Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  37 / 113 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 37 / 113 Next Page
Page Background

When Shelby started working on

his new sports car, in 1999, he natu-

rally used his contacts in Chrysler’s

engineering department. Interest in-

side of Chrysler was tickled and when

his health problems sidelined him,

work on the sports car continued. As

higher and higher levels of manage-

ment at Chrysler learned of the proj-

ect, the idea of having their own high

performance sports car – a direct com-

petitor to Corvette, Porsche and Fer-

rari – began to look better and better.

It eventually landed on the desk of

Chrysler President Bob Lutz. He liked

the concept and took it to Chairman

Lee Iacocca who, no doubt, recalled his

role in what became the original

Cobra project. The Viper was given the

green light. The performance goal was

to beat the original 427 Cobra’s zero-

100-zero time of 13.2 seconds. Since

1965 that had become the ultimate

performance benchmark. With Carroll

Shelby recuperating from his success-

ful heart transplant, he was unable to

take an active role. He was billed as an

“advisor” on the Viper project.

The first Viper, a hand-built con-

cept vehicle, appeared at the North

American International Auto Show in

Detroit in January of 1989 and it was

the talk of the show. The decision was

made shortly thereafter to put the car

into production and the first Viper was

completed in December of 1991. On

Memorial Day of 1991 Shelby drove a

Viper pace car at the Indy 500.

By 1991 Shelby was on the re-

bound. His new heart gave him more

energy than he had in a long time. He

was never very far away from the au-

tomotive world and he had been keep-

ing an eye on the skyrocketing values

of original Cobras. Record selling

prices seemed to be set every time a

car changed hands.

In 1989 Shelby asked noted Cobra

restorer Mike McCluskey to investi-

gate the sourcing of all of the parts

and components necessary to build

exact duplicates of the 427 S/C. When

the prices of original 427 S/Cs began

flirting with the $700K range in 1991,

that got Shelby’s attention. He di-

rected McCluskey to begin assembling

a 427 Cobra S/C using these parts. His

plan was to sell subsequent cars

through his company—Shelby Ameri-

can. As such, they could hardly be

called “replicas.”

In 1965, the intention had been to

build 100 427 Cobra competition mod-

els to meet the FIA’s production re-

quirement in order to race in the GT

class of the World Manufacturers

Championship. By the time the FIA

inspectors visited Shelby’s factory at

the end of April, only 51 cars had been

built. Certification of the 427 Cobra

was withheld and Shelby American

was forced to campaign the previous

year’s 289 Cobra roadsters and Day-

tona Coupes in FIA events. A call to

AC Cars, Ltd. put a halt on production

of competition 427 Cobras and started

building 427 street models.

Shelby knew that 44 427 Cobra

competition serial numbers had never

been issued in 1965. That was a state-

ment of fact recorded by SAAC’s

Cobra registry. McCluskey had pro-

cured enough parts to build fifty cars.

He finished the first one and it was

left in bare aluminum (so it could be

driven without worries about stone

chips, dings or scratches). It was given

the serial number CSX3056 and it car-

ried large, white meatballs on the nose

and fenders with the number “98” –

Shelby’s race number.

Never bashful about publicity,

Shelby showed the car off to the press.

They reacted like sugared-up six year-

olds at a birthday party: Shelby was

building “original” Cobras again and

that was big news! He let the word slip

that one of these “completion cars”

could be had for $500,000 (two-thirds

of the going rate of an original S/C).

Pictures of the car quickly appeared

everywhere, including in the newest

automotive media – television and


The cars weren’t “original” but be-

cause their assembly was subcon-

tracted to McCluskey and they were

then sold by Shelby American, Shelby

considered them genuine Cobras. Cars

were built only as orders were re-

ceived and within a couple of years a

half dozen had been completed and de-

livered. But just as there had been a

quick run-up of Cobra prices in the

early 1990s, the roller coaster dip that

followed saw prices begin returning to

where they had been a few years ear-

lier. Those $750,000 427 S/Cs were

now changing hands in the $400,000

neighborhood. Shelby’s completion 427

S/Cs were suddenly not such a good

deal and interest cratered.

Never one to allow himself to be-

come discouraged, Shelby had also

been watching the Cobra replica mar-

ket. There seemed to be no end to the

number of manufacturers who offered

Cobra kits, on a continuum from hor-

rendous to top shelf. Shelby stepped

into the arena with a 427 S/C of his

own. He called it the CSX4000 series

component Cobra. These cars were, es-

sentially, full-specification 427 S/C Co-

bras available with a choice of

fiberglass, carbon fiber or aluminum

bodies. They came without engines

and transmissions and sold for be-

tween $45,000 and $75,000, depending

on the level of componentry.

Realizing that finding decent 427

side-oiler blocks and heads some

thirty years later represented a real

obstacle for CSX4000 owners (and

hence, the sale of the cars). Shelby got

permission from Ford to begin manu-

facturing his own 427 engines in alu-

minum. It was an expensive

undertaking, but he realized there

would be a market for these engines

beyond the cars he would be building.

Shelby’s Cobra business was be-

ginning to spool up. The tax advan-

tages of establishing a business in

Nevada were especially enticing and

soon he was operating out of a small

building in North Las Vegas. At the

same time, he announced his intention

to build a large production facility on

the edge of the new Las Vegas Motor

Speedway complex. His health, how-

ever, was not keeping pace,. In late

1995 his kidneys began failing as a re-

sult of the medications his heart

transplant required him to take to

fight rejection. In January of 1996 he

underwent a transplant operation and

received a kidney donated by his son


On top of everything else that was

happening in his life, Shelby was still

interested in building another sports


Fall 2016 36