Rare “Rent-a-Racer” Is Nicest of Its Kind

Muscle Car Review - - Contents - By Scotty Lachenauer

Rare “rent-a-racer” is nicest of its kind

Dur­ing his stay over­seas with the mil­i­tary, Gino Lucci de­vel­oped a love for the Ford GT40. “I used to read Play­boy re­li­giously while sta­tioned in ’Nam, and they would advertise the GT40 in each is­sue,” he says. “I knew when I got home to New York I had to have one.” Gino squir­reled away ev­ery penny he made in the ser­vice, and in the fall of 1968 he was back home and ready to make a pur­chase. The $3,500 he’d saved dur­ing his ten­ure in the Navy was a nice sum back then, but not nearly enough for what he wanted.

“The ask­ing price was $16,000 for a slightly used model,” he re­calls. “The deal­er­ship wanted $10,000 down, and I needed a cosigner since I was un­der 25.”

That left Gino with a big ques­tion for his fa­ther. “I sat at the table and popped the ques­tion to my dad: ‘Can I bor­row $7,000 for a GT40, and could you cosign the loan?’”

His fa­ther turned to him and gave him a smack across the head. “Are you crazy?” he said in dis­be­lief. “Our house cost less than that. I’m not giv­ing you that money.”

Deep down he knew his dad was right, so Gino re­turned to the Ford deal­er­ship and looked over the re­main­ing cars. Sit­ting right next to that GT40 was a brand new 1968 G.T. 500KR. “The car was beau­ti­ful. It was Dark Green and grabbed my eye im­me­di­ately once I looked away from the GT40.” And it was closer to his price range. He de­cided to take the Shelby home.

From day one he was driv­ing it on the street and also at the track. “I would take it to the dragstrip con­stantly, and ended up blow­ing mo­tors fre­quently, go­ing through one big-block af­ter another,” says Gino.

To fi­nance his rac­ing, he took out stu­dent loans each spring be­fore the start of race sea­son to pur­chase needed parts. He soon found him­self in some hefty debt. “I sold the car to a friend, for $700 and a 1968 Ranchero in re­turn.” And the orig­i­nal mo­tor? “I pulled it early in its life, and it went into a dump­ster,” he sadly ad­mits.

Props Are Tops

Gino wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in life, but he knew it had to re­volve around cars. He de­cided to open a body shop, not know­ing a thing about how to run it prop­erly. “I started buy­ing cars and started flip­ping them as well,” he says. One car he bought was a “Franken­stein” 1940 Ford—a car with sev­eral dif­fer­ent col­ors laid out on its pan­els. “I would push it out of the shop dur­ing the day and push it back in at night.”

One day a man came knock­ing about the car. Not to buy it, but to rent it. Turns out he was look­ing for prop cars for a film they were shoot­ing lo­cally. Gino agreed to rent him the car for $100 a day and went along for the ride. “One day turned into five, and I ended up mak­ing $500.”

From there Gino started get­ting steady movie and TV fea­ture work, and soon the rental part of the busi­ness eclipsed the body shop. He de­cided to close the shop and key on TV and film rentals. From that one old Ford, Lucci Auto Props was born.

Shelby Love

Gino ad­mits that since he was a teen he’s had a soft spot for Shel­bys. Any­time one would come up for sale, he was defi- nitely in­ter­ested. “One day back in 1999, I was in a doc­tor’s of­fice, and I started read­ing a car mag­a­zine there. In the back of the mag­a­zine were for-sale ads. I saw a pic­ture of a Shelby G.T. 350H for sale and quickly be­came en­grossed in the car.” When the doc­tor called him in, he tore the page out, folded it up, and stuffed it in his pocket. At home he put the ad in his drawer for safe­keep­ing.

A year went by be­fore Gino, while clean­ing out the drawer, spot­ted the folded-up mag­a­zine page. He’d for­got­ten about the Shelby. Now that it was a full year later, he fig­ured the car was prob­a­bly sold, but de­cided to call the num­ber any­way. Much to his sur­prise the car was still there and the owner was will­ing to sell. Gino did what any real car guy would do: He packed up and headed out to see the car in per­son,

800 miles away in Ken­tucky.

Gino was im­pressed with the black-and­gold-striped Shelby, which was one of the 1,001 “rent-a-rac­ers” that Shelby Amer­i­can had built for Hertz. With­out a sec­ond thought, he made an of­fer and pur­chased it. Along with the car came plenty of pa­per­work. Turns out the car was a New York City na­tive, and was once sta­tioned in Hertz’s Man­hat­tan lo­ca­tion on 40th Street (which still ex­ists to­day). Gino brought it all back with him to Staten Is­land, New York, and added the car to his per­ma­nent col­lec­tion.

Even though the car was mint, with just 17,000 miles on the odome­ter, he wasn’t afraid to drive it. But it would take him some time—and at­tend­ing a few car shows—to un­der­stand ex­actly what he had bought and how orig­i­nal his Shelby was.

“I de­cided to bring the car to a Shelby meet at Lime Rock in Con­necti­cut. It’s there that I learned a lot about the car.” To one of the judges, he men­tioned he might re­move the “extra” pas­sen­ger-side mirror this car now sported. “Please don’t do

“This car is orig­i­nal. Please don’t change it in any way”

that,” said the judge. “There’s history that comes with this car.” Turns out this par­tic­u­lar car was well known in the Shelby world, and any change would be detri­men­tal to its her­itage and value.

But Gino still toyed with the idea of “re­pair­ing” the car. He swore up and down that the car was not orig­i­nal and had prob­a­bly been hit hard in the rear at some point. He thought the quar­ter-pan­els didn’t look right, that there was a se­ri­ously de­fected look to them. He told this to a judge at another meet, who in­sisted, “That’s how all the cars came . . . This car is orig­i­nal.” The judge pleaded, “Please don’t change it in any way.”

Gino then dug deeper to find the history of the car. Like all the other G.T. 350H mod­els, this car un­der­went its trans­for­ma­tion at Shelby Amer­i­can. Then it headed to a distri­bu­tion dealer, in this case Lar­son Ford in New York. From there, 100 G.T. 350Hs hit the New York City area, with this one end­ing up in Man­hat­tan.

Gino says, “Hav­ing seen first­hand what these rental cars went through on any given week­end, it’s a shock that this one sur­vived New York.”

Not only did it sur­vive, but it be­came a true sur­vivor in ev­ery sense. This car, wear­ing Shelby se­rial num­ber 6S1886, re­tains 100 per­cent of its orig­i­nal paint and in­te­rior. The me­chan­i­cals are also mostly orig­i­nal. Only a few pieces are re­pops: the tires, bat­tery, and ex­haust had to be re­placed. “The ex­haust sys­tem just crum­bled apart,” says Gino. Amaz­ingly, most of the wear­ables, even in the en­gine bay, are still in­tact, in­clud­ing the hoses, belts, and even plugs!

You’d fig­ure that a car this orig­i­nal would live a life of lux­ury, tucked away for safe­keep­ing. That’s not the case. “This car was the Shelby Tom Cruise drove in War of the Worlds, di­rected by Steven Spiel­berg,” says Gino. “I found another G.T. 350H in New Jer­sey that had been re­stored, and I used it as my backup car.”

Cruise was so smit­ten with Gino’s Shelby that he wanted to take it off his hands. Of course Gino balked at the of­fer, but he set up the pur­chase of the backup car for Cruise. The car was then passed on to Spiel­berg as a gift from the ac­tor.

This amaz­ing Shelby is the cream-of-the­crop of Gino’s col­lec­tion. He has re­tired, sold his busi­ness, and culled his in­ven­tory down to a select few, but Gino re­mains a full-out car fa­natic. The Hertz Shelby isn’t go­ing any­where; it’s still hit­ting the streets un­der Gino’s com­mand.

“I would take it to the dragstrip con­stantly”

n Many Hertz cus­tomers weren’t fa­mil­iar with how metal­lic rac­ing brakes needed to get hot to be ef­fec­tive, caus­ing a num­ber of ac­ci­dents—some be­fore the cus­tomer even left the Hertz lot! As Shelby tried var­i­ous me­chan­i­cal fixes, these gold foil de­cals were put on the car’s dash­boards as a warn­ing.

n This is about as orig­i­nal as it gets. Belts, hoses, and even spark plugs are still orig­i­nal is­sue from 1966. The 289ci pow­er­plant has never been re­built and still purrs like the day it was first de­liv­ered.

n To ce­ment the car’s movie pedi­gree, Tom Cruise and Steven Spiel­berg signed the vi­sors af­ter the wrap of War of the Worlds (2005). And of course no Shelby is com­plete with­out a lit­tle script from the chief him­self. “I got to be good friends with Car­roll. He was a great guy through and through,” says Gino.

n Noth­ing’s been changed here, which is very rare for any mus­cle car cock­pit 50-plus years old. The bucket seats have lit­tle or no wear. Only the car­pet is faded from the sun. The orig­i­nal Shelby tach and rac­ing-style seat­belts are still with the car and func­tional.

n All of the Hertz cars (ex­cept for two pro­to­types) were shod with 14-inch chrome-plated Magnum 500 wheels. All the Hertz cars also re­ceived the Hertz Sports Car Club wheel­cen­ter treat­ments.

n The pas­sen­ger-side mirror is not stock; it was added some­time early in the Shelby’s life, pos­si­bly by Ford em­ployee Marvin Neele, who bought it af­ter the car’s term with Hertz was up.

n Gino may be re­tired, but this stun­ning ex­am­ple of Shelby’s ven­ture into rental rac­ers is not. “I love to drive the car. That’s what it was made for,” he says. We couldn’t agree more.

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