Shelby Cars are Still Impressive – Paul Fix II

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Shelby Cars are Still Impressive

By Paul Fix, Car Coach Reporter

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As most car people are aware, Carroll Shelby started to build his famous cars in his Venice, California shop, Shelby American Inc., in 1962. His pinnacle car was the Cobra in small block and big block configurations. Shelby later went on to built the GT 350 and GT 500 Mustangs.

The popularity of these cars was brought about The Shelby American Automobile Club or SAAC for short. The club is over 5,000 members strong and every year for the past 35 years they have held a national convention at a different location. Typical events include road race courses like Watkins Glen, Mid Ohio, or Road America. An evening program with notable Shelby drivers, designers, management and other VIPs is always a big draw. Other popular events are the Concourse judged show and popular vote show. Open track sessions and a few vintage races are always crowd-pleasers and typical events stretch over 3 to 4 days.

This year’s national convention was held at Infineon Raceway. NASCAR fans will recognize the track as one of the road courses visited every season. The last time the SAAC convention was in Sonoma, California, the event was held at Sears Point Raceway in 1989. We attended and had a very memorable experience. Hertz rented us a new Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe which, at the time, was a fairly fast car. The fun began with a speeding ticket on the way to the event; then I blew the turbo while traveling over the Golden Gate Bridge.  We had to nurse it to the end where there was a parking lot at the lookout point. Then we had to wait hours until Hertz brought us a replacement turbo coupe. The following evening, the ¼ mile Drag Track was open to all the participants and we thrashed the hell out of it.

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So, this year I was hoping for a great experience again, especially since I was taking my 16 year old son and my wife planned to meet us while out on the west coast between shoots.

Unfortunately, our big trip didn’t start out very well—we were delayed out of Buffalo for mechanical problems on what looked liked a brand new jet operated by Masaba Air. We were told that the secondary altimeter had malfunctioned. As a result, we missed our connection into Detroit, home of the Mustang (You’ll notice I always reference the Mustang somehow).

Although we were upgraded to first class leaving Detroit, we had to wait until noon; throwing off our schedule by 3 hours.
Our intention was to meet my good friend, Dan Schneeweiss, at the track around noon.
He was trailering his 1966 Shelby GT350 from Los Angeles for the concourse show. His is a really nice car described as a “survivor” because it has original, never restored paint (red with white stripes) and a 4-speed transmission.

We finally arrived late at the track in our rented 2010 Mustang. Registration was closed but we were able to talk our way in. We visited with Dan and walked around. My son was amazed at the number of early Shelby’s that showed. The quality was spectacular.

Some real high profile cars were in attendance, including the 2nd and 3rd production 1965 GT350’s and another early car #22, which was a fantastic restoration.

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We also spotted one of the original Cobra Daytona Coupes, A Ford GT40 MKIV. There were quite a few original competition Cobra’s and early ’66 GT350’s

The current Shelby American Inc. was there with their new 2011 GT350 and they beat the crap out of it on the track all four days.

The concourse judged show featured some beautiful Shelby’s from every year, in every factory color you could think of. This was especially a nice treat for me since we saw a whole different bunch of cars than you normally spot on the East coast. The popular vote show brought out a ton of Shelby’s. A lot of the cars were actually driven to and from the event. One owner I spoke with drove 20 hours from Vancouver BC Canada with his kids in a 1966 Shelby GH350 black and gold striped Hertz car. Now that’s passion.

Every day, the 3-mile road course was open to drivers participating in the open track event. The cars were classified by driver experience and car potential with limited passing. The feature track event was two vintage races. The first group was Shelby-only cars and the second session was the west coast vintage Trans Am Series cars from the 60’s era. There was fierce competition in both races with no one parade lapping around.

The day was filled with so much to take in, so many cars to see, and so many new and old friends to talk with, that time at the track ended too quickly.

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The evening program at the host hotel was great as usual. This year we were treated to a Q&A format emceed by club guru and all around jester, Rick Kopec. Special interviewees included Lew Spencer, the ex factory Shelby American driver turned race operations director, Bob Bondurant, famous racecar driver and factory driver for Shelby (who just had just recently remarried again to a young blond), Chuck Cantwell, the 1965 GT350 program director,  and Peter Brock,  responsible for the design of everything Shelby and Cobra, from body design, to logos and the famous layout of LeMans stripes.

These guys had great insight into the workings of Shelby in the first days of production and racing and shared fantastic and surprisingly funny stories. Unfortunately, Carroll was not in attendance this year.

The weekend was over too quickly and we already can’t wait to hear where the next national convention will be. If you love these cars as much as the Fix Family, you’ll want to be there too.