How a mysterious 1968 Shelby Cobra GT500KR sold for $250,000
The world of car collecting has morphed into a high-pressure battle among wealthy investors and their hired scouts scouring barns and old garages for overlooked classic cars, preferably owned by diminutive elderly women. One such classic sold last Saturday not only hit those marks, but offered a history so compelling it spurred death threats and a bidding war that nearly topped a quarter million dollars.
While all the details can't be uncovered, here’s what we know for certain: It all began with a gift.A month after his 21st birthday in 1968, Bill Hughbanks of Plainfield, Ind. got the keys to a present from his parents Ruth and Gerald Hughbanks — a red 1968 Shelby Cobra GT500KR, with a sticker price of $4,472. The Hughbanks were mechanically minded; Ruth spent two decades working as a punch-press operator, Gerald owned a 1929 Ford Model A, and Bill had dozens of antique toy cars as a kid. Built by famed racer Carroll Shelby from Ford Mustangs, the GT500KR was the top of the line at the time, with a 429-cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8 churning at least 335 hp.
The next documentation is a letter from Bill Hughbanks to his mother describing life in Army basic training, running a mile a day and how loud his drill instructors were, and asking her to keep the insurance paid on the Shelby. This would have been during the later years of the Vietnam War. Bill was Ruth and Gerald's only child.
By 1970, Hughbanks was out of the service — or at least, enjoying civilian life enough for the Indianapolis police to ticket him for reckless driving on New Year’s Day. While Ruth would later claim to friends that the Shelby was rarely raced, patrons of the local drag strip knew what the Cobra Jet could do. Bill Hughbanks had made some power and cosmetic upgrades to the GT500KR, even having a little brass nameplate etched for the interior door.
A decade later, Bill Hughbanks would die from bone cancer. He was 32.
For the next three decades, whenever the occasional car collector would knock on the door, trying to run down a rumor about an old couple with an increasingly valuable Shelby in the garage, the Hughbanks — first Gerald, then after his death Ruth — would politely but firmly inform them that the car was not for sale. After