The legendary Carroll Shelby died recently at age 89. He definitely went out on a high note, as the fastest production car to carry his name – the 662 horsepower Shelby GT500 – was unleashed about the same time. It’s one heck of a final act.
Ol’ Shel, as he was known, was a character Hollywood would have been hard-pressed to invent. Early on, he liked to wear bib overalls (he supposedly once arrived late at a racetrack, coming from his Texas chicken farm). Having a bad heart – which later led to a transplant – Shelby drove his last races with a nitroglycerin tablet under his tongue. But, although he was a remarkably multi-talented man – winning Le Mans in 1959 as a racing driver, building legendary high-performance cars (witness the famous Cobra), leading racing teams and being a phenomenally successful businessman – more than anything, Shelby was a showman.
Some years ago I was part of a magazine’s effort to reproduce the original Cobra 427’s legendary performance at tackling a “0-100-mph-0 test.” You accelerate as fast as you can to 100 mph and then slam on the brakes and see how long the whole thing takes. (Yes, grown men actually do such things.)
Shelby’s original claim was 13.8 seconds, accomplished at LAX by the great British driver Ken Miles. The re-enactment found me behind the wheel of one of Carroll Shelby’s own Cobras – with Ol’ Shel himself giving advice – at the historic Pomona drag strip.
Being a driver without a molecule of Miles’ abilities, I was struggling, run after run falling way short. After each attempt, Shelby would encourage me to shift at a higher rpm, while the car’s mechanic, standing behind him, frantically waved “No! No!” because he was afraid the engine would blow up. Eventually Carroll noticed and said, “Don’t worry about him. I got plenty more motors. Rev it higher!”
I finally shifted at a lofty-enough rpm that the engine went bang, clang, clang, clang; I coasted to a halt in a cloud of steam. Shelby appeared, at least, unconcerned, which made me feel a little better.
The car never did actually fail to reproduce the fabled time; it blew up first. A crafty man, this Mr. Shelby. And ever since, I’ve been able to tell people that I blew up Carroll’s Cobra right in front of him.
The GT500 is Ol’ Shel’s brand of showmanship at its best. Not so much because of its vision-blurring power but because of one show-stopping statement: It can go 200 mph. That’s right. Here’s a production Mustang you can go out and buy just like you would a Honda Civic so you can go 200 mph – and straight to jail if you try it. However, Ford staff were able to prove the claim at an ideal location, the Nardo test facility in Italy, so you don’t have to.
It can accomplish such an astonishing thing due to its supercharged 5.8-liter (355 cubic inch) V8 coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission and, ultimately, gigantically wide (11.25-inch) rear tires.
Zero to 60 mph? About 3.5 seconds, if need be. And, gosh, I wonder how quickly it could do 0-100-mph-0? I wish Carroll was here to goad us on.
Kim Reynolds is testing director of Motor Trend magazine.