Rebuilt GT350 is a nod to owner’s hometown and one of its heroes

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When Pittsburgh native Fred Piluso acquired his black 1967 Shelby GT350 in September of last year, he knew it was a vehicle that had to be treated right.

“The GT350 nameplate is obviously special, but I also liked its 289 engine which is very reliable,” says Piluso, who grew up in Penn Hills and learned to drive a stick shift there while in his teens. Piluso also previously owned a Paxton Supercharged 1966 Shelby GT350H.

“The small block is also easier to work on than the 428 found in the GT500, which was really shoe-horned in,” he says. “With the small block, you can change the spark plugs without having to jack up one side on the engine to get the driver’s side spark plugs in.

“But I also wanted this particular GT350 because it was black and they only made 50 cars that were black. I also wanted to put the classic gold stripes on it to honor both the Pittsburgh Steelers and my good friend Franco Harris, who I met in 1974.”

You might remember Piluso as the owner of Dean Martin’s Ferrari. The GT350 is his latest build, a project that is truly national in its scope. Indeed, the build is already being featured in a national automotive magazine, and will likely be featured in others as word gets out.

When Piluso acquired the GT350 from its previous owner in Columbus, OH, he knew he had work to do.

“The engine was in reasonably good shape, but was a little tired,” says Piluso, who wanted to equip the existing 289 with a Paxton Supercharger. “In order to put on the supercharger, the engine had to be rebuilt. So we completely redid the engine and transmission. Everything mechanical from the horns on back is either new, old stock or rebuilt.”

Piluso sent the GT350 to Craig Conley, owner of Paradise Wheels in San Marcos, CA. Once at the shop, the 289 was decked, bored and line honed.

In order to support the Paxton Supercharger, the cast-iron factory Hi Pro 289 cylinder heads were ported and polished with emphasis placed on the exhaust ports. The cylinder heads received the traditional three-angle valve job and fitted with Ferrea Racing Components stainless steel intake and exhaust valves. Competition Cams valve springs, locks and keepers were also important to the engine build.

With the engine and other mechanics completed, the GT350 was sent to JBA Racing in San Diego, where the vehicle was met by not only the staff at JBA, but representatives from the Mustang 50th Anniversary Pony Drive. The black GT350 was put on JBA’s dyno and a few tune-up runs were made.

Once the mechanical works was completed, the GT350 was shipped to the paint shop and the classic gold stripes were applied.

“The black and gold make this a very special vehicle for anyone who is a fan of the Steelers,” says Piluso, who met Harris at his nightclub Hawaii in the 70s. “I’ve lived all over the world, but you never forget your home.”

It may seem like a lot of work for just a hometown homage, and was a substantial investment for Piluso. But the GT350 is also a very important part of Mustang high performance history.

“The GT350 really put Mustang high performance on the map,” explains Piluso. “When Ford approached Carroll Shelby to make a high performance car, this is what he originally made. And when it got to the track, it killed the Corvettes and other sports cars.

“But it’s really not a Mustang. When Shelby acquired the cars from Ford, they were re-titled from Mustang to Shelby American GT350. It was Carroll Shelby’s way of putting his official stamp on the cars.”

The black with gold stripes paint scheme is Piluso’s way of putting Pittsburgh’s stamp on this amazing car.

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