Shelby American Celebrates 50 Years Of Iconic Cars

Chicken farmer turned race car driver Carroll Shelby had what some probably considered a crazy idea back in 1961:
an American V8 powering a two-seat British road car.

And with that innovative thinking came the birth of a legend…

The first Shelby sports car, the Cobra, made its official debut in 1962 at the New York Auto Show inside the Ford display booth. It also marked the birth of the extraordinary performance-car company, Shelby American. Later that same year, the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA) approved the Cobra for competition in its Manufacturer’s Cup Championship, and the years following brought much racing success to the Cobra and Shelby American names.

It didn’t take long before Ford turned to Shelby. The automaker wanted its new Mustang to be competitive against Corvettes in the Sports Car Club of America racing series and asked Shelby to modify the pony car. So, in 1965, he built a Mustang GT350 based off a barebones Mustang 2+2, tuning the suspension, brakes and steering, and massaging the factory Ford 289cid V8 to make even more horsepower. The Shelby-Ford relationship has spanned more than 40 years, resulting in extremely powerful and unforgettable Mustangs.

While the Ford Mustang itself was — and still is — a runaway success, there were those within Ford who thought the car could be a tad better — by that they meant, among other things, quicker — and they put into motion a limited run of specially modified Mustangs with Shelby at the helm. One example at Scottsdale is the 1968 Shelby GT350 Fastback (Lot #1241.2) from consignor Butch Bockmier. This car runs what was the standard engine for the 1967-1968 GT350, the 302 V8, which is matched to a 5-speed Tremec manual transmission. The offering from Bockmier also features Ford SVO aluminum cylinder heads, an electric fuel pump, a Holley carburetor and long-tube headers. Underneath, there are upgraded springs and Shelby Racing traction bars. What makes this car particularly unique is that it is a factory-original Raven Black over-black car; only 21 were produced in this color and trim combination.

The color combination can often be a noteworthy element when it comes to making certain cars more collectible in a particular production year. The 1967 Shelby GT350 belonging to Richard Nash (Lot #1263) is a prime example; its Dark Moss Green paint and black interior were special ordered through the Southern California Shelby dealership, Hi-Performance Motors, which also added lightweight fiberglass body components. This Shelby was highly optioned at the time, with the likes of a 3-speed automatic transmission, Magstar wheels, air conditioning and tinted glass. Nash said it had received a ground-up concours restoration to SAAC Division II standards by Tri-City Mustang Restoration. Additionally, the car has earned multiple honors, including Concours Triple Crown status by SAAC-36 Gold, an MCA Grand National Gold, and a Team Shelby Diamond award, MCA Club awards like “Best in Class” and “Best in Show,” as well as an invitation to the Concours d’Elegance of America. Its special look was also not lost on Mr. Shelby himself, who signed not only his name to the numbered passenger-side dashboard of this car, but added, “Green with envy.”

The GT350R and GT500 were the coveted race ready lot, but the pinnacle Shelby Mustang of the time was the 1968 GT500KR. KR was an abbreviation for “King of the Road.” It was an enhanced GT500, with chassis modifications and the Cobra Jet V8, making it the most powerful performance Shelby Mustang to date. It was produced only until 1970, although Ford did put it back into the rotation as a 2008 factory model. Addison Brown’s ‘68 GT500KR (Lot #1257.1) has undergone a restoration, yet still sports the Cobra Jet engine, as well as the Ford Toploader close-ratio 4-speed manual transmission and Traction-Lok rear axle. Power disc brakes, power steering, optional 15×7” cast-aluminum Shelby wheels, AM radio, fold-down rear seat, a tilt steering wheel and a shoulder harness are among its equipment.

Shelby Mustangs are of particular interest to collectors due to their limited production, but the 1969-1970 models had another distinction: they signified the end of an era, as Ford began to phase out the Shelby name (and the Cobra designation) because it had the BOSS Mustangs in its factory lineup. The 1969 Mustang underwent a redesign at Ford, so Shelby American also updated its car, including adding multiple hoodscoops. Addison Brown’s 1969 Shelby GT500 Fastback (Lot #1257.2) is equipped with the Cobra Jet, the Traction-Lok rear axle and the Toploader transmission. Additionally, it has been elevated in status with options such as power steering, power brakes, fold-down sport deck rear seats, a clock and AM radio. The Gulfstream Agua GT500 has also recently received a mild cosmetic restoration. It remains mostly original.

Mustangs weren’t the only Ford products Shelby American turned into winning race cars. During the development of the legendary GT40, the company made a number of improvements to the car to help it head toward LeMans victory. William Watkins brings an example of the Mk II replica (Lot #1245.4) to Scottsdale. Only 85 versions of this commemorative Shelby replica of the original race car were built, and Watkins’ is chassis number 2. It has been built on a Superformance chassis and has a ROUSH 427IR V8 engine as well as ROUSH eight-stack fuel injection, special carbon fiber snakeskin valve covers and a 5-speed manual transmission. Watkins noted that this was the first car painted Tungsten Gray with silver stripes. It has been stored in a climate controlled garage.

Each of those cars points to Shelby American’s early years. Could a modern-day heir to the throne live up to the lineage? Ford’s Special Vehicle Team and Mr. Shelby decided to find out, looking to create a scion to the successful 1960s GT500. The result? The 2007 Shelby GT and GT500. The Shelby GT held fort between the Mustang GT and the Shelby GT500, and boasted a hoodscoop that appeared to be straight off a Shelby Cobra roadster, as well as a Ford Racing 4.6-Liter engine hooked to a 5-speed manual transmission with the Hurst short-throw shifter. The car also received special engine tuning, and LeMans-type racing stripes on Performance White or Black paint helped it stand out from the crowd — as if that was even necessary. At Scottsdale, the 2007 model from Bradley Fullerton (Lot #647) has just 14,000 original miles and features the Shelby GT package with special aluminum door sill plates, 3.55 axles and a Ford Racing Handling Pack, with specially tuned dampers reminiscent of the Grand-Am FR500C race car. Fullerton’s Shelby GT also received a Power Upgrade Package, with a cold-air intake and high-flow X-pipe exhaust. In addition to an appearance package, Fullerton’s car sports 22” American Racing Shelby rims.

It’s not only automobiles that have thrived while sporting the Shelby name; case in point, the Zackys Custom Rods Shelby Cobra Tribute Chopper, with a design given a thumbs-up directly from Mr. Shelby. Butch Bockmier’s fully custom 2007 chopper (Lot #692.1) is telltale Shelby American: Guardsman Blue with white LeMans stripes, a hoodscoop on the fuel tank and an American engine: a 140cid Ultima matched to a 6-speed transmission. Additional touches to this bike include CNC-machined wheels resembling Halibrand knock-off mags, a custom tuck-and-roll seat that is very reminiscent of Cobra buckets, powder coated headers with half-scale Cobra side pipe, a Cobra badge on the crankcase, and grips and controls inspired by the Cobra’s steering wheel and shift knob.

As Shelby American prepares to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary in 2012, these cars are sure to capture even more of the spotlight at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction. The biggest party of all in Shelby American’s year-long celebration will be its 50th Anniversary Tour, which will travel to various cities and car shows nationwide, including in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. Track days and concours events also are in the works. The tour will be a throwback to the 1960s, when the Shelby Caravan embarked on a similar venture. As Shelby American turns 50, the year also marks Carroll Shelby’s 89th birthday. The man and his cars represent more than simply a footnote in automotive history; the Anniversary Tour is a befitting commendation for both.

-— By Tori Tellem

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