Shelby GT 500E, Shelby GT-H, Shelby CS 6
Shelby was also far from finished with the Cobra. Indeed, it remained the heart and soul of his business. Though "component vehicles" are beyond the scope of this article, these merit mention as lineal descendants commonly accepted as true Shelby Cobras. Not "originals," however. Again typical of the man, Ol' Shel couldn't resist updating his signature car with new technology, components, and materials. Anything to go faster.
There were several variations, each carefully built in small numbers, some bodied in fiberglass instead of aluminum. Announced in 2002 were specially trimmed 40th anniversary Cobras, a 40-unit run split between a small-block CSX 8000 and the first 427 model with an aluminum-block supercharged engine. Appearing two years later were an AC 427 S/C (CSX 1000) and AC 289 FIA (CSX 7500). The initials signified bodies supplied by AC Motor Holdings, the Malta-based descendant of Britain's A.C. Cars, which had sold various Cobras of its own through several corporate incarnations.
Now Shelby and AC had finally joined forces (after settling an intellectual property dispute), which seemed only right. By the mid-2000s, the Cobra duo had become a trio comprising big-block 427 (still CSX 4000), 289 Street (CSX 8000), and track-ready 289 FIA (CSX 7000). All these "continuations" were sold as rolling chassis ready for installation of Shelby-vetted "crate motors" based on period-correct 1960s Ford engines. Of course, Shelby sold those too, plus all manner of parts and accessories.
There was also another "continuation" Shelby Mustang, the GT 500E "Eleanor," star of the auto-heist film Gone in 60 Seconds. Built in Texas, again from pristine restorations, the Eleanors carried a Shelby-tuned 5.4-liter Ford V-8 and carefully updated styling. Only a handful were completed, all in 2003.
Meanwhile, Shelby renewed personal ties with Ford, lending his priceless first-hand experience to the development of the roadgoing midengine Ford GT patterned on the great, late-'60s LeMans-winning racer. For Shelby, still energetic at 80, it must have been an emotional homecoming.
He then served as "spiritual advisor" on Ford's 2004 Cobra concept roadster (a mix of GT components and a mighty new 605-bhp front-mounted V-10) and a rebodied 2005 follow-up, the rakish Shelby GR-1 coupe. More significant to this article were his contributions to showroom models, starting with the muscular 2007 Shelby-Cobra GT 500 based on Ford's newly redesigned Mustang.
As ever, though, Shelby couldn't let Ford have all the glory. Bringing history full circle, he teamed with Hertz on a modern "rent-a-racer," the Shelby GT-H. Available at select U.S. airports starting in mid-2006, it began, fittingly, as a Mustang fastback, a V-8 GT with automatic transmission (now a five-speed unit).
Shelby shopped Ford Racing Performance Parts for a "cold-air kit," low-restriction "cat back" exhaust system, and a new engine-control chip to realize 325 bhp and 330 pound-feet of torque, up 25 bhp and 10 pound-feet from stock. The same source also supplied special high-rate shocks, low-rise springs, heftier antiroll bars, and a front strut-tower brace, plus a tighter rear-axle ratio. Livery was predictably retro: prominent gold stripes, black paint, thin-bar grille, and racing-style lock pins on a domed Shelby-designed hood, plus a modest rear spoiler and subtle aerodynamic fairings beneath the nose and rocker panels.
With all this, the GT-H promised much excitement at Hertz service counters. Disappointment would be inevitable, too, as only 500 cars would be built for rental at 14 far-flung points. The clamor should be no less fierce once GT-Hs reach the collector market, as they inevitably will.
For those who'd rather buy than rent, Shelby had another 2006 surprise, the CS 6 package. This picked up on an idea Ford had toyed with back in the 1960s: a high-performance six-cylinder Mustang. In yet another link to the past, Shelby offered a Paxton supercharger (a Novi-1200 centrifigal unit) for the base-Mustang 4.0-liter V-6.
When properly installed (by the customer or a shop of his or her choice), horsepower jumped by at least 140 to a stout 350. Also available were a suitably uprated suspension, brakes, custom 20-inch American Racing wheels, exhaust, and body addenda (including hood, front fascia, side scoops, and grille) a la GT-H. Shelby sold the CS 6 components separately or as a complete package for $14,999.
A signal event in the business story came in 2004 with the formation of Carroll Shelby International, Inc. as a public stock company. CSBI, to use its ticker symbol, oversees Shelby Automobiles in Las Vegas, which not only builds vehicles but offers consultant services in design, engineering, and prototype construction. The CSI umbrella also covers Los Angeles-based Carroll Shelby Licensing, Inc., established in 1988 as basically a legal clearinghouse for Shelby vehicle designs, trademarks, and other intellectual property.
That's the Shelby saga so far, but it's surely far from finished. Carroll Shelby has been described as having "the unique ability to combine elements so that their sum becomes greater than the total of their parts." Though the same can be said for other automotive geniuses, there's never been one like ol' Shel -- and never will be again.