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 GT500KR. “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.
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 definitely 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 1966 Shelby GT350H 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-and-gold-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 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 GT350H 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 GT350Hs 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 GT350H 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-the-crop 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.
At a Glance
1966 Shelby GT350H
Owned by: Gino Lucci
Restored by: Unrestored original
Engine: 289ci/306hp Hi Po V-8
Transmission: C4 3-speed automatic
Rearend: 3.89 gears
Interior: Black vinyl bucket seat
Wheels: 14×7 Magnum 500
Tires: F70-14 Goodyear reproduction
It’s hard to imagine now, but in the 1960s Shelby American was little known outside the West Coast racing community. The 1965 GT350 raised awareness, as did that car’s 1965 SCCA B/Production championship. But the idea of putting a special version of those winning cars in the hands of hundreds of Hertz rental customers across the country was a stroke of marketing genius by Shelby’s sales manager, Peyton Cramer. Hertz welcomed the idea, too, seeing in it the potential to revive Hertz’s flagging Sports Car Club.
Hertz ordered 1,000 of the cars. Ultimately, 1,001 1966 GT350H models were built: two prototypes and 999 production versions. Mechanically they were very much like the other GT350s built for the year, though there were some running changes, primarily to suspension and brake components. All received the Mustang’s folding rear seat, and all were equipped with AM radios. Most (nearly three-quarters) wear the iconic Hertz colors of Raven Black paint with gold stripes, while others were delivered in Wimbledon White, Sapphire Blue, Ivy Green, and Candy Apple Red. The red and green cars did not receive the gold Le Mans stripes over the hood, roof, and decklid. And some of the white cars were delivered with standard blue GT350 side stripes (a corner cut by Shelby American to help fill the Hertz order more quickly).
There are all kinds of myths and legends of GT350H models being rented on Friday, raced on Saturday and Sunday, and returned to Hertz, sometimes broken, missing parts, or even with the wrong engine underhood. Greg Kolasa, the Hertz Shelby registrar for the Shelby American Automobile Club, wrote an excellent book, The Definitive Shelby Mustang Guide, 1965-1970 (cartechbooks.com), which debunked and confirmed some of those tales.
It is true, per Kolasa, that there were myriad problems with the rental fleet. Renters without racing experience had all kinds of trouble with the car’s competition-oriented metallic brakes, forcing a number of changes. Hertz agencies also received little or no training on how to tune the high-performance car, so some ran poorly or were robbed of parts to keep other H cars in the fleet running.
Not true, says Kolasa, is the story that Hertz lost its shirt on the Shelby deal. He crunched the numbers. Considering what Hertz paid for the fleet, what it got when it sold the cars back to Shelby, the maintenance costs, the daily rental fees ($16 average), and so on, Kolasa figures that Hertz made on the order of $1.25 million all told. “Not bad for a program with the money pit image that it had,” he writes. —Drew Hardin