SAAC was founded in 1975. It has approximately 5,000 members in the U.S. and another 500 around the world. When it comes to Cobras and Shelbys, if we donít know it, itís probably not worth knowing, While SAAC has continually evolved over the past 32 years, its basic reason for existence has not changed. The club is dedicated to the preservation, care, history and enjoyment of the World Championship Cars built by Carroll Shelby. The difference is that some of the definitions we originally operated under have changed. These changes happened very gradually, and thatís where evolution enters the picture.
"Preservation" is our first goal. When we came up with that some 32 years ago, the cars were in danger of becoming just so many used cars. We realized that they needed to be preserved, first by finding sources for replacement parts so they could continue to be driven. Donít forget that in 1975, a í65 GT350 was only 10 years old and í70 Shelbys were only five years old. Almost all of these cars were daily drivers back then; a "classic car" was a Duesenberg, a Packard or a Cord. Things on our cars were beginning to wear out and most replacement parts were still available from any Ford dealerís parts department. But we knew this wouldnít last forever. Manufacturers are required by law to offer replacement parts for ten years; after that things that donít sell go obsolete. As the years went by, "preservation" acquired a different meaning. Cars were now being restored and there was a keen interest in accuracy. You can see the evolution of the concept of preservation right there.
"Care" originally referred to the proper maintenance that would enable the cars to be used in the manner they were intended. In 1975 relatively few cars were show cars or garage queens, and seeing a fully enclosed trailer at a national convention was a rare sight. Most members found technical articles, part numbers and tips on the best car care products useful. As time passed, more and more cars were restored and as a result, they saw less and less actual use. This change has continued to the point where, today, it is exactly the opposite - a daily driver is the exception to the rule and most cars are only taken out on nice days and driven to meets or shows. In the late 1970s a lot of owners worked on their own cars. Today most cars are taken to professionals. This has eliminated the need for detailed technical articles in the Shelby American. If you donít rebuild your own transmission, you donít need to read an article about how to do that. And the guy youíre paying to do it doesnít need to read the article either.
"History" as a concept does not change; but the perspective from which it is viewed does. The more time that passes, the more difficult it can be to determine the real facts. Those who were there when the cars were being built or raced eventually pass away. Or forget. Owners with axes to grind or investments to protect sometimes attempt to reshape their carsí history to suit their own needs. Early on we did not always know the right questions to ask. There was a learning curve, and we started recording everything we knew and putting it into registries. These books established a body of knowledge that could be added to and corrected for accuracy. The continual compiling of information on cars - both general and specific - was given a very high priority within the club because we realized how important this was. It was also valuable on a personal level to owners because a registry which is recognized as being accurate becomes a tool for determining the relative worth of cars as well as establishing their histories. A second goal is to recognize the work done by those who built and raced the cars. This is why we try to include an interview in most issues of the Shelby American, and why we make such a big deal of inviting former drivers, fabricators, crew members and employees to national conventions. They are the people who gave life to these inanimate objects. They make the history of these cars come to life.
"Enjoyment" of these cars is the final reason for SAAC to exist and this needs little explanation. Think about the level of enjoyment you have when you are driving your car, all alone. Then think how much that enjoyment increases when you are part of a group of a half dozen cars driving down the road. Or sitting in a parking lot together. Or at a car show. Almost everyone joins the club because of the cars but after a couple of years they discover that the real enjoyment comes from the company of other members. The cars become only so much Muzak in the background. They provide the reason why everyone gets together but it is the personalities and friendships growing out of this that is really the cement that holds the club together. At some point, having a car really isnít necessary.
When SAAC was started, the cars it catered to were the ones that Carroll Shelby built: Cobras, GT350s and GT500s. We didnít know much about the Trans-Am notchbacks built by Shelby American back then. Ford GTs were also included because of the role Shelby American played in making them into race winners for Ford, but their small numbers would not be likely to account for a large increase in membership or a shift in the clubís focus. There was also originally a strong Tiger contingent in the club who always took the opportunity to tell anyone who would listen that Shelby and Ken Miles built the first two Tigers.
When we were laying SAAC out on paper we decided at the outset not to limit club membership to only those who owned these cars. "Ownership not Essential - Enthusiasm Is" was our slogan and that has not changed. We knew there were a lot more people interested in these cars than there were cars to go around, and each non-owner was likely to become an owner. Well, we hoped he or she would. It did not make sense to make them wait until after they had purchased a car to join the club. One of the services the club provided to members was information. Those looking for cars would be the very ones most in need of this information.
Many of the people who joined SAAC already owned cars other than Cobras and Shelbys. Most were Ford performance cars: Panteras, early Mustangs, Bosses and a handful of Falcons, Galaxies, Comets and the like. Keep in mind, this was before the proliferation of Cobra replicas and Shelby look-alikes. As the years passed, new members came into the club with the latest Mustang performance models. As those cars became faster and more sophisticated, many Shelby and Cobra owners purchased them to use as daily drivers.
We expanded the conventionís car show classes to accommodate these "enthusiast" cars and we welcomed them into the open track events. Letís be honest - their entry fees help pay for the track. But we stopped short of putting them on an equal plane with Cobras and Shelbys. Rare were the articles in the Shelby American about Cobra replicas, Panteras or Mustangs because we have a strong feeling about what SAAC stands for. An attempt to widen the scope of the club to include all of these cars would be to dilute and change it. We discussed this when Carroll Shelby began building Dodge-based cars in the mid-1980s. In fact, it was Shelby himself who asked us what effect the production of these cars, carrying his name, was likely to have on SAAC. Would their owners be welcome?
It was a thorny question. We did not want to alter SAACís basic make up, so we established the Shelby Dodge Automobile Club as a parallel organization to SAAC which would cater to these cars. We received some help from Dodge (after prodding from Shelby) but after three years of working hard to keep this club afloat and at the same time looking for someone to take it over so we could direct all of our energies towards SAAC, we were unable to find anyone who was willing to make the commitment necessary. So we turned the club over to its strongest region and walked away from it. They immediately downscaled it. SDAC is still active today but it remains small, mostly because those cars just do not inspire the same level of enthusiasm and interest that Cobras and Shelbys do.
We now find that as the value of Cobras and Shelbys continues to appreciate, the cars have been priced beyond the means of some people who still want to be SAAC members. These people have opted to own Cobra replicas, Shelby look-alikes and other Ford performance cars of which there is presently no shortage. The national club is happy to have these people as participating members, and they add a lot to the club. We like to think of them as potential Cobra or Shelby owners. However, they should not expect that we will suddenly change the clubís policy to include cars outside of our purview as equal partners to Cobras and Shelbys. We also understand the symbiotic relationship between local regions and non-Cobra and non-Shelby owning members. In order for regions to do what they would like to do, they need a large membership base. This will, of necessity, include replica, look-alike and late model owners. Most regions operate under a much looser charter than SAAC national, and we have no problem with that. In fact between 33% and 66% of all regional members are not SAAC national members. We have a very clear picture of who we are and what we need to do and we have no plans to deviate from this. We will not try to be all things to all people because when you do that, nobody knows who or what you are. On a national level, when you stand for everything, you really stand for nothing.
As far as CSX4000 and CSX7000 cars are concerned, SAAC accepts these cars as genuine Shelby American Cobras (as opposed to "original" Shelby American Cobras). The definition we use to identify an original Cobra is one which was, 1) built between 1961 and 1968, 2) at the direction of and under contract from Carroll Shelby/Shelby American Inc., and 3) sold by Shelby American or one of its franchised dealers. The only difference between original Cobras and CSX4000 and CSX7000 cars is the time frame in which they were built (1). However, all three factors separate Shelbyís current cars from all the rest of the Cobra replicas, AC MK IVs, COB/COX continuation cars, etc. So, to our way of thinking, the current crop of Cobras are genuine but are not original.
In 2005 a new generation of Shelby Mustangs was unveiled. Carroll Shelby was back at work with the Ford Motor Company, and his hand prints were all over the 2007 Shelby GT500 model. The excitement these cars created was amazing... even before the first one was completed. With cars promised for summer 2006 delivery, a veritable feeding frenzy took place and Ford dealers found themselves besieged with potential buyers. Before long they were accepting orders, but only with surcharges of $10,000 to $25,000 over MSRP. Many of these buyers were already SAAC members, but those who weren't were invited to join the club and participate in its activities with this newest generation of Shelbys. Before the first car was completed SAAC was already setting up a registry so the histories of these cars could be recorded from Day One. The same thing was going on with Ford's new Ford GTs.
Carroll Shelby is not a one act play. No sooner were the details finalized on the new GT500s then Shelby and Ford announced they would be teaming up with Hertz to provide that company with a black-and-gold rental version of the Shelby Mustang, called the Shelby GT-H. The 500 examples produced proved so popular that Shelby and Ford followed that up with another model, the Shelby GT - another Shelby Mustang positioned between the standard Mustang GT and the Shelby GT500. Before anyone could catch their breath, Carroll Shelby had pulled three rabbits out of his black cowboy hat and a new generation of Shelby owners was created. Each of these new models will have its own registry and its own following.
For most of us, SAAC is more than just a loose organization of owners and enthusiasts who enjoy cars produced and sold by the same manufacturer. The club is part family, part hobby, part historical archive and part refuge from the pressures of the day to day world. These cars provide the opportunity to lose yourself in the past, when high performance, horsepower and speed were unquestioned virtues. They came from a time before the suffocating blanket of government over-regulation, when bragging about zero-to-sixty times and top speeds were the coin of the realm. They start out as simple automotive diversions but quickly become a part of your life. Join us and find out what makes these cars so special.