Formally called the Michigan Training Unit, M.T.U. was one of five state prisons located in the Ionia, MI. area. M.T.U. had a vocational training center for inmates where drafting, welding, auto body and auto mechanics were taught to prisoners as a part of their rehabilitation process.
Shelby Automotive vehicles (the production end of Shelby American had been reorganized under that name when it relocated to Michigan at the end of 1967) were donated to various institutions, including Montcalm Community College, Western Michigan University and M.T.U.
New Year’s Eve, 1968. The Ionia, Michigan paper, The Ionia Sentinel-Standard, carried an article with the headline “Shelby Cars Are Donated to MTU.” The story went on to say that two cars, a “Ford Cobra” and a “Shelby Mustang” (to use the somewhat-confusing nomenclature of the article) had recently been donated to M.T.U.
The Shelby American issue #49, Dec 1984 had and article where there was an interview of three former Ionia Shelby employees about the Shelby operations in Ionia
Jim Frank, an engineering department technician for Shelby Automotive took a job as an instructor at the prison, after Shelby Ionia closed its operations, coincidentally.
In Jan ‘87 SAAC members met Frank at M.T.U. and got a tour inside the prison, the training unit vehicles that proved to be the most interesting were a 1968 Shelby Cobra, a 1967 Gurney Cougar prototype, a completely fiberglass-bodied 1969 sportsroof Mustang and a 1971 Torino.
When the three SAAC guys left the prison there was little hope any of the cars they had seen would ever make it to the outside world, because when a manufacturer donated a vehicle to a school or prison, the title was cancelled with the stipulation that the car never be registered or driven on public roads. This protects the manufacturer from liability.
A second sipulation to the donation of vehicles prohibits the school or jail from transferring ownership to a private party. When donated vehicles’ lives have come to an end they are usually cut up or crushed after having been disassembled and reassembled multiple times by student mechanics, from eventually hitting the road where the chances of an improperly-reinstalled nut and bolt might cause a crash (and subsequent lawsuit).
In March of 2000. a Mustang enthusiast learned of a Mustang fastback rumored to have been a “shop class instruction car” somewhere and had a few Shelby fiberglass parts on it turning up in a junkyard, T-bird taillights, spoilered fiberglass body end caps, Shelby side scoops, Cobra rear seat belt button inserts, front disc brakes, a nine-inch rear end, dual exhaust, a fiberglass nose panel (laying in the trunk) and a very strange looking high back bucket seat.