Last year, automotive icon Carroll Shelby passed away at age 89 after a long and storied life. The race driver, car builder, and entrepreneur left a big mark on the automotive world over several decades.
His death was not sudden – far from it. Shelby retired from racing in 1960 due to a heart condition and was continually in danger of an early death. But thanks to heart and kidney transplants and maybe a dose of good fortune, he lived much longer than even he thought he would.
Knowing this, Shelby made sure that Shelby American, Inc., the company that bears his name, was set to continue long into the future. The Las Vegas based company is thriving stronger than ever, and anyone who wants the ultimate Ford Mustang can buy one today.
The Shelby Mustang has become a legendary car, first produced as a 1965 model at the company’s facility adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport. For three years, the GT350 (and later, the more powerful GT500) was built alongside the Cobra two-seat sports car and GT-40 race car. New stock Ford Mustangs rolled in, and GT350s rolled out, meaner and faster than anything available directly from Ford.
But things came to an end in late 1967 for the Shelby Mustangs and Cobras. Safety and emissions regulations doomed the latter and took their toll on the former. Ford Motor Company took over production of the GT350 and GT500 for another couple of years, and by 1970, there were no Shelby automobiles.
Carroll Shelby found other interests in the 1970s, and reunited with Lee Iacocca in the 1980s to put some Shelby magic into Chrysler’s compact cars. His relationship with Ford had soured long ago, and the original Shelby Mustangs became sought-after collectors’ items.
Shelby American had moved to Las Vegas and was still building small batches of sports cars, and in 2005 Shelby the man was able to reestablish a relationship with Ford. Today, you can once again buy a brand-new Shelby Mustang, through a Ford dealer, with a warranty and financing just like any new Mustang.
And just like back in the early days, new Mustangs arrive at the Shelby facility and are upgraded for more performance and style. After completion, they’re sent on to their new owners, with a Shelby serial number added to the Ford one.
I got to put quite a number of miles on a 2013 GT350 recently, and all I can say is, wow, what a car. It sits perfectly on its modified suspension, with gorgeous wheels showing off upgraded brakes. Out back, custom exhaust pipes bark out a throaty V8 sound. Up front, a custom hood and air dam announce to anyone in front of you that this is no ordinary Mustang.
The example I drove also had an engine upgrade in the form of a supercharger, upping the 5.0 liter V8 to 624 horsepower, a full 200 more than the stock Mustang GT. Yet even with all that power on tap, I was able to achieve over 25 mpg in one freeway stint, while riding in air conditioned comfort.
There is a bit of confusion when it comes to Mustangs and Shelbys, however. Ford sells the Mustang GT, but also sells a supercharged model called the Shelby GT500. While Shelby licenses the name, Ford builds the GT500.
Shelby Mustangs built by Shelby are their own animals, to a different specification. I’m told they also hold their value better than the Mustangs built by Ford. And to further blur things, Shelby also modifies the stock GT500 into an ultimate Mustang called the Shelby GT500 Super Snake.
One of the reasons there are so few vintage Shelby Mustangs today (assuring their status as a blue-chip collector car) is because so few were sold when they were new, partly due to their high prices. While you could get a very nice V8 Mustang for about $3,500 back in 1966, a GT350 was $4,600, or about the price of a new Corvette.
The Shelby Mustang is also expensive today. A new GT350 starts at $26,995, after you buy a Mustang GT for $30,000 or more. Add the supercharger package that my test car had, and you’ve got a Mustang priced well in excess of $60,000.
That doesn’t seem to be stopping people from buying them, as Shelby American is cranking out new cars at a rate of 7 to 8 per week. Carroll Shelby may no longer be with us, but his cars definitely are, and will be for many years to come.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave