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How Shelby Works

Shelby Series I
The 1999 Shelby Series I sold for as much as $175,000, with only 249 cars of a planned 500 produced.

Just when all seemed lost for Shelby, Venture Industries, which supplied the carbon-fiber bodies, rode to the rescue, offering some $10 million for a 60-percent stake in Shelby American. By late April, Shelby American was honoring original contracts with dealers, depositers, and suppliers; lingering engineering bugs were fast being squashed; and production was up to 1.2 cars a day, thanks to more-efficient methods. But about 250 Series Is were still unsold, and price had to be hiked again -- first to $160,000, then to near $175,000 -- close, ironically, to the original 1994 figure.

For the few who got to drive it, the Series I was a genuine Shelby with all the thrills that name implied. Riding a tight 96.2-wheelbase, it was three inches wider than a C5 Corvette yet scaled a feathery 2650 pounds. The carbon-fiber body weighed only 130 pounds, yet was stronger than steel.

So, too, the chassis, made up from extruded-aluminum members and boasting a resonance frequency of 52 hertz, more than double the best then attained in production cars. Suspension was also mostly aluminum, with four-wheel independent geometry by upper and lower control arms, adjustable shocks, and coil springs attached to Formula 1-style pushrod-operated inboard rocker arms. This layout not only reduced undesirable unsprung weight, but could be easily custom-tuned.

An antiroll bar lived at each end. Brakes were contemporary Corvette discs of 13-inch diameter fore, 12 inches aft. As with the Viper, though, Shelby felt no need for antilock control. Steering was the expected power rack-and-pinion. Rolling stock comprised five-spoke 18-inch alloys wearing Z-rated Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires sized at P265/40 front, P315/40 rear.

A Corvette six-speed manual gearbox was sited in the tail, helping achieve the ideal 50/50 weight distribution. The Aurora V-8 got new camshafts, intake manifold, exhaust system, and control chip, modest changes that nevertheless yielded 320 bhp -- up 70 from stock -- and 30 extra pound-feet of torque (290 in all).

With a stump-pulling 4.22:1 rear axle and carrying just 8.3 pounds per horsepower, the Series I was claimed to do 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, 0-100 in 11 flat, and a 12.8-second standing quarter-mile at 109.9 mph. AutoWeek found those numbers credible, though it couldn't confirm them in testing two prototypes.

But the magazine did find the Series I "a blast to drive. It handles like a world-class sports car." Yet this Shelby was no raw-edged Cobra, equipped with standard air conditioning, power windows, leather-trimmed cockpit, and a booming stereo. Some GM bits were obvious inside, but the manual folding top was snug and easy to operate, and workmanship improved to first-class once Venture came aboard. By February 2002, Shelby American had delivered 240 Series Is, with orders for 25 more.

But when a new round of federal regulations required the car to be recertified for sale after 1999, Shelby halted Series I production after 249 units. That seemed to leave the remaining 251 scheduled cars in limbo, but Shelby later marketed them as "component vehicles," like his latter-day Cobras, after securing an outside company to install Olds V-8s postpurchase.

And in line with original plans, that engine was finally available in a supercharged version, making the Series I an "honest 3.3-second [0-60] car," according to Shelby. "There's a lot of people that want them as kit cars," he said in August 2004. "We have had 15 or 20 bites and we've sold two or three." The rest will doubtless find homes, too.

For more on the amazing Shelby cars, old and new, see:

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