The lady in red: 1967 Shelby GT 500

Posted in Cars
Built in the Philippines by an Australian company, this recreation of the Gone In Sixty Seconds GT 500 ‘Eleanor’ is a star in its own right

Winning any major award at Ellerslie Intermarque Concours d’Elegance, this country’s premier classic car show, and especially the Masters Class or the coveted Teams Event, takes a very special car, or pair of cars, indeed.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been associated with this event as a committee member and judge for quite a few years, and, as I’ve said on many occasions, the bar is raised every year when it comes to the level and quality of the superbly restored classic cars entered for judging.

This year, a new record was set with Ivan Fuller’s 1958 Porsche 356 Speedster scoring an impressive 567 out of a possible 590 points (read our feature on this car elsewhere in this magazine), which begs the question, how much higher can these cars score?

When it comes to the Teams Event — remembering that the exact same judging rules apply as the Masters Class — we find some individual cars are actually scoring higher than those securing second or third place within the Masters Class. For example, as part of the MG Car Club team, Kim Walker’s 1949 MG TC scored an individual tally of 538 points, while Rob Turner’s third-placed Masters Class entry, a Fiat 500, took 506 points.

What’s also evident is that the Auckland Mustang Owners Club (AMOC) has become a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the Teams concours competition. Once again, this year AMOC entered two teams and, for the second year running, one of those teams scored the top prize.

AMOC’s winning Team Two comprised Ian Draper’s 1964 Mustang convertible (also featured in this issue) and James Everett’s Classic Speed–built 1967 Shelby GT 500. Together, these two cars scored a combined total of 1023 points out of a possible 1180 — a mere two points ahead of the second-placed MG Car Club team.

The AMOC is not only a keen supporter of this event — which, as the Ellerslie Intermarque host club this year, it managed to run both professionally and effectively — it’s also quite obvious there’s a strong competitive spirit within the club, one that provides the perfect environment for those members willing to compete in such events.

With that in mind, we decided to take a look behind the scenes, and talk to James Everett to learn more about his choices, restoration journeys, and drive to succeed.

Aussie muscle cars

Growing up in Melbourne, James — a self-confessed petrolhead — always had a passion for Aussie muscle cars, particularly Falcon XW/XY GTs and XA-XC coupés, as well as the early Holden Monaros, from as far back as he can remember.

However, James’ first car, when he was 18, wasn’t one of these Aussie icons. It was a more run-of-the-mill but trusty and reliable HQ Holden Belmont, which served him well. In fact, these sturdy machines are now well and truly entrenched in Aussie motoring history and are generally recognized as being some of the greatest Holdens ever built.

James’ girlfriend at the time — now his wife — owned a Ford Cortina MkI GT, and he applied his fledgling do-up skills to this car, including working on the Ford’s mechanicals and paint. James says it was, indeed, a fun car to drive.

During this time, he recalls there were a lot of muscle cars to be seen on the streets of Melbourne, including a decent assortment of American cars, and these also made a lasting impression on him.

Soon, spurred on by attending as many motor racing and drag racing events as he could, and given he’d saved up a few dollars, he decided it was time to buy a V8. This would come in the form of a mildly hotted-up HQ Statesman with a 308ci (5.0-litre) V8 and three-speed Trimatic auto transmission. Despite the fact all this newfound power and luxury was a step up from his rather basic, less well-specified Belmont, James found that the Holden’s slush-box didn’t quite provide the ultimate driving experience of feeling fully in charge. As a result, he moved onto an XB panel van boasting a 302ci (4.9-litre) V8 and four-speed manual gearbox, which he would own between 1980 and ’83.

These types of panel vans were cool cars in the late ’70s and early ’80s, often being referred to as ‘shagging wagons’ or ‘sin bins’ due to the fact teenagers would often fit large mattresses into the back. James admits he did find the van handy for “sitting” in the back of at drive-in movies.

Travel and New Zealand

Into the mid ’80s and now married, James and his wife decided to throw in their jobs and spend a year travelling around Australia. As James’ passion also extended to 4WDs, his chosen vehicle for the adventure was a Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser SWB. Mind you, it wasn’t just any old Land Cruiser — James always ends up customizing his cars to make them somewhat unique. The Land Cruiser was no exception, and he decided to tweak it up slightly by squeezing a Chevrolet 327ci (5.4-litre) V8 under the bonnet, as well as beefing up the gearbox and suspension in preparation for any off-road excursions encountered on the planned trip. Today, James is still passionate about 4WD vehicles and owns several both here and in Australia — all suitably modified, of course.

Then, around 14 years ago, James and his family moved to New Zealand. He went into business eight years ago and successfully built up enough to attract the interest of a large corporate. As a result, he recently sold the business and, as a reward to himself, decided it was the right time to get the dream car he’d always promised himself.

James’ initial criteria for this dream car only existed in broad brush strokes — it had to be a car that wouldn’t date, one imbued with what he referred to as an “immortal look”, and, of course, whatever he eventually decided upon would have to be thrilling to drive — and unique.

With a wide range of options open, his next step was to narrow down the search further by deciding the car of his dreams would have to be a classic muscle car, and, from there, a 1967 Shelby GT 500 slowly emerged as his first choice.

Classic Speed GT 500

As far as James is concerned, the ’67 Shelby GT 500 remains the absolute personification of the classic US muscle car — a vehicle that, even today, is recognized by younger people as being a great-looking car, as already noted by those of us who grew up during the era when Shelby Mustangs were truly kings of the road.

While a Shelby GT 500 fitted the criteria for James’ ultimate dream car, typically he still thought an original example would look a bit plain, and probably not perform as well as a more modern performance car.

His desire for a Mustang that would be more exclusive and unique now drew him into the customizing world. During his time in business, James had travelled extensively throughout the US, being fortunate enough to visit shows such as SEMA and see first-hand the fantastic types of custom restorations on offer by myriad companies across the country. James began researching companies that specialized in restoring and customizing classic Mustangs, both in the US and further afield.

Finally, after much surfing of the web and research, he commissioned Classic Speed, an Australian-owned company that had relocated to the old US Air Force Base in Clark, Philippines, to build his dream car.

Classic Speed (featured in NZ Classic Car, July 2012) benefits from operating within a tax-free zone 90 kilometres north of Manila — an area reborn as a Special Economic Zone after the US military pulled out of the base following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. This left a large, English-speaking, very skilled workforce — including ex-pats – out of work. This would provide a perfect environment for the restoration and custom-building of Mustangs.

Not only is Classic Speed well set up with a talented workforce at its state-of-the-art facility, it’s also able to purchase OEM and Ford licensed parts in large wholesale quantities straight from the US suppliers, which ensures quality and consistency throughout any project.

Gone in Sixty Seconds

Classic Speed was able to show James pictures of some very attractive GT 500s it had already built to a right-hand–drive configuration. As well, it tempted him with photos of some GT 500 Eleanor replicas it had also put together. Based upon the customized Mustang driven by Nicolas Cage in the 2000 action film Gone in Sixty Seconds, ‘Eleanor’ was the code name for the Shelby GT 500 on the shopping list of 50 cars that Cage’s team of professional car thieves intended to steal.

The look of an Eleanor seemed right, while the right-hand–drive option was particularly appealing to James — not only did he want his car to be a daily-driver, it had to perform well, stop efficiently, be reliable, and include some modern features.

Classic Speed was able to tick all the boxes and was very receptive to customizing a build for James. He also visited its facilities in the Philippines prior to confirming his decision to give the green light so he could personally check out its legitimacy, level of expertise, and trustworthiness. The trip was worthwhile, as James came away impressed with the company’s attention to detail, the professional infrastructure it had put in place, and its ability to build one-off custom cars.

Classic Speed gives customers the option of either shipping their own car directly to the Philippines from the US, or having it source a body. As it turned out, James was already in the process of buying a suitable Mustang and shipping it to Classic Speed. However, when he told the company of his choice of car, it advised him the car he’d picked was simply too good, and he was wasting his money buying a “good” car that was only going to end up being completely stripped, with most panels replaced in any case due to the extensive modification required for this particular build. That was good news for James — it meant all he had to find was a basic fastback bodyshell with a reasonably good floorpan, roof, and pillars. In the end, he left the sourcing of the body to Classic Speed.


Once James ticked off the build sheet and all the necessary options, the build of his dream car commenced. He had specified some fairly unique features — under that stunning body and Candy Apple Red paint, with its Wimbledon White stripe, lurks a very modern suspension and brake set-up.

Matching the Mustang’s enhanced handling ability, beneath its bulging bonnet there’s a fully BluePrint 427ci (7.0-litre) V8 ‘crate’ engine. On the receiving end of a host of performance parts, the V8 is now capable of producing a tarmac-shredding 414kW (555bhp) through a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed manual transmission boasting a Hurst shifter. All this power is fed through a Chassisworks FAB9 rear Trutrac nine-inch differential set-up running a 3.5:1 final-drive ratio.

Those lucky enough to get up and close and personal with James’ GT 500 cannot help but notice that there’s so much fine detail and perfect craftsmanship on display with this car, and the more closely you look, the more details you see.

However, it’s the less noticeable features that make this Mustang truly remarkable. Just some of the factors that transform the car into a comfortable, safe, and very quick daily-driver include remote door locks and boot release, and satnav with a reversing camera. As well, modern air conditioning is cunningly disguised behind period-correct heater controls — not to mention one heck of a sound system that provides a Shelby-like kick in the back courtesy of a pair of 10-inch subwoofers. Mind you, as James readily admits, the sound system has some serious opposition from the natural bass of the Mustang’s rumbling 7.0-litre (427ci) V8 rumble as it exits via the car’s three-inch side-exit exhaust.

In keeping with the quality of the build, James specified a full black leather interior including Scat racing seats, and a leather dash pad and door panels. 

People’s choice

The build of James’ GT 500 Eleanor took 18 months, and, during that time, a few decisions changed as to what would go into the car. He also made several further visits to Classic Speed, which provided weekly photographic updates, keeping him involved in the project and fully informed every step of the way.

This is the first car Classic Speed has supplied into the New Zealand market — that meant countering a few problems in order to see the car through compliancing procedures. The LVVTA had never seen the Total Control Products (TPC) coil-over front end and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. They required engineering specifications and drawings to be sure it would be safe on New Zealand roads. TPC wouldn’t release any such data, so the whole front suspension system had to be drawn up by an engineer and submitted for review to an LVVTA panel in Wellington. The good news is that everything was judged to be A-OK — and the next person to order a TPC front end in New Zealand will have no problems, as James has blazed the trail.

The car has now been on our roads for 14 months, and, in that time, James has entered three car shows. In each show, his Mustang has won its class and, tellingly, also scored the people’s choice awards. For James, recognition by the show-going public is a genuine reward — and, of course, he was rewarded yet again at this year’s Ellerslie Intermarque Concours, his car earning the coveted People’s Choice award along with the Teams Event trophy.

Car enthusiasts — both young and old — all like this Mustang, but James reckons it also scores well with women, many of whom have told him they love the GT 500’s colour scheme. Some don’t even know what make or model the car is, but reckon its shade of red goes perfectly with their nail polish!

Upon reflection, the DNA on show within our story is a little weird. James is an Australian living in New Zealand who owns and drives a right-hand–drive classic US muscle car that was built in the Philippines.

It is fascinating to see how the Mustang’s aura and its status as an internationally desired collectible have grown as it has aged. Classics like this are now regarded as art, but, unlike stationary artefacts, they are fully mobile, totally usable, and come with the innate ability to trigger a more visceral reaction. 

James reckons that even in another 50 years his car will still look cool and invoke deep, caveman-like emotional sensations from blokes wanting to chance their arm at taming the beast!

PS: James would like to say a special thanks to his wife for allowing him to have another woman in his life … they both seem to be happy about that.