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 [already] sold two or three." The rest will doubtless find homes, too.