SHELBY-AMERICAN GETS ITS START
Carroll Shelby formed Shelby-American in 1962 to build fast cars. He dropped Ford’s new small block 289 V8 into an underpowered British sports car, the AC Ace, and created the Shelby AC Cobra. It never sold it big numbers, but it wasn’t meant to. It cemented Shelby’s reputation for building insanely fast, great-handling cars in the minds of the public…and Ford. Next, they shoehorned a 427 Ford V8 under that aluminum hood. The result was the Cobra 427, one of the fastest-accelerating cars on earth at the time, but the heavy big-block weighted down the front axle which hurt handling. But who cared, right?
ABOVE: 1965 AC Cobra 289. Note the lack of side pipes and big fender flares. These were essentially British AC sports cars with a small block Ford V8 and 4-speed tranny dropped it. Only the most minimal strengthening was done.
BELOW:1967 AC Cobra 427. A totally re-engineered car, the Cobra 427 featured an all new tube chassis, racing suspension, and a monsterous Ford 427 big block under the hood. Everything was beefed up to accommodate the added power and weight. While very fast in straight-line acceleration, the heavy big block up front degraded the precision handling of the Cobra 289. Cobra 427s have big fender flares and side pipes.
SHELBY HELPS FORD BEAT FERRARI AT LE MANS
As the story goes, in the early 60s, Henry Ford II approached Enzo Ferrari about buying Ferrari. Enzo abruptly turned him down and it pissed off Henry the Deuce, who vowed to beat Ferrari at his own game: LeMans. Ferraris ruled LeMans at the time, so it wasn’t going to be easy. The front engine Cobras, and even the more-aerodynamic Cobra Daytona Coupes were not up to the challenge. A whole new car was needed and once again Ford went to Carroll Shelby for help. The ultimate result was the GT40, so named because the roof was just 40 inches tall. They were powered by a mid-mounted 427 side-oiler big block V8. The new GT40 decimated the competition, winning at LeMans in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Ford must have felt like doing a victory dance, having so thoroughly spanked Old Man Ferrari in his own backyard. Never had an American designed, built, and driven car done so well at LeMans.
ABOVE: 1965 Ford Mustang Cobra GT350. Carroll Shelby was soon working for Ford on it’s production Mustangs. Called the GT350 because its Hi-Po 289 was supposed to produce 350hp, these cars were shipped partially assembled to Shelby’s makeshift assembly shop in the LA International Airport, where his crew built them into Shelby Mustangs.
SHELBY-AMERICAN BUILDING HOT MUSTANGS
Before long, Shelby was building souped-up Mustangs for Ford. Starting in 1965, Ford sent partially-assembled Mustangs to Shelby’s shop at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), where he did his magic. The result was the GT350 271hp 289 was coaxed up to 306hp, it got a heavy duty tranny and posi-traction rear axle, along with enhanced handling and braking hardware. The result was nothing short of stupendous. But they were hand-built, which made them expensive, and prevented them from being built in volume. Only 562 cars were built in 1965. By 1967, Shelby was putting 428CJs in creating the GT500 and GT500KR. Ford took over production in 1968 and began building them completely in their own factories. They continued to use the Shelby name under license and Shelby did some consulting work.
ABOVE: 1967 Ford Mustang Cobra GT350. ’67 was the last year that Carroll Shelby actually laid hands on the Shelby Mustangs Fastback. By ’68, there were being built completely by Ford under license to use the Shelby name.
BELOW: 1968 Ford Mustang CobraJet 428 Convertible. The first Ford-built Shelby Mustangs could be convertibles for the first time. This one has the massive and heavy 428CJ engine, making one of the quickest cars at the time.
ABOVE: The Shelby Series 1 had an Oldsmobile V8 and was sold through Olds dealers from 1998-2005. It has the unique distinction of being the only street car designed from the ground up by Shelby. Every other Shelby is built out of an existing car.
SHELBY-AMERICAN IN MODERN TIMES
Shelby parted ways with Ford by the early 70s. We his name next appeared on new cars, they were Chrysler Products this time, as Ol’ Shel worked is magic on their tired line of K-car derivatives. He turbocharged them, juiced up the looks and the handling and helped revive Chrysler when they needed it most. His next post was at Oldsmobile where he designed a whole new car for them, the Shelby Series 1 from 1998-2005. It didn’t sell too well. Then it was back to Ford, doing what he did best: hot rodding new Mustangs. Carroll Shelby, the man, died in 2012, but his company, and his legend live on. They’re still in Las Vegas NV, building about 50 Continuation Cobras per year, along with working on and/or modifying another 450 customer cars each year. You can visit the Shelby Factory in Las Vegas, we did it, and it’s cool. And it’s free! Check out our page on the SHELBY MUSEUM.
BELOW: This is the kind of stuff Shelby-American is building today. This is a brand new Shelby GT500 Super Snake. This one has 750 horsepower. They’re working on a 1,000-hp version now.