The other special cars parked around Fred Hilbert’s 1965 Shelby race car on Saturday sported perfect finishes. His car didn’t gleam like the others.
But Hilbert thinks he had the most valuable car among the couple dozen high-end collector cars parked out of the rain and behind barriers inside Century II in downtown Wichita.
Hilbert, a 68-year-old Wichita Vietnam veteran, said he’s turned down $900,000 for the car. He paid $3,000 for it in 1974.
Over the years, the retired Cessna avionics tester has faithfully maintained his Shelby. He’s strapped himself into its bucket seat and raced it.
“It’s part of me,” he said. “It’s like selling a part of me.”
At first glance, his car might look like just a souped-up Mustang, with yellow racing stripes and decals plastered over midnight blue metallic paint. The finish bears blemishes. “It’s got its racing scars,” he said.
It’s an unrestored 1965 Shelby GT 350, R Model, specially made at a Los Angeles factory. Most people wouldn’t realize how rare it is – only 36 were made. And it’s got a documented history and has competed in high-profile races, including Daytona in 1965 and a Sebring endurance race in 1966.
There’s a story behind every one of the two dozen cars in the Million $ Car Display in Century II — part of the BlackTop Nationals car show and extravaganza held downtown through Sunday.
Hilbert’s story begins one evening in 1974 when he first saw his R Model in a garage at an east Wichita home.
It sat on jack stands, and he had to pull it home with a tow chain. He was told that it belonged to a young man who was going off to college.
At the time, the $3,000 that Hilbert paid was “high-dollar,” he says. The original bill of sale says it cost just over $6,000 new.
It isn’t a car to drive to the Dairy Queen. It has never been street legal. As a race car, it has webbing over the windows, a roll bar and flame-retardant materials in the interior.
In 1977, he drove it up to 162 mph at a Lake Afton race. Standing by it Saturday, he said, “This is just the way I raced it.”
If you ask him how many miles it has, he reminds you that it is not a street car. The odometer isn’t hooked up.
In June, he drove it in an Oklahoma race. “We only got it up to 130.”
It weighs only 2,500 pounds. It features a powerful V-8 engine, a grill emblem with a cobra ready to strike and a 34-gallon fuel tank in the trunk.
In recent years, he met the mechanic and fabricator who built the car in 1965. He got the man to sign his name under the trunk lid.
Hilbert says he can talk all day about his car. He keeps grinning.
Owning the car has “opened a lot of doors,” he said.
“I’ve met a lot of people I probably wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for owning this car.”
He also has a 1969 Shelby Cobra GT 350, which he bought after returning from Vietnam. Most car fans could only dream of owning such a car.
Still, the 1965 R Model is extra-special to Hilbert. He never left its side Saturday.
“I guess it would be my favorite.”