CONCORD, N.C. (March 29, 1999) – Call him what you will – modifier, tuner, racer or hot rodder – Carroll Shelby has impacted vehicles including everything from the early ‘60s Cobra roadsters to the ‘90s Dodge Viper V-10. To honor the legend’s four decades of awesome cars, the Food Lion AutoFair, to be held April 8-11 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway at Charlotte, will present a “Shelby Influence” exhibit.
In 1962 Shelby, a former chicken farmer and LeMans racer from Texas, put two pieces of news together in his mind to create a hybrid masterpiece of performance. It turns out that AC, a British company known for its stylish aluminum-bodied Ace roadster, planned to stop production because its supply of six-cylinder engines was drying up. Stateside, Shelby knew that Ford was bringing a 260-cid V-8 powerplant to market.
The V-8 just might fit into the little AC roadster, he thought. All it took was the automotive equivalent of a shoehorn.
The high-revving V-8 made the featherweight open car lightning fast, and Cobras immediately started winning races against Corvettes and, in some circles, even Ferraris. Ford Motor Co. had attempted to purchase the Ferrari company earlier, but the egos of Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari squelched the deal and made the two men bitter rivals. Shelby’s directive from Ford was to beat the Italians at every level. As the competition turned up the heat, Shelby looked for ways to make his snakes bite harder.
The first 75 Cobras left the Los Angeles factory with the 260 engine, but the larger, more powerful 289-cid version went into service as soon as Ford released it for production. Less than two years later, Shelby engineers began working on ways to stuff Ford’s monstrous NASCAR-approved 427-cid V-8 under the narrow car’s already tight hood. The job required making the Cobra chassis five inches wider, but the effort was worth it. Although the last new 427 Cobra was sold in 1968, it is still considered to be one of the fastest cars ever unleashed, with a recorded zero-100-zero time of 14 seconds.
Because his name was synonymous in racing circles with Ford high-performance, it was a logical step for Shelby to work his magic on the Mustang when it was introduced in 1964. His specially modified, racetrack-bred version of the ponycar was the ’65 G.T. 350.
Again, evolution led to more incredible machines in the following years, including the G.T. 350H (a special model sold to Hertz for its rental fleets in ’66), the G.T. 500 and G.T. 500KR (“KR” stands for King of the Road). The final production year for Shelby’s Mustang line was 1969, although about 600 “leftover” G.T. 350s and G.T. 500s were re-registered as ’70 models.
For most of the ‘60s, Shelby spent his time producing Cobras and Mustangs but he also acted as a developer for other projects, such as Sunbeam’s V-8 Tiger and the super-exotic GT-40 built for Ford in Slough, England. The GT-40 was named for its low 40-inch stance and in Shelby’s hands it became another weapon in Ford’s arsenal against Ferrari on the world’s racetracks.
The ‘70s were something of a vacation for Shelby from the public eye. He went on safaris to Africa, started a business producing his own blend of chili and pursued other personal interests. In the ‘80s, when his old Ford friend Lee Iacocca took the reins of the ailing Chrysler Corp., Shelby lent his name and expertise to several high-performance Dodge cars, including the Charger 2.2, Daytona, Shadow CSX, Omni GLH, Lancer and even a hot rod version of the Dakota pickup.
Although his name does not appear on the car, Shelby assisted in the development of the Dodge Viper V-10 supercar, Chrysler Corp.’s performance flagship and one of the fastest production vehicles in the world. The Viper designers’ inspiration? The 427 Cobra.
Shelby has recently made his way into fresh territory with the introduction of the Series 1. The low-slung roadster is built in Shelby’s headquarters next to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and marks the first time the legendary Texan has put together a model from the ground up. The Series 1 is powered by an Oldsmobile V-8 engine and will be limited to a 500-unit production run.
In the AutoFair’s “Shelby Influence” exhibit, the Texan’s most powerful and interesting concoctions have been assembled, including a ’63 289 Cobra, ’66 Sunbeam Tiger, ’64 Cobra Daytona Coupe, ’66 G.T. 350 Hertz Rent-A-Racer, ’66 427 Cobra, ’67 GT-40, ’68 G.T. 500KR convertible and ’69 G.T. 500 fastback as well as his new CSX 4000 and Series I cars.
“Most everyone has heard of Carroll Shelby,” said H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway at Charlotte, “but they might not know exactly what he did. I explain it like this: Bill Gates didn’t invent the computer; he just figured out a way to make it a much bigger success than anyone else. It’s the same with Shelby. He didn’t invent engine-swapping or hot rodding; he just took a lot of elements and made some legendary cars like the Cobra, the G.T. 350 and the Viper.”
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $8 for adults; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.lowesmotorspeedway.com.