Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  39 / 113 Next Page
Show Menu
Previous Page 39 / 113 Next Page
Page Background

est from Rock, so they decided to help

move the project along on their own,

aided by the automotive press which

was always attentive to any Carroll

Shelby project. And for good reason:

for forty years, whatever Shelby did

was news. Shelby and Landy were

soon trumpeting that Shelby’s latest

project was “a Cobra for the 1990s”

and passing out photos of a large scale

model which Landy had ordered a

model maker to create. It looked like a

roadster version of the original Cobra

Daytona Coupe. Shelby provided his

usual flamboyant sound bites: “


going to be an ass-kicker—not a little

tin can.

” The proposed price tag was

put at $75,000 because, “

if I can’t sell

it for $75,000, I won’t build it.

” How

many? “

I’m only going to build 500 of


.” And he chose an Oldsmobile en-

gine because, “

it’s the only engine out

there that’s worth a shit

.” Shelby was

a bubbling fountain of colorful quotes.

Oldsmobile had not yet signed

onto the project but Landy was beat-

ing the drums as if it was already a

done deal. As push came to shove,

Shelby began to have second thoughts

about getting back into the car busi-

ness. It was an entirely different world

from the one he had waded into in the

1960s. He was older now (and suppos-

edly wiser), and he was not in perfect

health. Landy continued pushing,

however, probably feeling that once

momentum was lost it would become

impossible to regain. Shelby began to

wonder, did he really need this? Landy

convinced him that he did.

John Rock had yet to make a deci-

sion about Oldsmobile’s involvement

in a sports car project. Shelby had,

over the years, developed a gigantic

network of people in the automotive

industry and one was a friend named

Vic Olesen, a semi-retired marketing

executive who also happened to be, as

it turned out, a good friend of John

Rock. Shelby asked Olesen to act as a

go-between and see if he could accu-

rately gauge Rock’s level of interest.

Olesen discovered there was some, but

Landy was quickly draining it away.

After learning that Oldsmobile had

plans for a wide-ranging motorsports

program (World Sports Car, IMSA,

and even a new IRL series) Landy had

cobbled together a proposal for not

only an Olds powered Shelby sports

car but a program for Shelby Ameri-

can to handle all aspects of Oldsmobile

racing. Rock saw the camel’s nose get-

ting under his tent. The more Landy

talked, the more Rock disliked him. It

became clear to Shelby that it was up

to him to do something to hold things


In the previous year, 1994, Shelby

met Don Rager through an organ

transplant organization. Rager was a

Las Vegas businessman with a back-

ground in accounting. He was also a

car enthusiast who was drawn to

Shelby and they hit it off. Rager had

undergone a recent liver transplant

and Shelby was on his way to getting

a new kidney. Shelby found himself

agreeing less and less with Landy but

was reluctant to let him go until he

had a suitable replacement. He found

exactly that in Don Rager.

With Landy out of the picture and

Rager in it, Shelby’s Olds-powered

sports car project began to pick up

speed. Vic Olesen and Eric Davison


whose detailed book

, “Snake Bit—

Carroll Shelby’s Controversial Series

1 Sports Car”

was heavily relied on in

researching this article

] came on board

the sports car project, getting orders

and guidance from Shelby but filtered

through Rager – who made Landy

look good.

Don Rager seemed to be at the

center of a perpetual maelstrom which

was mostly his own creation. He

jumped from crisis to crisis. He rarely

returned phone calls or responded to

memos or faxes, and he seemed to con-

stantly be running behind schedules

that he, himself, had created. He tried

to micro-manage everything and

meetings with him were full of loud

talk, big promises and lots of arm wav-

ing. But when the smoke and haze

cleared, little had been accomplished.

Rager also set himself up as the only

one who could talk with Shelby. Any-

one who wanted to say anything to

Shelby had to go through him. As

Shelby’s kidney situation grew worse

he relied more and more on Rager. Be-

fore long Rager had installed himself

as the head of the Shelby sports car

project and everything was routed

through him.

In November of 1995, at the an-

nual SEMA Show in Las Vegas, it all

came together. Oldsmobile agreed to

provide Shelby engines and technical

support. They would also make avail-

able whatever GM parts were re-

quired at a fair price and would pump

some money into the project. A month

later, at a follow-up meeting with John

Rock at Olds’ headquarters in Lans-

ing, Michigan, Rock finally gave his of-

ficial approval. With everyone at

Oldsmobile worrying about a divi-

sion’s survival, many enthusiastically

saw a parallel between what the Viper

had done for Dodge’s image with

Shelby’s help and what Shelby had

done for Ford’s image with the Cobra.

Now it was time for the Texan to work

some of his magic for Oldsmobile.

Shelby hired several competent

people to take care of the engineering

and production details. Oldsmobile di-

rected a few high level people of their

own to help cut through the corporate

red tape. The schedule called for two


Fall 2016 38