Larry Arft's beautiful Shelby GT500 turns heads

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  • Marty Densch/Beloit Daily News Larry Arft shows off his 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Arft traveled to Indiana to find the convertible.

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    Marty Densch/Beloit Daily NewsLarry Arft works hard to keep his car as clean as possible. The engine compartment is as clean as the day it was built.

  • Marty Densch/Beloit Daily News Larry Arft shows off his 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Arft traveled to Indiana to find the convertible.

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    Marty Densch/Beloit Daily NewsLarry Arft works hard to keep his car as clean as possible. The engine compartment is as clean as the day it was built.

The license plate on Larry Arft's red convertible says it all: HOT-500.

Though it looks much like any other 2008 Ford Mustang, his is a Shelby GT500, a limited edition model with performance few other Mustangs could match.

"Originally I had one on order," Arft said. "While I was waiting I'm searching on the internet when this one popped up at a dealership in Indiana. It was two years old but was brand new."

The car was at a Ford dealership in Ligonier, a small town northwest of Fort Wayne and roughly the size of Edgerton. Being a 2008 model, the car would have arrived at the dealership around the time the economic recession hit. Given the special nature of the car, not to mention its price, it wasn't going to find a buyer until Arft stumbled on it.

Shelby Mustangs are high performance versions of Ford's legendary "pony" car and are named for their creator, Carroll Shelby.

Shelby was a race car driver, entrepreneur, and founder of Shelby American, a California-based specialty company that produced and marketed high performance parts and modified cars.

The first Shelby Mustangs hit the streets in 1965, not long after the Mustang was introduced. Dubbed GT350s, they had modified versions of Ford's 289 cubic inch V8 that were tuned to produce as much as 306 horsepower, far more than the stock version.

The initial arrangement had Ford sending Mustangs straight from the factory to Shelby's facility in California for modification. In later years, however, Ford brought the project in-house and outfitted the cars to Shelby's specifications right at the factory under a licensing agreement.

The first generation of Shelby Mustangs lasted until 1969 when Carroll Shelby terminated his agreement with Ford. In 2005 he and Ford joined forces again and Shelby Mustangs have been available in limited quantities ever since.

Arft has been careful to hang on to all documentation related to the car. The records show his was number 1,391 out of 2,070 convertible GT500s made that year and number 328 of only 463 that were painted Torch Red. He says the black striping makes his even more unique, as most had white stripes.

Over the years Arft has added further modifications including a Ford racing exhaust and a cold air kit, a special air intake system for the engine to boost performance. He estimates that these have increased the output of the 5.4-liter engine to 540 horsepower from the stock 500 horsepower.

He also added some "dress-up" items under the hood such as Shelby-badged covers for the coolant and other fluid tanks, and hydraulic struts to hold the hood up rather the standard prop rod.

He is particularly proud of an item he added to the interior - a dash plaque signed by Carroll Shelby himself. Shelby owners could order the plaques by providing the VIN number of their car which would be etched on the plaque just below Shelby's signature.

His wife Karen doesn't have quite the same level of enthusiasm for the car as Larry does and she seldom accompanies him when he takes it to the occasional car show.

She does, however, enjoy pleasant summer drives in it.

"We take it out for occasional drives," he said. "Back roads, hit the little towns, antique stores, and it always seems to find the ice cream shops."

One of the high points of owning the car was the chance to take it to the 50th anniversary celebration of the Mustang that Ford held in 2014. Their car was one of roughly 6,000 that convened at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., for the four day event.

That same year the Arfts traveled to Detroit to take in the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise and show off their car in Mustang Alley, a stretch of Nine Mile Road reserved just for Mustangs.

"It's a lot of fun to drive, it's a sweet ride," Arft said.

Still, he and Karen sometimes entertain the notion of selling it.

"I'm pretty happy with it, but we've been talking about something more comfortable. It would be a convertible, of course," he said.

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