Viva Las Vegas: Our Visit to the Shelby Museum
We didn’t get away to celebrate our milestone anniversaries, or my recent retirement. In December, I said to my wife, Judy, we’re going to Las Vegas soon! Our last time there was in 2009. We did go in mid Feb. This time we saw Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” water show. We also saw Donny & Marie. Both shows were excellent! The weather was 23C & sunny. No humidity!
After I “humoured” Judy with a visit to the (north Vegas) Outlet Mall, I dragged her by taxicab, to Carroll Shelby-Shelby Heritage Center. The complex used to be north of the city, near Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It now resides south of the Strip, near McCarran International Airport. The building features the Shelby factory; gift shop; DRIVERS TALK RADIO, radio station; & museum. There is no admission, but they ask for a donation to Carroll’s children’s charity. I gladly tossed in $20 USF. From the Foundation web: The Carroll Shelby Foundation is dedicated to providing financial support for children and medical professionals to help overcome life-threatening health issues worldwide and promoting continuing educational development.
Carroll Shelby was a Texan (January 11, 1923 – May 10, 2012). He lived 89 years. During World War II, he was an Air Force Flight Instructor. He did not see action. After the war, he was a chicken farmer, & oil well worker. In the 1950’s, he started racing. In 1959, he co-drove an Aston Martin to victory in the prestigious 24 Hours of Lemans! He drove Cadillac-powered Allard’s, Ferrari’s, Austin Healey’s, & Maserati’s, as well. Also, in ’58-’59, he drove in 8 Formula 1 Grand Prix. However, he did not score points.
In 1960, he retired from racing, due to heart problems. He had a heart transplant in 1990 and a kidney transplant in 1996. While in the hospital, he sadly saw children with major medical problems. This inspired him to start the Carroll Shelby foundation.
In 1962, he opened Shelby America Inc., in Los Angeles, near LAX airport. Shelby realized by using a light weight car (Britain’s AC), & an American powerful V8 engine, he’d have a winner. His 1st Shelby was called CSX 2000. It was sold at auction, for over $23 million!
He built just 6 Daytona Coupes. They were Ford V8 powered, 289 CID (cubic inch displacement), or 4.7 litres, mated to a 4 speed manual transmission. The car was capable of 200+ mph/320+ kph! The initial testing, was at Riverside, California. Shelby’s test driver, Ken Miles, pitted after just 2 laps. “This car is not driveable,” he said. Shelby’s aerodynamics technician fabricated an aluminum rear spoiler, and riveted it on. Then, Miles knocked 3 seconds off the track record! In ’64 & ’65, the Daytona Coupe won numerous GT class races, at Lemans, Daytona, Sebring, etc.
Shelby was tied to Ford’s Lee Iaccoca. Thus, the Shelby Mustang was built. Shelby joined Ford’s assault on Ferrari, at Lemans. Henry Ford II wanted to buy Ferrari, but Enzo Ferrari wouldn’t sell the company. So Ford said, “let’s beat Ferrari!” He assembled Shelby along with another Carroll …Smith (considered to be the best racing mechanic). Add great drivers for the GT40, & Ford was 1-2, in 1966!
Fast forward to today, the Las Vegas factory employs 150. They work 6:00 AM-2:30 PM, Monday to Friday. The AC Cobras & Ford GT’s offer Utah-built aluminum bodies, or South African-built fiberglass bodies. If paint is requested (vs. polished aluminum) by the customer, it is sprayed in this factory. Shelby Mustangs are painted by Ford, & Shelby add-ons (spoilers, grills/noses, etc.) are colour-matched there. Shelby found a loop-hole, with American DOT registration. If they build less than 335 unit/models per year, they can use the ’60’s build year…this avoids current day emission, & crash standards. The AC Cobras & Ford GT’s are built as rollers (complete, less engine & transmissions). Then they are shipped to authorized Shelby dealers, who install the customer-requested powertrain. There is no typical assembly line. There are hoists & work stations. While we were on the tour, something roared on the dyno. That’s how you get a grown, & grumpy old man, to smile!
A wealthy collector from Montreal, PQ, once showed up with a blank cheque. After review, Shelby Sales returned the cheque. The car couldn’t be registered/titled in Canada. This was due to Transport Canada’s rules. Any new vehicle here, must adhere to current crash, & emission standards.
We did a self-paced tour. There are approximately 30 Shelby vehicles on display. All are Ford powered, except for 2 Mopar’s (Chrysler)…80’s, Shelby Charger, based on an Omni 024, & an Omni GLH (Goes Like Hell). Again, thanks to Iaccoca. The other car is a 1999 Oldsmobile-powered Shelby Series 1. Later, Shelby would do initial development work on the Dodge Viper. 1 Ford powered of note, is a new Shelby Mustang 1000. It’s 1 of 35. It came off the dyno at 1040 brake horsepower (at the rear wheels)!
An hour later, we did the guided tour. Our guide was the very knowledgeable, Mr. Jim King. He is Shelby’s Historian, & a gentleman. He retired from the Ford Motor Company. He knew lots about Canada, because he held several Senior Management positions, at Ford Canada! One Canadian Ford dealer was quoted, saying, “Canadian dealers loved Jim.”
Jim shared many stories, & tidbits of Shelbymania. The famous ’66 Mustang GT350 was named, because it was 248 steps from the office, to the shop floor. Go figure!
After we left the exhibition hall, we were escorted into the factory. Here we stood in a safe area, while Jim rattled off even more Shelby trivia. Shelby supplies marker pens, & tour guests are encouraged to sign the factory wall. We did!
We finished our 3 hour visit (yes, even Judy liked it!), with a stop in the Gift Shop. It’s roughly the size of a fast food restaurant, or coffee shop! Judy bought me a book, & a T-shirt.
Judy met Loretta. Her husband Gary, owns a 2007 black Shelby Mustang convertible. They kindly offered us a ride in their rental car, back to the Strip. Nice folks! We bought them milkshakes, & chatted for a few more hours. Ironically, he works for a Canadian company: Bombardier’s Wichita, KS, LearJet division.
Then we caught the redeye, back home. It was a great, albeit, short 3 night trip!