By Dean Larson

Photos by Craig Jackson, and Martyn L. Schorr 

The magic and excitement of barn finds and long lost classic cars is something us enthusiasts quite literally live for. But when a rare and significant classic emerges and captures headlines and shares on social media, it’s clear that this excitement goes beyond us devout students of automotive history. The latest find securing headlines on Fox News, USA Today and more, is especially significant though, as it’s a rare Shelby test car believed to have been crushed decades ago.

“Little Red” is one of just two notchback Shelby Mustangs to ever exist, both of which have fascinating stories from their time at Shelby and beyond. This particular 1967 notchback Mustang was delivered to Shelby where it was built up as a GT500 and wracked up miles as a test mule with all sorts of exotic Shelby components. Little Red was always changing, but the car can clearly be identified by its ’68-style Shelby taillights and insignia on its vinyl top. In historical photographs the car wears Shelby’s unique 10-spoke alloys, but was discovered with a set of aftermarket Spyder mags from the Motor Wheel Corporation.

While much of the car’s history is still being unraveled, it’s believed Little Red was primarily tested with a 428 ci V8 force-fed with twin Paxton superchargers and three-speed C6 automatic transmission, reinforcing the car’s murky prototype origins. The car is said to have appeared in some promotional materials and events, and was driven regularly by Carroll Shelby himself. Furthermore, Ford President Lee Iacocca is said to have enjoyed the car also, and it served as the inspiration for the California Special Mustang (sold with Thunderbird taillights and special hood pins, scoops and logos). 

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With the car becoming obsolete at the end of the year, a new Coupe testbed was delivered to Shelby and Little Red was returned to Ford to be crushed. This new notchback, a ’68 California Special model dubbed “the Green Hornet EXP-500,” was equipped with a prototype independent rear suspension (that never made it into production) and possibly fuel injection.

After its useful test life, the Green Hornet wound up at a Ford employee auction in 1971 and went through several owners. The car was always kept in decent condition and was eventually purchased by Craig Jackson of Barrett-Jackson auctions. At a 2013 auction, the car was bid up to $1.8 million, far below its $2.5-million dollar reserve price and Jackson still owns the Green Hornet today.

But what of Little Red? Like most experimentals and prototypes, the car was destined for the crusher, and most believed that’s where its story ended, since all attempts to find it yielded no results. After more than 50 years in the shadows, though, Little Red’s whereabouts were finally learned.

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While most would-be auto archeologists were hunting for Little Red using its Shelby-assigned VIN, the car was eventually tracked down using its original Ford VIN. The seemingly obvious idea came courtesy of classic car specialist Jason Billups, who was hunting for the car on behalf of Craig Jackson. Using its original VIN, the car was finally tracked to Texas and connected to its current owner. As for the car's history, Jackson relayed to Fox news that the supercharger was removed, and Little Red was sent to Courtesy Ford in Littleton, Colorado. A Vietnam veteran then purchased the car, not knowing that it was different than any other Shelby on the lot. After driving the car for a couple years, that gentleman sold the car to a man in Wyoming, who later moved to Texas. The car then spend time in a storage container, where a thief nabbed a few parts from it. Little Red was later moved to the owner’s cousin’s property in Weatherford, Texas, and left outside among many other vehicles.

Jackson, Billups and Ford expert Kevin Marti met with the owner in Texas and authenticated the car. The driveline had been removed, and the car is missing its Shelby hood and front fenders, but the rest is remarkably complete. Interestingly, the owner knew of Little Red and told Jackson that he had called Shelby some 25 years back, but was told that the car had been crushed.

Fox reports that Jackson purchased the car for a fair price given its significance, and plans to restore the car as accurately as possible. A website has even been launched to help gather details on Little Red’s previous configurations, and Jackson urges enthusiasts to talk to any former Shelby or Ford employees to learn more about the car.

Have any tips on Little Red's history, the folks at shelbyprototypecoupes.com would love to hear about it.