EditorTurner

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Phoenix Rising
After his Shelby came to a fiery end, Joe Charles upgraded to a GT350R
By Steve Turner
Photos courtesy of Joe Charles

When it comes to the general automotive media, the Mustang is often a necessary evil. It is lauded when it can be leveraged for attention and mocked for the very same reason. When something bad happens—like an unskilled driver wadding up his high-powered Mustang outside a car show—the stories and memes fly. So, when Joe Charles’ new Shelby GT350 caught fire on a road course, it was no surprise that his social media posts went viral.

“I had been on the track about 15 minutes of the last session when I experienced a catastrophic engine component failure,” Joe posted after the harrowing experience at Roebling Road. “This caused a massive oil leak. The oil ignited on the exhaust. If this wasn’t bad enough, the oil fire caused the main fuel line to rupture. At this point, the bottom of the car was fully engulfed. The fireball was two lanes wide and trailed behind the car at least 25 feet.”

You can read his full account here, but the part that failed was a small snap ring on the thermostat housing for the factory oil cooler. It released pressurized oil onto an exhaust that was superheated from continuous flogging on the track.

“These cars have an oil thermostat built in from the factory… There is a circuit there and if you are looking at the oil filter from the bottom of the car looking up, at about the 2 o’clock position, there is a plug with a snap ring. Either that plug was never seated properly at the plant or it failed….” Joe explained. “The snap ring fell out so the plug was able to come out. At this point you have an open circuit. These motors make over 150 psi at full tilt, so you can imagine that you’ve got jet nozzles of oil spraying down as a mist that has just ignited on the exhaust.”

As you might imagine, this happened so quickly that flames engulfed the car and Joe believes that someone was looking out for him because of where and when it happened.

“There must be a bigger plan for me. Had this happened a few seconds earlier… I was just coming down the front straight. I would have undoubtedly run through my own oil and spun the car while it was burning,” he explained. “Had it happened a few seconds later, I would not have been able to stop for turn one. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have put the car into a wall or a bank or some trees and I would have burned up with the car…”

The fire was hot enough to destroy the car and even damage the GoPro camera on his helmet, but Joe walked away unharmed. It was unfortunate that he lost his dream car in a fire, but amazing that he walked away unharmed.

“We have all wondered what must that ride home be like after someone crashes a car at the drag strip or wherever. I rode home from Savannah by myself with a wrecked car in the back and I cried like a baby, but it was from this angle…” Joe said. “In my mind I am thinking why me? What did I do to deserve this? But, not the way you are thinking. I never felt the heat. I didn’t even have a scratch. I had on shorts and a T-shirt. Why was I spared?”

You can see how it might be easy to sensationalize Joe’s plight. However, he had sold two cars—including a competitive Coyote Stock racer—to help fund the car of his dreams. In an instant the car was gone. Moreover, the fire happened on a racetrack, so it was unlikely he could turn to his street-going insurance for salvation.

“So many people say so many bad things happened all at once and, yeah, they did, but I am not a glass-half-full kinda guy,” Joe said. “I have to look at the bright side of things. I am fortunate that I was able to go home to my family.”

He was also lucky to have his wits about him. Rather than immediately firing off an online-rant or dialing up a lawyer, Joe consulted with the dealer where he purchased the car. They put him in touch with Ford, and an investigation began. The result of that investigation was the Ford agreed to purchase the car back from him and put him in line to get a replacement vehicle—a 2017 Shelby GT350R.

That’s the silver lining you don’t often hear about after the sensational story dies down. However, don’t get the impression that this was an easy process. Joe was completely forthright about his car’s modifications—including a full Kooks long-exhaust, a JLT Performance cold-air intake and a custom calibration. Moreover, his car was looked over by the local dealer (Prater Ford in Calhoun, Georgia), the regional dealer and two different Ford engineers to verify that the fire was attributable to a factory part and not caused by any of his mods.

“I think that, number one, people should know that just because you modded your car doesn’t mean that a manufacturer is not going to take care of you,” Joe said. “Also, you have to have a really good relationship with your local dealer because if they aren’t on your side, you certainly aren‘t going to get anywhere, but for heaven’s sake don’t go online and start blabbing…”

Because Joe is patient, honest and pretty people savvy, he was able to turn a nightmare into a dream come true. Of course, major kudos must be given to Ford Motor Company for making things right for a loyal customer.

“I would really hate to go through this again, but Ford made it worth my while,” Joe said. “It was exactly 90 days from the date of the incident that I was at my dealer getting the check and signing all the paperwork over to get the car. Six months and four days later, I’ve got my dream car. It truly is amazing. I have had a sh*t-eating grin since I got this car. It will not go away.”

We can’t blame Joe for grinning from ear to ear, but the experience has changed his perspective a bit. Rather than taking the R-model to the track where it rightfully belongs, he plans to turn his older Mustang into a road-course car and enjoy the new R-model in other ways. He has already prepped it for the show car scene with a complete ceramic-coating treatment courtesy of Glass Life Atlanta.

“This car is an icon. It is not designed to be polished and look pretty and sit in a glass bubble. It is designed to be driven,” Joe confessed. “I will drive it very spiritedly on the street and I will probably run True Street and events like that, but it’s going to be hard for me to take it on a road course and feel comfortable…”

However Joe drives his new car, walking away from a fiery GT350 and into a GT350R is definitely a reason to live life to the fullest. Some dreams come true, even after a nightmare. Enjoy that GT350R, Joe. It must be part of your plan.

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“I have always wanted an R, even when I bought the first car,” Joe said. “I wanted an R, I just couldn’t find one without an ADM. I couldn’t see paying that (markup) for a car.” Fortunately, Joe was able to take the money he recouped from his GT350 and put it toward a new GT350R without paying a pesky markup. His dealer of choice, Prater Ford, doesn’t apply markups, so he just needed to get them an allocation.

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Joe is still amazed that he walked away from this fire without a scratch, but it is just as amazing that Ford took care of his problem by buying the car back from him for exactly what he had into it.

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Joe opted to replace his burned GT350 something really special. He paid the difference to step up to a 2017 Shelby GT350R with the Electronics Package, as he plans to enjoy this one more on the street than the road course.
 

02GTKB

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Cool story! Wish I could upgrade to an R without dumb markups...He will love this car more so
 

3.7cyclone

AKA Bananana, 5.0yote
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I had a similar experience on a much lesser scale with a lesser car (14 Focus and the powershift tranny debacle) and Ford purchased that car back and gave us a 16 Focus Manual and cut our interest rate on the loan in half.

I am super stoked to hear Joe's situation ended similarly (albeit a much better more expensive car, I would practically expect this result).
 

geoffmt

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Very sad to hear about a Shelby going up in flames. Very good news that he got unburned/unhurt. In this day and age of putting the blame on something else or someone else, its nice to hear that ford has stepped up and taken good care of their customers.
 

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