The Truth About Cars » Shelby The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Shelby Deliverance Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:02:53 +0000 Shelby Charger

An old car is a feast for the senses. The gentle curve of a fender or the sharply drawn body line pleases the eye while the clatter of valves and the whine of spinning belts combine to make mechanical music. The exhaust gasses, which smell just a tad too rich, blend with the odors of old motor oil, decaying rubber and that musty smell that wafts from the car’s interior to fill your olfactory, while the mixture of gasoline, oil and grease that makes your hands feel so slippery even finds its way onto your tongue when you bring the fingertip you burned on a hot manifold to your mouth. You see it, hear it, smell it, feel it and can even taste it, all five senses touched by one malodorous, malevolent little mechanical beast. Yes friends, if you hadn’t guessed by now, my ’83 Shelby Charger is here at last.

I had, I am ashamed to say, forgotten the physicality of old cars. As someone who lives with two fairly new, almost totally drama free vehicles, it’s easy to forget that all cars are anything but appliances. Like the washing machine I have running in the other room right now, my cars are competent, clean and perform flawlessly at the turn of the key. I could jump into either of them and drive from one coast to the other just as easily as I could drop another load of laundry into the tub of my washer and know with utter and absolute confidence that I will, in short order, have a load of clean clothes. The Shelby, on the other hand, more closely resembles the antique clock that graces my mantelpiece. It is a magical assembly of whirring gears that human ingenuity has brought together into one marvelous machine and, while it does the job, it requires almost daily adjustment to perform as intended.

shelby charger

Some of our readers may recall that, a few months ago, I posted a plaintive cry for help in choosing an older car. I set down a rather strict set of criteria: it needed to be older, not too nice lest I succumb to the desire to preserve it rather than use it, and it needed to have a manual transmission. I got a lot of great suggestions and a couple of tantalizing offers that I had to pass on but as luck would have it, one of our website’s erstwhile readers in Maryland, a gentleman named Terry, reached out and made an offer almost too good to refuse.

The photos showed a stunning little car and I was instantly smitten. In the flurry of emails that followed, Terry let slip that he was the car’s original owner but that, because like me he often works at jobsites outside of the United States, the car had spent a lot of time sitting. Eventually, it had ended up in a friend’s barn in West Virginia where time, the elements and a family of mice had worked their magic.

But Terry isn’t the kind of man who let’s things slide and although it might have been out of sight the little car was never out of mind. From the far side of the planet Terry plotted and waited and then, on a short trip home, he brought the car back over the Appalachians to Maryland where he dropped it at a local speed shop before heading back overseas. The list of things done was extensive and can’t hope to recount all of it here, I do know that the old transmission was swapped out for a stouter unit from a later model turbo Dodge, the top end of the engine was rebuilt and the car’s rust issues, which sounded extensive, were resolved by cutting out the cancer and welding in new steel. Finally, the car was repainted in its factory colors, set on a set of good looking OZ wheels shod with sticky, performance rubber and returned to its owner.

shelby charger 1

Terry enjoyed the car for a few years but, with an SRT8 Challenger, a 71 Charger and two jeeps in the garage, the little Shelby ended up under a cover in the driveway next to the daily driven Neon RT. While it didn’t exactly languish there it spent more time sitting than Terry liked and so, after reading of my undying love for 80s Dodges on these hallowed pages, Terry decided to shoot me an email. Naturally, I responded immediately and on my recent trip to DC I swung through Frederick. After a brief test drive through the rolling hills I decided that the car needed just a bit of sorting to be perfect for my purposes, but that it really was as Terry had represented a solid, original little car. At this point, because I am still working on a few of the things I think need to be addressed and because my impressions are still a bit muddled by the excitement of having so recently taken delivery, I won’t write a full review, but know now that you will soon hear so much about my adventures with this little car that you will grow to hate it.

Although I only got the car the day before yesterday, I can already tell you that it gets all kinds of attention. The cable guy and the garbage man both asked about it while it sat in the driveway before I got it registered. People asked about it at the inspection station and, once I got the plates on, it drew a small crowd when I took it to the gas station for its first fill-up. The guys in the auto parts store I stopped at all had to go out and see it and I even got asked about it from the passenger of a neighboring car while I paused at a stop light. Everyone, it seems, is excited to see my little Shelby Charger and they all have a question that they must ask or a story to share. It is a strange, visceral reaction that only the most special, elemental machine can inspire and if I cannot jump into it and drive to the far side of the country on a moment’s notice I’m OK with that. No one ever asks about my washing machine.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Leavenworth, KS with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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And Now, Here’s That C7 vs. GT500 Street Racing Video For Which You’ve Been Hoping Wed, 06 Nov 2013 00:17:07 +0000

Your humble E-I-C has already driven the new C7 in anger around a road course (of sorts), and I’ve also driven the current-gen GT500. The C7 is just brilliant, but at least four out of the five times I consider the issue I think I’d rather have the Mustang. Now we have the two cars going head-to-head where it really matters: the streets, yo.

Compared to the stuff our friends in the auto media have been hyping-up lately, this is pretty tame, but I wish to reiterate that TTAC does not support street racing and that most of us retired from street racing years ago. ‘Cause we went legit, homie. Why’s the race go down the way it does? It’s simple. The Vette has an automatic transmission and more tire underneath it, so it isn’t until aero and horsepower start to become really critical that the Shelby pulls it back. This race is probably a bit longer than a standard quarter-mile, but look for both cars to easily turn elevens in the hands of skilled operators.

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QOTD: What’s The Best Retro Mustang? Fri, 18 Oct 2013 15:39:24 +0000

(Let’s all welcome Zombie McQuestionbot back to TTAC. He’s a well-known and well-loved writer who is now writing for “bigger” and “better” and “more easily recognized” and “less thoroughly despised” outlets than this one, but we managed to convince him to write a few questions for us — JB)

Mustangs. I know, right? I almost bought a Mustang once. Actually, I did buy a Mustang. I was in the American South on my way to see an actual underground bullfight, with a bull and everything. But it turned out that the two-year-old “Mustang” that I agreed to pay five thousand dollars for in a back room of a Mexican restaurant was actually a Mustang.

You know, a horse.

The good news is that “Trigger” and I had plenty of good years together before I let him retire to a farm in Oregon. For “plenty of good years” subtitute “one drunken night”. And for “a farm in Oregon” substitute “the glue factory”. Oh, how I cried when they led Trigger away. Mostly because he’d stepped on my foot. But that isn’t the kind of Mustang we’re talking about here. The retro Mustang’s been around since 2005. What’s your favorite one?

Let’s start with the first generation. There was the Mustang V6, which was so bad that owning one is an actual legal cause for divorce in three southern states and Delaware. There was the Mustang GT, which had three hundred horsepower from a giant V-8 that made a lot of noise and once was used to power the world’s most powerful Sybian. Next up, we had the Mustang GT California Special, which was never purchased by anyone in California for the same reasons that you never see Aussies ordering a Bloomin’ Onion at the Outback Steakhouse.

Last but not least, we had the Shelby GT500, which had five hundred horsepower and was named in tribute to the original Shelby GT500, which did not.

Even more last but not least, we had the Mustang Bullitt, which was a nice way to have a tribute to Steve McQueen without having to pay Steve McQueen’s estate anything for doing it. One time I borrowed a Mustang Bullitt and drove it all the way to New York to participate in a high-stakes private poker game. The whole time there it kept punching me in the back every time I drove over an expansion joint. Eventually I gave up on the idea of using the freeway. By the time I got to the poker game, the only people left were James Bond and Le Chiffre, who thought I was making fun of him because I was bleeding from my left eye. I had to explain to him that it was just the ox-cart rear axle that made me that way.

I think there was also a Shelby GT-H, which was rented by Hertz to car collectors who never gave them back. “Send me the bill,” they’d say, and cackle as they stroked their Persian cats.

The original 2005 Mustang was so awesome that Ford decided not to change it for 2010. They just left it in an oven to melt a little bit. There was some concern about the interior melting as well, but it turned out that the plastic on the dashboard was so hard that it refused to melt. Instead, it actually transferred the heat to the nose of the car and made it look all droopy.

A drunken mistake by Alan Mullalllally while watching the Vanilla Ice movie, “Cool As Ice”, forced Ford to immediately put 5.0 engines in the 2011 model. These engines were actually twice as powerful as the original Mustang 5.0, which meant that it should have been a Mustang 10.0. Unfortunately, the average Mustang owner can’t count that high, so they left it as 5.0.

The original Mustang 5.0 was actually a 4.9. But Mustang owners didn’t understand the decimal system, so Ford called it the 5.0.

The new Mustang has spawned multiple variants — the Durable Technical V-6, which is not durable and has the “technical” solid rear axle. There’s the GT Track Pack, for both of the Mustang GT owners in America who think tracks have right turns, too. The California Special is back and it sells very well in Ohio.

Last but not least is the Boss 302. This car is more expensive than a used Corvette, which has always been the case for new Mustangs. Supposedly it’s very fast, but probably not as fast as a CTS-V.

If you’ve always wanted a Boss 302 your whole life since they came out two years ago, you might also be satisfied with a Hertz Penske GT, which is being rented from Hertz directly to collectors who will not be giving them back. I was an at airport recently, on my way to party with the guy who used to date the girl who sat next to Lindsay Lohan in her most recent rehab circle. I asked for an “Adrenaline” car, so they gave me a Dodge Challenger SRT. It was so obviously made for older people that I wasn’t surprised that one of the buttons on the steering wheel was labeled “Fallen And Can’t Get Up.”

All of these Mustangs are classics, but only one can be your favorite. So which will it be?

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Galpin To Manufacture Million Dollar Ford GTR1 Mon, 19 Aug 2013 16:10:31 +0000 galpin-gtr1-5

The president of Galpin Auto Sports, the Los Angeles based car dealer and tuner, Beau Boeckmann (whom you may recognize from his role on MTV’s Pimp My Ride), used the Pebble Beach concours festivities to announce that GAS will be putting their Ford GT based GTR1 supercar into limited production next year at a starting price of just over one million dollars. Boeckman says that the venture will be profitable if they sell six GTR1s and that production will be capped at two dozen, limited by the short life prototype tooling used to make it.

Automotive News reports that Galpin’s Boeckman is optimistic about its prospects. “There is a market for a car like this,” said Boeckmann, scion of the family that owns Galpin Motors, one of the largest privately held dealer groups in the United States, including the world’s largest Ford dealership. “It’s amazing how many million-dollar car purchases there are. I know several customers who will be interested in buying one.”

The bodies, whose styling draws on Ford’s Shelby GR-1 concept of a few years ago, will be hand built by Metalcrafters, founded by the esteemed coachbuilding Gaffoglio family. Customers will have the option of either aluminum alloy or carbon fiber composite bodies. Interestingly, Galpin is charging $200,000 more for aluminum. Carbon fiber is expensive, but apparently not as expensive as hand forming sheet metal.


The Ford GT’s 5.4 liter V8′s supercharger has been replaced with twin turbos and output is claimed to be 1,024 HP and 739 lb ft of torque. Top speed is an estimated 225 MPH, 0-60 MPH is said to be 3.1 seconds and 0-100, 6.8. Galpin says that the braking system is derived from brakes used on F-22 fighter jets and in Formula 1 race cars. The interior is full of machined aluminum and hand stitched free-range Bridge of Weir leather.


Boeckmann said production and deliveries of the car will begin in early 2014.

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Life With Shelby Part Two: Around The Track In Two Minutes And Ten Seconds (Updated With More Photographs) Wed, 10 Oct 2012 15:14:37 +0000

Let us go then, you and I,
When the Oak Tree flagger lets the blue flag fly
Like a warning for the engine-bay unable;
Let us go, slideways through the track-out,
The supercharger shouts
And restless Vettes with small-blocks spinning hard
And sundry other so-called fast cars
Moving to the right like a conga line
The four-lobe whine
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
This GT500 is tha shiznit.

Hard over the crest of VIR’s back straight and this almost unspeakably mighty car is cutting the morning fog in two with the violence of a cruise missile sonic-booming under the radar ceiling and my Blue-group student is starting to regret his ride-along with widening eyes and that C6 blocking me at the Oak Tree exit is a blurry memory in the mirror and I am grabbing fifth now and down the backside we thunder and now the wind has a physical force in the cabin on my face and a couple of gas-station receipts tornado-stutter-spin between us and the speedometer has force in the motion, man, one-fifty one-fifty-five one-sixty one-sixty-five spin the dial arrow marker hard on the brakes and there is nothing, the pedal moans and the pads are suspended from the rotors by the infernal combustion burning the material into a millimeter cushion of murderous free-floating gas and I push through it and the ABS chatters and we bounce up the hill past the curb it’s still anyone’s guess and my student is cringing now eek eek SQUEAK SQUEAL SLAM fifth to fourth ROAR fourth to third ROAR SQUEAK BOOM SQUEAK off the brakes and down the Rollercoaster with the five point four (edit: five point eight!) lunging us towards the exit curb on hot tires and the student says


and I say


When we last left our 2013 Shelby GT500 test car, it was fresh from a meeting with its hardcore track sibling and was on the way to Virginia International Raceway via the backroads of rural Kentucky. I loved the big-hearted Ford the same way I’ve loved pretty much every Mustang built since 2005. Hell, as a former CMC-class racer I love all the Mustangs from 1979 forwards. But not all loves are the same; I love the V-6 Mustang the way I love a trusty female friend and I love this Shelby-that-should-be-called-SVT-Cobra the way I love the woman who sits at the center of my blackened heart, pulling the strings that make me gasp for breath when I see her picture or hear her voice.

A slight mix-up with the nice people at Ford — who provided this lovely car to me at no charge and even made sure the tank was full when it arrived, I don’t feel the need to do some bullshit Jalopnik-style hipper-than-thou disclosure which implies I’m so above it all that I feel no emotion upon receiving the keys to a 662-horsepower automobile — meant that the Shelby arrived with a “MyKey” that limited my ability to fuss with the stability control and steering/suspension settings. Day One at VIR I spent just running students around and running the Goodyear F1 Supercar tires down to the shadow of the cords on the outside edges. I didn’t bother to run for time because I knew I’d bump into the limits of the AdvanceTrac.

In actual use, the AdvanceTrac is charmingly unobtrusive. You really have to get the car out of shape in order for it to intervene. If I had a student learning to drive on a racetrack with one of these Cobras, I’d tell him to leave it on. Still, there are a few places on the track where it’s useful to do more than the computer allows. Sunday afternoon a package arrived from FedEx with the regular key. I turned off the systems — taking a mild breath when I did so since this is the kind of car in which uncorrected mistakes can be big — turned on my MyChron beam-timer, and headed out for a timed lap.

Let us go then, as the poet said.

As we pass the start/finish line we are chugging past 130mph and the GT500 doesn’t feel remotely out of steam. I dislike supercharged track cars for two reasons. The first is that they are subject to heat-related performance reduction, and sure enough as the day went on the GT500 found its top speed on that long back straight dropping to an indicated 160 or so. One-sixty! Hardly moving. What’s the point. But I digress. The other problem with supercharged cars is that they are strong at 1500rpm but weak as kittens at the top of the rev range. Not the Shelby. It just keeps going, and going, and churning power all the way to the amazing 7,000-rpm “temporary redline”. The car will let you run past the nominal 6250-rpm redline for up to eight seconds, and on a track you will do that over and over again.

Time to brake for Turn One. Well, here’s the bad news. This car doesn’t have close to enough brake on it. It needs the same kind of brakes you get on a Vette ZR1, because it’s fast like that and it’s heavy like an ’82 Marquis Brougham. Every lap around a racetrack with the GT500 is spent managing the brakes. They can give you a few different responses. Initially they are just kind of weak. Then the pedal travel goes long. Then the scary behavior begins as the overheated pad material vaporizes and actually holds the pads off the rotor for a moment before the pedal sinks right into an ineffectual ABS chatter. I can see why the mainstream auto press was a little scared of the Mustang on-track because the brakes are a crapshoot and the news gets worse and worse as you continue to lap. There isn’t much to hit at VIR so in each case I did my best and trusted to fate. Still, on both straights I’m braking a hundred feet early at least. The Shelby covers a hundred feet in four-tenths of a second. The cowardly lion inside me wants to make that brake point a full second earlier but where’s the glory in that?

Turns 1 and 2 can be taken in second gear if you really want to make time but the Cobra can break traction at any moment as you’re heading for Turn 3 so it requires some finesse. This is where you make money on all the slower cars running Hoosiers and adjustable suspension. The Mustang is not unwilling to turn but here you do get a sense of what that extra weight in the nose does. Compared to a Boss or a GT, it just takes some time for the Goodyears to grab and change direction. It feels a little tippy-toe here, but nothing too worrisome. Just get the thing pointed straight, if you can, and ride the lightning. A touch of left-foot braking to get the nose down and we’re into Three hard enough to get the inside wheels in the air. Grab a quick shift before having another gut-check brake into Four and Five.

We can rotate the car on the throttle at any point but that takes time off the clock and it heats up the rear tires. We need them cool and you’ll see why in about seventy seconds. Hit all the curbs and run 5a to 6 and 6a. Flat out to the bottom of the Climbing Esses and we will need to brake to an entry speed of somewhere between 120 and 125mph. The experienced VIR locals can probably do better but trust me, that speed feels like enough. This year the curbs have been paved and expanded so we can let the car run pretty straight up the hill. Unlike many cars, the Shelby can accelerate up the Esses very quickly so you’ll have to watch the throttle.

The Nine-Ten exit is frankly scary. There isn’t enough grip at these speeds to do anything other than track out and hope the front tires will catch you. Step on the brake hard for Ten and dive in on light throttle. If you apply full power too early, the GT500 will step out on the back of the hill and that, my friend, is how you will hit the wall at ninety-five miles per hour. Unlike my Boxster, the Shelby won’t take all the engine’s torque if the outside wheels are on the curb. Not today in these kind of humid conditions, anyway. It’s a finesse thing all the way down the hill.

There’s no sense trying to do Eleven right. You have too much momentum. Smoke-chatter the poor brakes and rotate for Oak Tree and the exit to the back straight. I took this turn in third for most of Saturday but on Sunday I grabbed second for the extra tenths of a second it might offer. So help me G-d if you do not have the wheel straight in this car when you are in second gear on hot tires it will slap your face so let’s exit the way Ross Bentley told me, clean and smooth.

Now it’s a drag race and the Shelby can’t break 160 due to the heat. With yesterday’s cooler air I’d have another eight mph in pocket. With decent brakes and cool air I’d have another twelve. Maybe fifteen. 175 on a road course! It’s sexy, brother. In practice the GT500 must be braked at the “arrow” before the first brake marker and even then it’s a dicey airborne ABS-bounce up the “prototype line” to 14a.

On the downhill, we can spin the tires at will so throttle modulation is the order of the day. I’d thought initially I could get through Turn 16 without the brakes but that’s stupid, it kills your exit. So let’s use the left foot here. Around this time you get the sense of why some journalists openly prefer the Scion FR-S to this car. Every mistake in the Ford is a big one.

The car bounces through 17 and squats on its suspension to 17a. If you are hasty with the throttle, as I was in my early laps, the GT500 snaps sideways and points your nose at the pitlane entrance. Silly snake! We don’t want to go there! What are you doing! You’re just a car, you don’t get to tell us where to go! Keep in mind that “hasty with the throttle” doesn’t mean “full throttle where half is called for.” In this car, it means “80% down instead of 75% down.” You aren’t really wide-open until your back wheels pass the end of the 17a curb. This is where you need those rear tires to be cool enough to grip. The time you set this lap will be heavily influenced by how careful you were in the minutes previous.

It’s a drag race again and my oh my we love those. The timer says


Racer excuses: the tires were smoked. The engine was hot. The brakes were nonexistent. A fresh GT500 in the morning on Hawk Blues is a 2:05 car. I’m pretty sure of it. But that 2:10 time is absolutely consistent with what solid track rats are seeing in stock C6 Z06es, and did I mention I set the time with a female passenger in the car, in traffic? Respect is due to the engine and the overall balance. This isn’t a one-trick pony.

It isn’t perfect. You know it isn’t. A GT-R is certainly faster, although I didn’t do anything but pass GT-Rs that weekend. But this is a car to know, then love, then eventually master. You won’t figure it out on your first trackday. The limits are so high, the power is so stupendous, the experience is humbling, really. If I could change the car in any way, I would put brakes on it. If I bought one, I would put brakes on it pronto. No question. The rest of it I’d leave alone.

The eye-watering price of $62,000 and change means that only the reasonably wealthy, or hopelessly optimistic, will be able to own one. Still, as the man once said… if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. This GT500 is one of the all-time greats. I love it with all the sincerity, but none of the sadness, of T.S. Eliot’s hero. No scuttling across silent seas here: the GT500 roars across the American racetrack, majestic and mighty.

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Junkyard Find: 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Fri, 25 May 2012 13:00:12 +0000 Most folks think of Cobras or Mustangs when they think of the late Carroll Shelby, but don’t forget the Shelby Chryslers of the 1980s! Shelby cranked out a run of turbocharged front-drive Dodges that delivered amazing-for-their-time bang-for-buck performance, and they’ve remained quite affordable. So affordable, in fact, that Shelby Dodges are not uncommon sights in self-service junkyards; just in the last couple of years, I’ve found this Daytona Shelby Z, this Omni GLH, and this Shelby Charger awaiting their appointments with The Crusher. Last week, I spotted another one in a Denver yard.
Yes, this car was based on a platform designed in France by Simca, and it’s true that the L-bodies were flimsy throwaway cars that tended to disintegrate in a hurry, but so what? 146 horsepower in a 2,350-pound car was ridiculous in 1985!
The Omni GLH and the Shelby Charger were more or less the same car beneath the skin, with the same 2.2 liter turbocharged engine under the hood.
This example is pretty much a thrashed-to-death basket case, though it doesn’t seem to be rusty. Will beat examples of Shelby Chargers ever be worth enough to be restorable?

17 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 01 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 02 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 03 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 04 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 05 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 06 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 07 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 08 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 09 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 10 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 11 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 12 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 13 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 14 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 15 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden 16 - 1985 Dodge Shelby Charger Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 34
Happy 50th Birthday, Shelby Cobra Sun, 01 Apr 2012 16:21:29 +0000

50 years ago, the Shelby Cobra made its debut at the New York Auto Show, spawning a rich legacy of American motorsport success, and rampant kit car clones. 

Jamie Kitman’s piece in the New York Times examines the Cobra’s genesis as one of the best examples of Anglo-American collaboration. The 1962 New York Auto Show saw the debut of the MKI Shelby Cobra, using the British AC Ace as a starting point. Out went the wimpy inline six, and in went a 260 c.i.d Ford V8, with a 289 c.i.d V8 following shortly after. Upgrades, both cosmetic and mechanical followed in the later years, – the 427-powered MKIII cars, with their big-block engines and flared bodywork, are the most well-loved, and often the basis for the ubiquitous kit cars that still survive to this day.

While motorsports greats like Dan Gurney, Phil Hill and Bob Bondurant helped propel the Cobra to motorsports success, Carroll Shelby’s marketing acumen was an even greater force for popularizing the car. The Cobra had a number of “product placement” gigs in Elvis films (such as Viva Las Vegas) and pop songs. It didn’t hurt that some of NASA astronauts also drove Shelby Cobras, helping put them front and center in the public’s eye.

Cobra production ended in 1967, with Carroll Shelby turning his attention to Shelby Mustangs and the Ford GT40 program. But the Cobra managed to survive in the hearts and minds of the public, and over the years, replicas, from third parties as well as Shelby American, have popped up in various forms. Some have been authorized by Carroll Shelby, while others have been the subject of frequent, well-publicized litigation.

The Shelby Cobra has managed to endure the test of time in a way that few cars have. Its shape, like that of the Citroen DS or the Datsun 240Z is at once a product of its time, but also avoids looking dated. A thriving kit-car industry (and a nearly endless supply of donor Mustangs) has ensured that new Cobras (regardless of provenance) hit the streets every year. Here’s to another 50 years of this audacious, belligerent trans-continental hybrid.

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Quote Of The Day: Shelby Cobra And The Pursuit Of Distinctiveness Edition Fri, 05 Nov 2010 17:19:50 +0000

It is one thing to recognize the legendary status of Mr. Shelby and the original Cobras, including the 427 S/C, and quite another to assert that purchasers and potential
purchasers view Cobra continuations or replicas, sold primarily as kits, which employ the Cobra 427 S/C Design as coming from a single source.  The fact that Cobra replicas, sold primarily as kits, which employ the 427 S/C Design, have been sold by numerous third parties for more than three decades, including between 2002 and 2009, precludes us from drawing that conclusion.  Accordingly, we find applicant’s evidence based on media coverage of Mr. Shelby and all of the Cobras not probative of the issue of acquired distinctiveness.

That’s right, the Shelby Cobra has been officially copied to death, according to a recent ruling by the US Patent Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board [in PDF here]. The board’s finding was complex, as proving “distinctiveness” takes a lot of doing, but the upshot is that so many Cobra replicas have been built, consumers don’t actually think of the original (Shelby-designed) Cobras when they see one. Had Shelby sued every single kit car maker since day one, he’d have the legal rights to his design, but in the years since 1968, the term “Cobra” has come to mean more than the specific Shelby Cobra 289 or Shelby Cobra 427 S/C. In fact, a survey used to try to prove the distinctiveness of the Shelby designs in the eyes of consumers may have even used a photo of a 289 to illustrate a 427 S/C… even the guy running the survey wasn’t sure. The moral of Caroll Shelby’s legal battle to own the rights to anything resembling an original Cobra: never stop suing the kit car makers. Or, just be happy with the millions of dollars and legend status you’ve already accumulated.

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The Cobra And The Cheetah: A Muscle Car Tale (Part One) Tue, 07 Sep 2010 17:00:17 +0000
The Shelby 427 Cobra is a curious car. There are few vehicles that more worthily deserve the description iconic. The originals are so historically significant and rare that each is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (and in the case of the six Daytona Coupes, millions), yet stylistically identical replicas are ubiquitous. Chances are, if you see a Cobra, it’s probably not real baby seal. Over the decades thousands of replica Cobras have been produced to varying degrees of fidelity by a variety of kit car and turnkey manufacturers. When Carroll Shelby realized that he couldn’t sue the replicar makers into submission, he decided to make his own “continuation series” Cobra replicas (in your choice of carbon fiber, fiberglass or original aluminum bodies). He’s also come to a licensing agreement with Superformance, who make superb Cobra and Daytona Coupe reproductions. I’m a big supporter of the idea of intellectual property, and Ol’ Shel is entitled to make a living off his name and accomplishments, but Carroll Shelby’s proprietary attitude towards the Cobra borders on the absurd.

While his own racing success and the original Cobras’ performance and track success were the basis of the Shelby legend, I think it’s fair to argue that had there not been so many replicas made, that legend would be less renowned. The only reason why the general public knows about the car is because of the replicas. In the 1960s and 1970s, the chances of seeing a Cobra off of a racetrack were close to nil. Serious car enthusiasts knew about Cobras and of course the six Daytona Coupes took on a Bugatti like aura among collectors and buffs, but to the general public it was just another ’60s hot rod. If people outside the car world knew about the name Shelby, it was because of Ford Motor Company. Without the “Cobras” built by replica makers, most people would have thought that Shelby was just some kind of Mustang.

Mr. Shelby’s business relationship with Superformance is more of a marriage of convenience than an acknowledgment of how others have helped grow his legend. He gets a piece of the action from the leading maker of Cobra replicas and they get to say that their cars are authorized and licensed. While Shelby backed off from suing the Shelby American Automobile Club, the fact that he would even think of suing he biggest fans shows that he just doesn’t get it.

While Shelby’s company indeed assembled the original Cobras and he does own the name and the hooded snake logo, the idea of him suing replica makers was a bit absurd. The essence of most replicas is in the exterior styling, a fact to which the many Lambo and Ferrari bodied Pontiac Fieros, or faux Mercedes SSKs like the Excalibur attest. Some companies and craftsmen try to make exact mechanical copies, others cobble together components from more mundane production cars. Still, no matter what running gear they use underneath, they generally try to make the body look authentic. The guy who is driving a “Cobra” that is mechanically a Fox body Mustang doesn’t care as long as people recognize it as a Cobra. The resto-mod muscle cars may look like 1970 Challengers, but under the hood there’s a modern HEMI, there’s a modern front suspension and steering on a custom crossmember mounted to a new welded in subframe, and there’s a tub and non-factory multilink rear suspension setup too. They want modern mechanicals, but it has to have the right styling.

Shelby, much as he litigates to protect his legacy, had little to do with the styling of the Cobra roadster. The original Cobra was a small British roadster (in this case, the A.C. Ace.) powered by an American V8 (in this case the 289 Ford). If you showed most Americans an Ace, they’d think it was a 289 Cobra. Though some might notice the Ace’s smaller fender flares, it’s hard to argue that fender flares should be the basis of lawsuits.

Not only did Carroll Shelby have almost nothing to do with how the Cobra looked, he also, at least as far as how I heard the story, had little to do with the final engineering of the 427 versions.

This could be an urban legend, but it had the ring of Detroit truth and should be documented. On the Sunday following the Woodward Dream Cruise a few years ago, I stopped at one of the informal car shows that spontaneously take place in parking lots up and down Woodward. Maybe it was the safety wire ties twisted to the center-lock knock off wheel nuts on what looked to be real Halibrands, but there was definitely something about the car that said it wasn’t no replica. Indeed, the proud owner said it was a genuine side oiler 427 Cobra. While I was schmoozing with him, a nice old geezer ambled over. The guy was wearing blue jeans, a white dress shirt and suspenders. I almost could swear there was a machinist’s guide and some calipers in his shirt pocket. It was the uniform of an old school Detroit machinist. He had spent his career working in Ford’s fabrication shop in the Dearborn complex and proceeded to tell the Cobra owner the story of his car.

Apparently the concept of putting the big block 427 in the Cobra was the result of a three martini lunch involving Carroll Shelby and Henry Ford II. General Motors’ top brass was at best ambivalent about racing, but Hank the Deuce wanted to win and win big in the worst way. In hindsight looking at the Lotus Indy cars, the GT40, the Shelby Cobras, and Shelby and Boss Mustangs, the automotive world was the better for Ford’s involvement and investment and racing. Ford and Shelby figured that a big block powered Cobra would dominate the competition in racing and be faster on the street than any Corvette.

There is more to engineering a proper race car than shoehorning the biggest engine that will fit inside the bulkheads. Cast iron big block V8 engines are heavy and the A.C. Ace was originally designed for a four cylinder engine, not to handle 400+ horsepower. The original 427 Cobra mule was an abortion. It had inadequate brakes, dangerous handling and overheated badly. The mule was shipped from California to Dearborn, where the old guy with the suspenders worked with Ford’s engineers (and presumably some Kar Kraft people too) reengineering it into a competitive sports car.

The irony is that while it was Shelby who gave the Mustang credibility by making the GT350 and GT500 more Shelby than Ford, the most iconic Shelby of all, the 427 Cobra, may have been more Ford than Shelby.

The rest is history. The actual cobra is one of nature’s most deadly predators. When a predator has no competition, it dominates that ecosystem. In terms of raw speed and visceral visual appeal, there was nothing like the Cobra. Or was there?

Part two coming soon…

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Curbside Classic: Ford’s Deadly Sin#1 – 1975 Mustang Cobra II Thu, 01 Apr 2010 15:01:18 +0000

Powered By Ford. There’s something special about those words, something iconic, something that evokes nightmares of an uniquely American scope, from our first family cross-country trips in a 1954 Ford that perpetually overheated and stalled from vapor lock (when it actually started) to the last one, Mother’s craptastic 1981 Escort (replaced by a Civic)  that could barely do seventy wheezing unsteadily along the rain-soaked I-70 straight. Powered by Ford. It’s the peeling logo hastily slapped onto the valve covers of this five-liter Mustang II, but you won’t need to raise the hood to understand what it means. The first time this pathetic lump of an engine tries to suck air through its tiny two-barrel carburetor and wheezes its feeble exhaust through soda-straw sized tailpipes, it will be more than crystal clear.

My apologies to Jack Baruth (and it’s not the first time I’ve stolen some of his words). But his stirring words of worship at the altar of Ford compels me to release the anti-Ford held safely thus far in my digital files, and unleash its full 122 horsepower V8 fury upon his Mustang love poem.  Nature seeks a balance, and for every heroic blue oval exploit at Le Mans in 1967 and Topanga Canyon Road in 2010, there is a 1971 LTD or this 1975 Mustang Cobra II to offset the glory. We wouldn’t want to be accused of being Ford fan-boys at TTAC, now would we?

The Mustang II was a truly wretched car. Obviously, it couldn’t have been much worse than its predecessor, that hideously oversized barge of a draft-horse car, the ’71-’73 ‘Stang. Or could it? One wants desperately to give Lee Iacocca credit for trying to do the right thing: dramatically downsize the Mustang to make it competitive with the Euro style “super-coupes” that were the hot thing after the pony car market collapsed under the weight of its wretched excess.

So the target competition for the Mustang II were the Toyota Celica, Opel Manta, and Ford’s own European import, the Capri (sold by Mercury). Therein lies the sum and substance of Ford’s enormous mistake with the Mustang II, the same one that GM and Ford repeated endlessly until they were finally pounded into submission. Instead of just building the highly competent Capri as the Mustang II, or in the case of GM, the Manta/Opel 1900, in their US factories, they threw themselves repeatedly on the sword of hubris: we can do it better in Detroit, even small sporty and economy cars, something the Europeans had been building and perfecting for decades.

GM’s Vega was the first to go down this path, if we generously give the Corvair a pass. The Opel 1900/Manta was a delightful-handling and well designed car, and with a tiny fraction of the money wasted on the Vega’s development, it could have been made truly superb. Ford’s Pinto was only marginally better than the Vega because it didn’t blow up or rust quite so instantaneously, but its silly low, short and wide and cramped body were retrograde from the perfectly practical English Ford Cortina that donated much of its guts for it.

That was 1971. That was also the year Mercury started selling the Capri here. Surprisingly, or not, it became a genuine hit, and at its peak, was the number two selling import in the land after the VW Beetle. Reviews praised it: (R/T) “a very attractive sporting car. It’s solid as a Mercedes, still compact and light in the context of 1974 barrier busters, fast, reasonably economical of fuel, precise-handling, and quick-stopping: its engine and drivetrain are both sporty and refined.” Apparently not good enough for Lido; he had wrought a true miracle turning the Falcon into the original Mustang, so why not do the same thing with the Pinto? Why not indeed! Unlike lightening, hubris always strikes after someone’s first success, deserved or not.

A reworked front end and some new longer rear springs were designed to quiet down the Pinto’s notorious trashy interior noise levels and general structural inefficiencies ( the whole car rattles and rustles like a burlap bag full of tin cups. Self destruction seems only moments away. C/D 1971) . Lee wanted the Mustang II to have a touch of luxury to it, especially in the padded-top Ghia series; a sort of mini-T Bird. So, yes, let’s put lots of cushy rubber and soft springs in the suspension to give it a nice ride on the freeway.

But somehow, all that sound deadening and whatever else the Ford boys did to transform the Pinto into the Mustang II must have weighed a lot; well, lead is a terrific sound barrier. The unfortunate result was that the Mustang II weighed more than the original Mustang, despite the fact that its wheelbase was now a full foot shorter and it sported a four cylinder engine. But Powered By Ford was stamped or glued to the new 2.3 liter OHC four, a noisy and thrashy lump that soldiered on for decades. Generating all of eighty-eight horsepower, Ford’s long investment in racing engines was now really paying off.

If the four wasn’t quite recreating the Le Mans Mulsanne straight experience adequately, the Cologne V6 was the only option for more go in 1974, the II’s first year. C/D tested the new Mach 1 version with the 105 hp 2.8 six, and noted right off the bat that it was saddled with too much weight: “Our test car weighed over 3100 lbs…(the V-6 Capri we tested in 1972 weighed slightly under 2400 lbs)…the (Mustang’s) engine is more notable for its smoothness than any feel of power”. The quarter mile took over eighteen seconds (@74 mph), and zero to sixty took over twelve seconds. Ouch. But it probably had a nicer ride than the Capri. Oh, did it ever:

As the Mustang II Mach I (with the optional “competition” suspension) approaches its cornering limits, the front end transmits the fact that it definitely is plowing…enthusiasts are going to be disappointed..excessive body lean was present in all handling tests…” The Mustang II plowed and handled like crap with the light four and little German V6 under the hood, so it doesn’t take much of an imagination to speculate what it handled like when Ford finally shoehorned the 302 V8 into it for 1975, for all the wrong reasons. And the fact that it was still riding on 13″ wheels didn’t help any either.

Before we get on to the Cobra II, let’s note that C/D felt that the new four speed transmission that was developed in the US specifically for it was “not as smooth shifting as the current Pinto 4-speed” (sourced from Europe). And the fact that it was given the Pinto’s brakes without change wasn’t too inspiring either: “difficult to maintain precise directional stability during hard stops”. C/D sums the Mach1 up this way: “its acceleration and performance don’t match expectations. Much of that is due to weight and some to emission standards, but neither of these factors justify the car’s flaccid handling”.

Given that Ford had to do some fairly extensive work on the Mustang II’s front end to accommodate the V8 implant, it’s obvious that they never planned on that outcome. And given that the 302 put out a mere 122 hp in 1975, one wonders why go to all the trouble, given the dramatic increase in front end weight it caused. Ford should have spent money on its turbo-four program a few years earlier. Or found a way to federalize the DOHC and fuel injection engines it used in Europe. But the American legacy of Ford was built around V8s, and what’s a Mustang without one: Powered By (genuine US) Ford.

Now we can finally speak our vile words about the actual Cobra II. Please note that this is the very first automobile to carry that august name since the original. As thus, it was one of the most disastrous abuses of destroying equity in a name that was a true legend.  That it was put on such a ridiculous pretender of a car, a Pinto (barely) in disguise, is almost mind boggling. Anything  positive anyone can say about the Mustang II program is instantly offset by this cruel joke made by Lido and his not-so Whiz Kids. And it only got worse with the King Cobra version a couple years later. The seventies really were the pits, US-built automobile wise anyway, and the Mustang II was the little pebble lodged at the bottom of the pit.

It turned out that real V8 performance in an excellently handling coupe was still in demand, and very much available, in the form of the Camaro Z-28. And at a price that put the Mustang II Mach I and Cobra II to infinite shame. In the very same issue of C/D is a test of the 1973 Camaro Z-28 with the slightly civilized but still very satisfying 350 V8 that churned out 245 hp, exactly double (plus one) of the Mustang’s V8. And the Z 28 cracked off the dash to sixty in 6.7 seconds, almost exactly one half of the Mustang Mach I’s time. And ran a 15 second quarter at 95 mph. And handled and steered most properly indeed.

C/D summed it up the Z28 this way: “Because few cars at any price offer the refinement in going, stopping, and turning abilities. And that refinement is housed in one of the most handsome forms ever to roll out of Detroit. But the real clincher is price: the latest Z-28 is a blue chip investment.”

Here’s the shocker: the Z-28, equipped with the potent V8 and four speed, stickered at $4066 ($19k adjusted). The 1975 Mustang II Mach I with the V6 listed at $4188; how much more the Cobra II package and the V8 cost is a guess. Half the horsepower, twice as long to sixty, miserable handling, in a ridiculous and mal-proportioned body with a yard too much front overhang. No wonder the Camaro rated a “GM’s Greatest Hits” designation at CC (here’s the full gushing writeup), and this Mustang II earns Ford’s first Deadly Sin. Powered By Ford.

More new Curbside Classics here

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Modern Obesity Edition Tue, 19 Jan 2010 22:50:31 +0000 A Shelby GT350 pictured here with a tragic example of America's obesity epidemic

Forget distracted driving, the new Shelby GT350 proves that obesity is the real epidemic in America’s automotive life.

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