Formally called the Michigan Training Unit, M.T.U. was one of five state prisons located in the Ionia, MI. area. M.T.U. had a vocational training center for inmates where drafting, welding, auto body and auto mechanics were taught to prisoners as a part of their rehabilitation process.
Shelby Automotive vehicles (the production end of Shelby American had been reorganized under that name when it relocated to Michigan at the end of 1967) were donated to various institutions, including Montcalm Community College, Western Michigan University and M.T.U.
The Shelby American issue #49, Dec 1984 had and article where there was an interview of three former Ionia Shelby employees about the Shelby operations in Ionia and Jim Frank, an engineering department technician for Shelby Automotive took a job as an instructor at the prison, after Shelby Ionia closed its operations, coincidentally.
In Jan '87 SAAC members met Frank at M.T.U. and got a tour inside the prison, the training unit vehicles that proved to be the most interesting were a 1968 Shelby Cobra, a 1967 Gurney Cougar prototype, a completely fiberglass-bodied 1969 sportsroof Mustang and a 1971 Torino.
When the three SAAC guys left the prison there was little hope any of the cars they had seen would ever make it to the outside world, because when a manufacturer donated a vehicle to a school or prison, the title was cancelled with the stipulation that the car never be registered or driven on public roads. This protects the manufacturer from liability.
A second stipulation to the donation of vehicles prohibits the school or jail from transferring ownership to a private party. When donated vehicles have come to an end of usefulness they are usually cut up or crushed after having been disassembled and reassembled multiple times by student mechanics, from eventually hitting the road where the chances of an improperly-reinstalled nut and bolt might cause a crash (and subsequent lawsuit).
In March of 2000 a Mustang enthusiast learned of a Mustang fastback rumored to have been a “shop class instruction car” somewhere and had a few Shelby fiberglass parts on it turning up in a junkyard, T-bird taillights, spoilered fiberglass body end caps, Shelby side scoops, Cobra rear seat belt button inserts, front disc brakes, a nine-inch rear end, dual exhaust, a fiberglass nose panel (laying in the trunk) and a very strange looking high back bucket seat. There was also some dried adhesive from a label located on the windshield’s top center that read “67ST102.”
The car was built at Ford’s pilot plant in Allen Park, Michigan. This is where other prototype production cars were constructed in the years-long process of turning a concept vehicle into a standard mass-produced car. The car and its somewhat cumbersome identification of X763A-T-V-738- 2, was shortened to “V-738-2”.
Having come across the 15 year-old Shelby American #49 article written by Bill and the other Western Michigan SAAC Members. Lowell asked Van Ess about the interview and the Shelby located at the Michigan Training Unit. Remembering the tour from years before, Van Ess replied, “You haven’t seen that car have you?”
Research continued for years and a Mustang enthusiast produced perhaps the most helpful of all Ford documentation, an obscure booklet titled, “Program Description Book.” It included a listing of the production numbers and uses for all of the 1967 prototype Mustangs, and it showed that V-738-2’s origins traced back to the introduction of the first Mustang. The document indicated the designations and uses for all of the 1967 Mustang prototype vehicles. V-738-2 was one of perhaps two dozen Engineering Prototype, Composite Vehicle, Semi-Engineering Prototype, Design Check and Static Test vehicles built in support of the new 1967 Mustang program.
Otter was eventually able to make contact with Fred Goodell, Shelby’s chief engineer. He had some very specific recollections about the Shelby, right down to what it was used for and even where it sat. Its main purpose was as a fit-check vehicle for the various Shelby-unique parts installed at A.O. Smith. After its mission there was complete it was painted metalflake gold by Shelby painter Sonny Fee and donated to M.T.U.
Simultaneous research and reassembly of V-738-2 continued for several years, and the next serendipitous event occurred in the summer of 2007. SAAC’s GT40 Registrar Greg Kolasa was scanning some photographs, they were 1967 Shelby promo pictures featuring a red GT500, many of the pictures had been used in Shelby ads and brochures for the 1967 Shelby GT350 and GT500. As he scanned, he noticed some unusual features in the interior photos of the red GT500.
At that point, Mathews suggested Kolasa might want to contact Lowell Otter, who had done some research on “a Mustang prototype car” he was restoring. Kolasa and Otter began discussing the photographs,
Comparing the promotional 1967 GT500 to Otter’s prototype Mustang showed that both cars had ’66 Mustang firewalls and inner fenders. Both cars had unusual padded dash parts that didn’t look like production pieces. Both cars had ’66 steering columns and a single-reservoir disc brake master cylinder. Both cars lacked provision for the lower door grilles and courtesy lights as found on production Shelbys. Then things got down to the “holes and welds” level.
Finally everyone agreed that “it’s a no-brainer” that the evidence presented supported the contention that V-738-2 was the first 1967 Shelby GT500, the car used in ads and on the promotional postcard.