How Shelby Works

Shelby Cobra 427SC, Shelby SP360, Shelby Cobra CSX 4000

Carroll Shelby wrote two postscripts to his Ford experience. The first involved a dozen GT 350 convertibles built from restored Mustangs, essentially brand-new '66 models identical to Shelby's original six prototypes. All sold quickly despite stiff $40,000 price tags. Shelby sprang a similar surprise in early '93 by announcing that four dozen "continuation" Cobra 427SCs would be assembled from never-used stock parts he had stored away back in the '60s.

A heart transplant forced Shelby to slow down for a while, yet he somehow found the time and energy to be the "spiritual conscience" behind the Cobra-like 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10. In late 1997 he lent his name to something rather unusual for him: a hot-rodded Dodge Durango sport-utility vehicle.

Premiered as a concept at the SEMA aftermarket-industry show, the Shelby SP360 was a limited-edition SUV created by several independent tuners hoping to win Carroll's endorsement, which they did. The concept used a supercharged 5.9-liter (360-cid) Dodge V-8 making 360 bhp, plus a fortified suspension and other Shelby-style features, including Cobra Blue paint and broad white dorsal striping. Dodge said only 3000 SP360s would be built, all in 1999, but actual production was minuscule.

By this point, however, Shelby had long since drifted away from Chrysler (his pal Iacocca had left in 1992) and was pursuing various businesses new and old, plus charitable projects. After moving some of his enterprises to new facilities near the recently opened Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he began advertising another "new-old" Cobra, the CSX 4000. This looked much like an original 427, but was sold without an engine as a "component vehicle," again to sidestep pesky "gummint" rules.

Shelby was now in his 70s, but as restless as ever. "I'm tired of imitations," he had told the press. "Folks have put the Cobra name on all sorts of stuff...but none of them were Shelby Cobras. Before they throw the last shovel of dirt on me, I want to take one last shot at an honest-to-goodness Cobra."

Though not exactly a Cobra, the prosaically named Series I (internally designated CSX 5000) would prove the most-vexing car of Shelby's storied career. It entered production -- with great difficulty -- in 1999 after some five years of second thoughts and false starts. The original plan, revealed in April 1994, was for a twin-turbo V-8 roadster with 500 bhp, a chassis made of high-tech carbon fiber, and a staggering $200,000 price tag. Only 500 would be built.

The engine would come from none other than flagging Oldsmobile. Olds general manager John Rock, a cowboy type worthy of Shelby himself, suggested the new 4.0-liter twincam Aurora V-8, hoping an Olds-powered "Cobra for the '90s" would do for his brand what the Viper had done for Dodge. But market realities soon forced downshifting to a less-ambitious $50,000 machine.

The Series I premiered as a "pushmobile" at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show in January 1997. A running prototype was tested the following October, by which time the chassis was a steel-tube structure supporting a carbon-fiber body. Initial deliveries were planned for 1998. But uncharacteristically, Shelby American underestimated production costs by a whopping $60,000 a car.

That, plus unforeseen development glitches and construction delays with the new Las Vegas plant, pushed production back to mid-1999. By that point the price had soared to near $100,000 and soon went to nearly $114-grand. Despite sizable deposits from 300 would-be owners and a handful of Olds dealers who would sell the car, the project was almost bankrupt by year's end, when only 20 Series Is had been built.

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