Few people know that only twelve days after Karl Benz unveiled his 1886 Benz Motorwagen, an American boutique company produced an aero kit and high-flow exhaust pipe for the same car. These upgrades raised the brake horsepower from a meager two-thirds to a full pony.
So, when Carroll Shelby started Shelby America in 1962 with the vision of selling performance parts and tuning production stock cars into performance monsters, it was already an idea that had been in practice for decades. But Carroll Shelby was a genius, and his company went on to build some of the most iconic cars, many of them based on various ford models, or using Ford powertrains.
The former American 24 Hours of Le Mans champion turned inventor made some unique, versatile, and capable automobiles. Shelby, the company, has continued the tradition of churning out legendary cars even in its founder’s absence. So which are the coolest ever made by Shelby cars? Let’s find out.
10 50th Anniversary Shelby GT40 MKII
In 1965, the GT40 program turned out to be Ford’s most important racing investment in the American manufacturer’s history. The collaboration between Ford and Shelby beat Ferrari and dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a sweeping 1-2-3 finish at the 1966 race, followed by three more consecutive wins. Fifty years later, Shelby made the GT40 Shelby Edition to honor the historic Shelby GT40 MKII.
The continuation cars carry the DNA of the original car, with a steel monocoque unibody chassis and independent suspensions. All dimensions and cockpit design are identical to the legendary champion.
9 1965-’66 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
Car enthusiasts fell in love with the Mustang immediately after it went on sale in 1964. But that original car was far from a sports car, as it was based on the Falcon, an economy car. Ford turned to Shelby to turn the Mustang into a race-worthy car ready to compete in the SCCA’s B Production class. Shelby made several changes, including removing the back seat, adding a Holley carburetor, exhaust headers, Koni shocks, and sportier wheels.
The result was a performance increase from 271-hp to 306hp. 562 units of the GT350 were made, exceeding the 100 minimum required to homologate it for competition. Today, it is one of the most iconic Mustangs ever made.
8th 1989 Dodge Omni GLH-S
When Carroll Shelby switched to Dodge after his good pal Lee Iacocca took over Chrysler, there wasn’t a car in the Dodge lineup that offered anything similar to a Mustang or a Cobra. Thanks to its low mass and uncomplicated engineering, Shelby opted for the lowly Omni as his template. The 2.2-liter I4 powered car saw its output increase to 110hp in the first year, up to 175hp in the ‘Goes Like Hell Some More’ model.
The Omni GLH-S did not set sales records ablaze, but it set a precedent for genuinely powerful small cars that travel our roads today.
7 2013 Shelby GT500 Mustang
This is arguably one of the best Shelby cars you can drive, and it is even more special since it was the last car to be launched by Shelby himself. At the time, it was the most powerful production car, with a supercharged 5.2-liter V8 engine producing 662hp.
The 2013 Shelby GT500 Mustang came with a revised agile and responsive suspension. Add the high-performance figures, and you have a car that embodies the spirit of the Shelby cars that came before it, only this time packed with modern features.
6 1968 Shelby EXP 500 “Green Hornet”
The Shelby EXP 500 never went into production, since Ford and Shelby built it as one of two prototypes meant for R&D purposes. Barrett-Jackson CEO Craig Jackson currently owns both cars; the other is the 1967 “Little Red.” This car is arguably the most important prototype from the GT/SC program, as it prided trailblazing muscle car hardware from the late ’60s.
The Green Hornet project started with a 390-cubic inch V-8 engine, but Shelby replaced it with a fuel-injected 428 engine. Shelby also fixed a Thunderbird tail light and custom body panels and completed the conversion with a gearbox based on a truck transmission, rear suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes.
5 1968 Toyota 2000GT
Many people may consider the Honda NSX or the Nissan R390 the first Japanese supercar. But the Toyota 2000GT, probably the best-looking Japanese car ever made, was the car that ushered Japan into the world of supercars. It is easy to see why it was the only Japanese car Shelby ever worked on; it was low, sleek, and very fast.
Shelby stripped down two of the 351 units ever made, freed them of unnecessary bits, upped the engine capacity, and replaced the tires and suspensions, ready to race and win in the SCCA production car competitions.
4 Cobra 260 Mark I & Cobra 289 Mark II
Back in the 50s, American car enthusiasts felt that besides muscle cars, there weren’t any genuinely good sports cars to be proud of, which paved the way for the birth of a legend. A former Le Mans winner who would have remained a mere footnote in racing history built himself a lasting legacy by slapping an all-American V8 motor in a lightweight British car, the AC Cobra. The engine only produced 271hp, but given the lightweight package, it could compete against the mighty Ferraris and Corvettes.
Both the Mark I and Mark II were unsophisticated cars, and besides the aluminum bodywork, it was almost primitive in design with technologies from the early 50s. But both cars’ successes were in their development rather than design.
3 Shelby Series 1 And Series 2
The Shelby Series 1 was the great man’s attempt at creating a car that would cap his unmatched career. In his words, the ambitious project was meant to be ‘a clean-sheet sports car’ free of imitations and an honest-to-goodness Cobra, the first one built from the ground up by Shelby. When it was introduced in 1998, it was a car out of time with its retro styling. The roadster came with sharp handling, a modern powertrain, and precision driving.
Only 250 units of the Oldsmobile-powered Series 1 were made. The low production Series 2 was a leap forward from Series 1, and it blends classic craftsmanship and modern technologies, pushing the roadster towards supercar territory.
2 Shelby F-150
Flashy high-horsepower muscle pickup trucks are the rave lately, with the likes of Dodge and Ford producing trucks that can rival supercars on straight-line performance. The Shelby F-150 Super Snake with the most outrageous trucks, coming with 775hp of bite that helps it launch to 60 mph in just 3.45 seconds to place it in the conversation for the fastest pickup trucks ever made.
The Super Snake is based on the outgoing Ford F-150, and it received a lowered suspension, upgraded brakes, 6-piston front calipers, a body kit, and 22-inch wheels on high-performance street tires.
1 Cobra 427 Super Snake
This car best describes Carroll Shelby, a man who did things just because he could. Why? He took the 427, which was already the most vicious car in production by some distance, and decided to go an extra mile with two of the cars. After receiving twin Paxton superchargers, massive hood scoops, and more responsive three-speed automatic transmissions, the 427 Super Snakes could boast between 800 and 900hp on tap.
Shelby kept one car for himself and the other for his buddy Bill Cosby. Cosby was scared of the car, and it was later sold. The new owner drove it off a cliff and into the ocean. In 2007, Shelby’s car became the most expensive American car when it sold for $5.5 million at the Barrett-Jackson auction.
sources: shelby.com, barret-jackson.com, harmety.com, hotcars.com
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