As he figures out the GT350 is rebodied, the shop owner is overheard by a CHP officer, who begins an inquiry


What do you do with your authentic, vintage Shelby GT350 when it's so rusty it's beyond repair? Some Shelby owners think the answer is pretty simple-just rebody it. But that can easily lead to confusion, fraud, criminal charges, and costly litigation, as we'll see below. Although this is an actual case, we'll do the guilty a favor and not disclose any real names.

Our rustbucket Shelby owner decides that his 1965 GT350 needs to be rebodied. To do this, carefully hold onto the Shelby VIN plate and cut away the rest of the car. Then take a donor Mustang body and carefully attach the Shelby VIN plate to it. Take all the Shelby parts off the old body and install them in the new body, and if you're attentive to detail, cut the body parts that hold the Ford VINs off the old body and attach them to the new body, and voila! You have a "refreshed" Shelby.

You might think this is the same process as just cutting the Shelby VIN plate out of the old body and attaching it to the donor Mustang body. But the California Highway Patrol considers that way of doing things a criminal alteration of a car's VIN. Read on for details.

What Registry disclosures?

The Shelby American World Registry ( explains that, in their opinion, a rebodied Shelby
The Registry view is that there is nothing inherently wrong with rebodying, and that the correct way to do so is to take all the body parts that carry Shelby and Ford VINs and graft them into the donor body. The Registry finds it acceptable for the owner to keep this information secret while he owns the car.

If the Registry is told that a Shelby has been rebodied, it's noted in the records but not published in the Registry. However, the Registry insists that it is fraudulent to sell a rebodied Shelby without disclosing that fact. If a prospective purchaser calls to inquire about a particular Shelby, the Registry will inform the purchaser that the car has been rebodied.

With friends like these.

Our rustbucket Shelby owner heeded this advice, and disclosed the rebody to our Culprit #1, an experienced Shelby enthusiast. Culprit #1 updated the Shelby records, and informed the group of the rebody but asked that they not disclose it in the Registry, so they simply noted the rebody in their files.

Along comes our Victim, who decides it's time to add a GT350 to his collection. He knows Culprit #2, a well-known Shelby expert and dealer, and asks him to find him a nice car. Culprit #2 presents the rebodied Shelby to our Victim. Victim sees that it is a high-condition car. Relying on his long relationship with Culprit #2, Victim does not make any inquiry with the Shelby Registry, and pays an original-Shelby price for the rebodied car. The two Culprits split the profit.

The power steering bracket tells all

Victim enjoys the car for a number of years, and then decides it's time to sell it and buy something else. He consigns it to a well-known collector car dealer, who quickly finds a buyer. Per the buyer's request, the dealer sends the car to a well-known repair shop for a pre-purchase inspection. The shop owner immediately recognizes that the 1965 Shelby GT350 is a rebody, because he sees a mount on the firewall for the power steering that was used only on 1966 Mustangs.

As he explains this to an employee, the shop owner is overheard by another shop customer, a Shelby enthusiast who happens to be the head of the California Highway Patrol K-9 Unit. He launches an investigation, and pretty soon CHP impounds the Shelby because its VIN had been unlawfully removed, altered, or destroyed. During the investigation, Culprit #1 admits his misdeeds, and CHP determines he is guilty of knowingly selling a vehicle with forged or counterfeit VINs. The CHP retags the car as a 1966 Mustang with its original VIN, and returns it to our Victim.

Two Culprits equally at fault

Victim is chagrined that the District Attorney won't prosecute Culprit #1 because his crimes are "too old." So he sues both Culprits and the original owner who sold the car to Culprit #1. The two Culprits tell varying stories about their involvement and knowledge. In a court-ordered non-binding arbitration, the arbitrator rules in favor of Victim, finds the two Culprits equally at fault, finds the original owner innocent because he disclosed everything to Culprit #1, and orders the two Culprits to reimburse the original owner for his attorney fees because they caused him to be dragged into the lawsuit. Victim then settles with the Culprits, but the lawsuit still continues as to whether or not the Culprits have to pay the original owner's attorney fees, a result of the arbitration's non-binding status.

Moving a VIN makes an illegal car

This Legal File raises philosophical questions as to just what makes a "real" car. The unscrupulous think that all you need is an authentic serial number-probably not even the authentic VIN plate, as that can be recreated. Some classic car collectors think all you need is an authentic frame (or even a piece of it).

The Shelby Registry apparently thinks all you need are the portions of the original body that hold all of the VINs, plus all (perhaps most?) of the unique Shelby parts from the original Shelby. But California law thinks that creates a car with a fraudulently altered VIN. The law believes, quite simply, if you move a VIN from one car to another, it's an illegal car.

As collectors, we pay substantial premiums for authenticity and originality because they define the rarity and form the bridge to the past that creates value. But just what does it take to keep the soul of an original car alive?

If you add a complete assortment of Shelby parts to a Mustang, you have a clone. If those Shelby parts came from a real Shelby, is it something different? If not, does adding a Shelby VIN plate make a difference? The market seems to think so, because a rebodied Shelby will sell for less than an original Shelby, but for more than a clone.

Perhaps this Legal File prompts us to reflect that rarity and authenticity have separate effects upon value. But on a more practical level, it demonstrates another way that the unscrupulous can victimize the innocent, and adds another item to the car buyer's due diligence checklist.

Meanwhile, the rebodied Shelby is in Colombia, South America, being enjoyed by a savvy collector who knows its entire story and is completely satisfied with what he paid, and what he ended up with in his garage.

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