Carroll Shelby R.I.P. (Restore Inexpensive Performance)

2012 Shelby GT350 Convertible

2012 Shelby GT350 Convertible

Dallas – Carroll Shelby, whose official biography should be subdivided into four separate (chicken farmer, driver, team owner and car builder) treatments, is arguably THE sports icon in Dallas, a town filled with sports icons. Of course, Shelby’s successes weren’t achieved, nor his legend created, on any real estate in or around North Texas. But the dream was born just east of here, and his first not-so-tentative steps at the wheel of a racecar were built upon the dust-covered dreams of a man with little but dirt, sweat and an uncanny ability to sell anything – including himself – at what we euphemistically call ‘over sticker’.

It was when examining Mr. Shelby’s latest release, the GT350 Convertible, that we were reminded of ‘over sticker’, and how today’s pricing of a Shelby product compares to those that preceded it. To be sure, any discussion of its price doesn’t diminish the GT350’s visual or functional bonafides. The Shelby Mustang is, if not aesthetically stunning, at least oh-my-gawd visceral. The various adds to the donor Mustang don’t – to their credit – detract, and a handful actually seem to enhance the overall impression. Notably, to the $36,000 MSRP of the donor convertible Mr. Shelby’s team adds $34K for the GT350 ‘package price’.

Carroll Shelby

Carroll Shelby

Now, if we were to stop at that $70,000 total there might be some grimacing. Given, however, the number of Shelby faithful, along with the limited number of years – going  forward – Mr. Shelby remains personally involved, $70K doesn’t seem to be unreasonable for a droptop ‘Stang propelled by 525 supercharged horses. It’s when Shelby marketing execs add another $17,000 in ‘performance upgrades’ that the eyes begin to roll, the mouth becomes dry and – if you’ve seen Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Contagion’ – our mouths begin to foam.

Behind the wheel we, of course, enjoyed the results of all this – our mouths were foaming in the good way. The GT350’s V8, now supplying 624 horsepower, is as strong as Carroll’s old chili recipe, while the Shelby/Borla exhaust is the best way to signal an arrival or departure since the 21-gun salute. And within the context of some 4,000 pounds, the Shelby’s suspension mods and stopping capability make the sum total seem almost athletic. But there’s a side of me – probably the underpaid/underemployed side of me – that recalls (nostalgically) those years when a Shelby product could still be purchased by the Average Joe.

Back in that day, one might spend $3K for a Mustang V8, and a 50% premium for Dr. Carroll’s bottle of mods. Even its low-volume Cobra contemporary, while expensive relative to the Mustang, wasn’t that far removed from the price of an E-Type, and Jaguar’s two-seater was renowned around the world for its performance value. The GT350 offered today has never been more competent, but at eighty-seven thousand as-tested dollars, the term ‘value’ will never (ever) cross your lips while describing it.

With Mr. Shelby’s professional career necessarily winding down, just as the all-new Mustang (reportedly scheduled for a Spring 2014 debut) is prepared to wind up, we’d ask Carroll to revisit his performance and pricing roots and, for one last time, create a Shelby product for the everyman. And no, we don’t mean the ‘Goes-Like-Hell’ formula introduced on the Dodge Omni during Carroll’s ‘Chrysler Period’. We’d like a Shelby Mustang stripped of pretense and focused solely on performance. And while more horsepower is certainly important, we also like less weight. We’re not asking Carroll (Shelby) to become Colin (Chapman), but as Ford – like all other OEMs – becomes serious about the Fed’s new fuel economy mandates, reducing curb weight should be a standard (if you will) add.

The end result – perhaps a Mustang closer to today’s Boss 302 – would be a completely credible ‘last hurrah’ for Shelby, sealing his reputation as an ‘everyman’ building cars for every man. This Shelby concept could debut at next year’s New York Auto Show, exactly fifty years after his Cobra first revealed its athletic stance at the very same venue. There, to channel lyricist Fred Ebb, Shelby could once again be ‘king of the hill, top of the heap…’

Not a bad way for a chicken farmer/driver/team owner/car builder to go out.