35 Years of the Shelby American Automotive Club
By Paul Fix II, Car Coach Reporter
As most car people are aware, Carroll Shelby started to build his famous cars in his Shelby American Inc., Venice California shop in 1962. The most significant car was the Cobra, in small block and big block configurations, and later he built the GT 350 and GT 500 Mustangs. Popularity of these cars brought about The Shelby American Automobile Club – SAAC for short. The club is over 5000 members strong, and every year for the past 35 years they have held a national convention at a different location. Typical events revolve around activities at a road race course like Watkins Glen, Mid Ohio, or Road America – an evening program with notable Shelby drivers, designers, management and others, a Concourse-judged show and popular vote show, open track sessions and a few vintage races, etc. Typical events stretch over 3 to 4 days.
This year’s national convention was held at the Infineon Raceway. All you 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 was 1989 at the Sears Point Raceway. We attended and had a very memorable experience. Hertz rented us a new Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. At the time, it was a fairly fast car. The fun began with a speeding ticket on the way to the event (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 look out point. We had to wait hours until Hertz brought us a replacement turbo coupe. Once at the event, the following evening, the ¼ mile Drag Track was open to all the participants, and we thrashed the hell out of it.
This year, I was hoping for a great experience, especially since I was taking my 16 yr old son. Luckily, my wife was meeting us as well while out on the west coast between shoots.
Well it didn’t start out to well as we were delayed out of Buffalo for a mechanical on what looked liked a brand new jet operated by Masaba Air. We were told the secondary Altimeter had malfunctioned.
So we missed our connection in Detroit: home of the Mustang, (you’ll notice I always reference the mustang somehow), but we got upgraded to first class leaving Detroit but 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. â€¨He was trailering his 1966 Shelby GT350 from Los Angeles for the concourse show, a really nice car that is described as a survivor – original paint, never restored and red with white stripes and a 4 speed.
We finally arrived at the track in our rented 2010 Mustang, late. 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 and the quality was spectacular.
Some really 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.One of the original Cobra Daytona Coupes, A Ford GT40 MKIV, 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 were beating 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 being from the East coast we saw a whole different bunch of cars. The popular vote show brought out a ton of Shelby’s. A lot of them actually driven to and from the event. One owner I spoke with drove 20 hours from Vancover 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 second 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, all the cars to see, so many new and old friends to talk with, time at the track ended too quickly.
The evening program at the host hotel was great as usual. This year we were treated to a Q&A format emmced by club guru and all around jester Rick Kopec. Special people interviewed included, Lew Spencer the ex factory Shelby American driver turned race operations director. Bob Bonderant, famous race car driver and factory driver for Shelby, who just had just recently remarried again to a young blond. Chuck Cantwell the 1965 GT350 program director. Peter Brock who was 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 back in the first days of production and racing with fantastic and surprisingly funny stories. Unfortunately Carroll was not in attendance this year.
The weekend was over too quick and we can’t wait to here where the next national convention will be. If you love these cars you’ll want to be there too.