Nelson Bandy has been a longtime antique and vintage-car collector scouring the country for collectibles most of his life. Back in the 1970s, Bandy was very familiar with this 1968 Shelby GT500KR convertible and its rarity. “It was owned by a very young and recently married couple in Lobelville, Tennesee,” Bandy says. “I would stop them and try to buy the car every time I saw them driving around town.”
Bandy’s persistence would pay off in the summer of 1978 when the owner priced the car to him. “I think the guy thought he would give me a ridiculous price and I would go away,” he says. “I went to the bank the next day and showed up with the cash and bought the car.” Bandy rarely drove the car, and because of its rarity, he decided to park it before the end of the year—and hasn’t seen the road since.
According to the data plate, the Shelby was assembled the 20th day of June 1968 at the Metuchen, New Jersey, assembly plant and featured a Highland Green exterior, deluxe black bucket-seat interior, power steering, power brakes, dual exhaust, tilt steering column, rear bumper guards, four-speed manual transmission, white convertible power top, and side stripping.
“It was sold new from George Busby Ford in Nashville, Tennessee, and remained in Tennessee its entire life,” Bandy says. “I almost sold the car in 1980. I put it up for sale in Hemmings for a very cheap price by today’s standards, but luckily nobody bought it and I changed my mind.”
After removing the for-sale ad, Bandy stored the car out of sight and called it a keeper. In early 1987, Bandy bought a couple of moving and storage containers and hid the car inside. The Shelby has been stored in its current location for the past 30 years.
Carroll Shelby‘s Mustangs were developed as performance-oriented vehicles. They were generally considered a notch above the general muscle car, and during their initial six-year lifespan, they received constant refinements. This car was the first model year the Shelby Mustang was offered in a convertible as part of the GT350, GT500, and the GT500KR series.
The GT500 was initially equipped with the 427– or the 428-cid Police Interceptor engine. In early 1968, the 428 engine wasn’t selling well, so Shelby‘s solution was to give it a few enhancements. The compression ratio was boosted to 10.6:1 and NASCAR 427 heads were added, along with a special alloy intake manifold and 735-cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor. This raised the horsepower output considerably, with figures reputed to be more than 400 hp.
Shelby gave the upgraded engine the 428 Cobra Jet designation and a 335 advertised horsepower rating for insurance reasons. The 428 Cobra Jet engine was available in April 1968 in the GT500KR series. The KR appointment stands for “King of the Road,” which was very well received by muscle-car consumers. Transmission options available behind the upgraded Cobra Jet engine were a four-speed Ford Top Loader manual with an 11.5-inch clutch or a C-6 automatic.
The GT500KR came stock with plenty of heavy-duty parts to assist the handling and braking duties. The front brakes were 11.3-inch ventilated discs and the rear carried 10×3-inch, self-adjusting drums. The rear axle was a Ford 9-inch unit with a Traction-Lok center and 3.50:1 ratio gears with automatic or manual transmission. A 3.00:1 ratio gearset was standard when equipped with air conditioning. An open differential was used in place of the Traction-Lok unit when air conditioning and automatic transmission were combined.
Performance ratio gearsets were available for cars equipped with manual transmission at no extra charge. The optional gearsets offered were 4.11:1 and 4.56:1 ratios. Goodyear Speedway 350 E70-15 tires were used for both the standard 15×6-inch wheels with simulated mag hubcaps as well as with the optional 15×7-inch, 10-spoke Shelby aluminum wheels.
All 1968 Shelby Mustangs were equipped with the Deluxe Mustang interior in either Black or Saddle upholstery. This included woodgrain trim, a console with Stewart-Warner gauges and a Cobra-embossed lid, and inertia-reel safety harnesses attached to a padded roll bar. Other available interior options included air conditioning, tinted windows (mandatory in air-conditioned cars), and fold-down rear seats (fastback models only).
The GT500KR moniker was discontinued for 1969 models, just a few months before Carroll Shelby‘s agreement with Ford Motor Company was terminated. Exactly 40 years later, the GT500KR nameplate returned on the fifth-generation 2008 Mustang as a high-performance variant that included a 540hp, 5.4L V8. The first-generation GT500KR is still as formidable today as it was all those years ago and is considered one of the most desirable collector cars in the world.
Bandy’s ultra-rare 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR convertible is now approaching its 50th anniversary as well as his 40th year of ownership. We are sure everyone is curious to know if Bandy’s future plans for the car include a restoration, an as-is resurrection, or even a possible sale. Bandy says, “I have no intentions of selling the Shelby, and I really need to make the car a higher priority and either get it running or totally restore it. Just owning and managing to keep this 1 of only 318 produced 1968 Shelby GT500KR convertible for almost 40 years is amazing. The barn-find cars are really hot now, so I’m thinking I will get the car running as-is and attend a few of the local car shows.”
1968 Shelby Mustang Production Totals
GT350 Fastback: 1,253 units
GT350 Convertible: 404 units
GT500 Fastback: 1,140 units
GT500 Convertible: 402 units
GT500KR Fastback: 933 units
GT500KR Convertible: 318 units
GT500 Notchback Prototype: 1 unit
Total: 4,451 units