and windows. The rest of the car remains as it left the factory.

In 2003 Mr. Lamonds learned that Carroll Shelby himself was going to be in attendance at Virginia International Raceway in Danville. He fired up his freshly repainted black-and-gold Shelby and with a raucous racket blasting out of the exhaust pipes just forward of the rear wheels, he set off on the 250-mile trip to Danville.

On that trip he learned two things:

• ‘Don’t even think about listening to the radio.’

• ‘The car will continue to accelerate until you take your foot off the gas pedal.’

At Danville, Mr. Lamonds met Mr. Shelby and had the good fortune to have him autograph the glove compartment door.

Now that he has owned the car the same length of time as his brother-in-law, he notes that the odometer has registered 42,000 miles.

One thing hasn’t changed, he says, and that is the engine. ‘It doesn’t have a miss in it,’ he says.