A Gathering Of Snakes & More At The Carroll Shelby Tribute Show

Shelby American is a company now tasked with perpetually stoking its historical flame, while simultaneously inventing the next new thing in performance vehicles. To help feed both flames, it hosts a car show every May. Held at the company’s Gardena, California, facility and taking up both the parking lot and the warehouse space as well, the show has a definite two-part feel as it heartily celebrates the past while welcoming the future.

Appropriately, it’s called the Carroll Shelby Tribute and Car Show. Thanks to the venue, the oversized posters and all the OG’s onsite it seems to enshrine Carroll’s enthusiasm for cars, racing and life itself as much as present a bunch of cars to enjoy. This year a low, dark overcast made for a moody scene, but all those Shelby’s brightened everyone’s spirits and not melting under a solar broiler was a welcome change.

Outside in the parking lot, the flavor is club car show. The phalanx of Shelby and Cobra clubs making up the classic Shelby universe are well-represented, the original and replica Cobras intermingling in about equal numbers although the nod goes to the originals. At the same time, the modern Shelby Mustangs are at least as numerous as the Cobras and take up duty in their own corners of the lot.

Original Venice Crew

Pattern car for the Original Venice Crew is this original GT350R. The “I” in the race number denotes the IRS system originally designed in the 1960s but updated for the modern continuation series. Everything on these cars is as hand-built as possible by original Shelby fabricators to retain the original sense of cottage-built race cars. This includes gas-welded aluminum bits, hand-rolled fenders and such.

As an organization, Shelby American may be best thought of as a car-building parent corporation which readily forms alliances with a broad range of associates. There are many such associations, from business alliances to charitable giving, all carrying the Shelby name or legacy forward.

One such is the Original Venice Crew, a creation of Pete Brock, Jim Marietta, and Ted Sutton, all of whom worked at Shelby American Inc. at its first shop up the road in Venice, California. Today the OVC shop is located inside the Shelby American building in Gardena, California. Their product is the 1965 Shelby GT350R, which they build new, starting with original K-Code Ford Mustangs.

There are a few changes, of course. Some young muscle is needed to do the heavy lifting, so a squad of young folks are working alongside the oldsters. We spoke to one such youngster, Daniel Sculnick, who obviously reveres the old timers he’s working with and says when, “They say jump I say how high?”

Daniel pointed out an original R-Code on hand as OVC’s template. Interestingly, it has an independent rear suspension originally designed and tested back the day. Customers have their choice of using either the IRS or the standard stick axle in their new cars. The iconic rear quarter window and front lower fascia have been redesigned for better functionality by Brock, too.

All the new R-models are rotisserie builds and feature 440-horsepower Shelby Engine Company (another associate) engines. They weigh 2,800 pounds wet and cost a $250,000.

We’ll admit we weren’t thinking of current GT350s when heading off to the CST&CS, but that just tells you we weren’t thinking. The latest GT350 is definitely a welcome addition to the Shelby family and the CST&CS had a whole row of Voodoo magic on hand.

Although free and well-publicized among the Shelby faithful, the show hasn’t made it on the public’s radar so it’s a blessedly insider’s crowd and they keep busy eyeing cars, telling tales, and gathering the all-important autographs on their glove box doors, intake air inlets, engine compartments, deck lids, hoods, sales brochures, hats, shirts and anything else that can be shown off. In short, it’s a bunch of car nuts, some food trucks, and everything 30 years or newer seemingly has a blower on it.

Los Angeles is the Cobra’s hometown and the collectors don’t mind bringing out their expensive originals for a Shelby show. Here Cobraman extraordinaire Lynn Park prepares to park one of his many snakes.

Inside the warehouse there is more owner enthusiasm on display, but also some Shelby American corporate drum-beating. This year, the Bullitt crowd gathered inside to honor the movie’s 50th anniversary and to ogle the 2019 Mustang Bullitt, but the rest was mainly Shelby American’s latest on display. That meant a small stage, some video presentations, unveiling of the Series 2 roadster (in aluminum no less) and an example of the re-released 1967 GT500 Super Snake.

Catching Up With Gary Patterson

Gary Patterson emerges from the smoke to gather the accolades of his adoring public. He and Vince Laviolette, Shelby’s Vice President of Operations had just completed a dual burnout: Gary spinning the 1,000 lb-ft of torque Shelby 1000 pickup’s duals and Vince smoking the Super Snake on the trailer attached to the truck, which was so very Shelby.

There are car guys, there are power-hungry enthusiasts, and then there is Gary Patterson. Long serving in many capacities at Shelby American, seemingly beginning as apprentice tire-fryer, he’s risen all the way to the top, and finds himself shouldering the ominous title of President these days. We can’t think of a better guy for the job.

In fact, it’s all sounding good at Shelby American according to Gary. As it was back when Carroll Shelby was making history, enthusiasts are again running the company. Sales are strong, with the Shelby trucks accounting for a surprisingly large share.

“Trucks will be three quarters of our sales this year,” says Gary. And while most of those will be in North America, truck sales in Europe and the Middle East point out that like Ford’s Mustang, Shelby has gone global. A new partnership with OEM supplier Magna means there’s now an assembly line running Shelby Mustangs and trucks in Austria; Shelby Mustangs are also selling in Australia and more will be selling in Asia as Shelby American stretches its reach. “We have 18 dealers in 14 countries,” he noted.

What’s next for Shelby? Gary shrugs like a man with an already full plate and says in so many words, where the customers lead the company. “We’re listening to the enthusiasts. They still want higher performance, more horsepower, better suspension, and refinement.” Nothing is off the table, and citing Carroll Shelby’s oft-quoted maxim that his favorite car was the next one, Shelby American is open to all new technologies, including electric.

With the growth, expect to see new faces. Certainly the hardcore speed and power enthusiasts remains central to Shelby American, but the trucks have brought in a new breed of successful business owners who don’t see their Shelby F-150s as collectible toys, but expect to use them daily in their business. Such an emphasis on real-world functionality sounds like fresh air to a performance company. It keeps them operating in the here and now and not chained to history.

In the end the best news is enthusiasts are again heading Shelby American. As Gary put it, “Making money is obviously important, sure. But it’s not the only thing.”

If nothing else, the show is a strong reminder Shelby American is culturally a Los Angeles company and still going strong. It was Carroll Shelby’s LA hot-rodding friends that helped him join the old and new worlds back in 1962 with the Cobra, and even if the company headquarters is now in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Shelby club’s vibe remains that eclectic mix of SoCal hot rodding and European classicism. It’s a great mix, and with trucks and modern Mustangs now on sale it’s a strong, current brand as well.

Nothing if not good looking, the Series 2 roadster unveiled at the CST&CS is set to try again says Shelby American. This June four of these cars will be available, with four more in 2019, four more in 2020 and so on. Two bodies are available; one per year at a cool $849,995 in aluminum as seen here and the others in carbon fiber for a mere $349,995. Existing Series 1 chassis now owned by Bob Wingard form the Series 2’s bones. One of the more interesting aspects of the Series 2 is Shelby is willing to fit just about any engine a customer may want. This one Gary Patterson is revving for the faithful makes noise via a fuel-injected FE big-block (!) sourced from Shelby Engines, but they’ll put a more contemporary Coyote, Voodoo, small-block or what have you should you please.

We’ll conclude by noting we finally reached the end-point of hot rodding’s trajectory at this year’s show. For decades we’ve chatted up racers and car owners, and they’ve all had some version of the, “I bought it, hot rodded it and now drive it” story. But talking to the latest Super Snake owners the story has been abridged to, “I bought it and now drive it some.” With rear wheel dyno tests showing over 800 horsepower and the cars crammed with the best of everything from brakes to Bluetooth there’s really no point in modifying the new cars say some of the latest Super Snake owners. Logically it rings true, but we’re not so sure ‘ol Shel would have approved…

Best part about the CST&CS is the living history embodied by the original Cobra men on hand. From left, Dave Friedman, John Morton, Jere Kirkpatrick, Jim Marietta and Ted Sutton tell some tales. All were later available for autographs.

Margaret Alley carries her new trophy past her old ’66 GT350. She and husband Paul bought the car in ’67 from a neighbor. Since Paul’s passing Margaret has had the Shelby restored so she can continue driving it — manual steering, manual brakes, and all.

Hillbank Motor Corporation is a regular fixture at SoCal Ford events and they were out in full force at the CST&CS. A Superformance dealer, they offer the full line of Superformance Shelby-based cars such as the Daytona Coupe leading the way here.

Hank Williams, the last remaining original Cobra owner, arrives in his 289 roadster. He is a talker and has that impossible to replicate link to the past, so he’s a natural at car shows. As usual Hank arrived with his Cobra stuffed with easels and signboards. The hardtop has been there forever and the pedal wear speaks volumes.

Vince Brieno accepts an autographed panel from Aaron Shelby. Vince originally bought the 2016 Super Snake the panel goes to, but recently gave the car to his nephew Frank in a move that makes us wish we were family, too. Vince had the car dyno’d — it put 825 horsepower to the tires — and other than a Kooks exhaust, he has found nothing else to add.

Yes, there really were two twice-blown big-block Cobras back when, and this recreation pays homage to the Way Too Much is Just Right gesture. Even if you’re too scared to drive it, this coil spring Cobra is worth simply looking at thanks to its classic black with gold wheels scheme.

One thing we dig about the Shelby crowd is it’s based on the wants of hard-core drivers. Carroll Shelby may have had nothing to do with this Falcon hanging out in the car show’s specialty class, but the spirit is kindred. The semi-gutted interior is straight out of the ’60s hot rodding and the hot small-block and dual carbs set a wild theme.

With a fresh overhaul from the JBA engine shop, this Brittany Blue GT500 was for sale at $189,000 obo. Nicely restored and nearly 100-percent correct, Austin Bittle says this car is a surprisingly smooth, quiet and precise driver compared to his dad J’s knuckle-dragging GT500 hot rod. “It has an excellent ride, stops straight, quiet… it’s a showroom Shelby,” Austin said. As with many collectibles there are extras. In this case the original wheels and tires and a non-louvered, non-air conditioned hood are part of the deal.

Wandering to the back of the Shelby American building we nosed around the in-progress museum. Not much has changed visually since our last inspection, but having an original Cobra subframe on display in a wall alcove seems like our kind of living room décor.

Trucks are a big thing at Shelby. Besides the Raptor and F-150 Shelby pickups there is this Shelby 1000 for dually for the towing crowd. Named after its 1,000 lb ft of torque rating, the truck remains 50-state emissions legal and sports the expected bumper, trim and interior add-ons. Does nice burnouts, too.

Interestingly, today serious Cobra replicas such as this Hi-Tech 427 SC are well received in the Shelby world. Shelby built only 30 of the original 427SC’s, so why not? This Hi-Tech has an exact coil spring chassis, a 428CJ engine, Top Loader gearbox and an IRS built around a 9-inch differential. The body is fiberglass with aluminum hood, doors, and trunk lid. The paint is our favorite Cobra color, Viking Blue.

Another “replica,” this time by Shelby themselves as a 7000 series small-block “continuation” car, is this 289 FIA roadster. Replicating the handful of Europe-bound race cars built to FIA specifications, the car features two bumps in the trunk lid to accommodate the FIA suitcase, large fender flares, a forward braced roll bar, and most unique “cut-back doors,” where the rear edge of the door is cut concave rather than convex, the better to clear the big rear flares. FIA roadsters are the only cut-back-door Cobras.

The holy grail of Cobras are the six Daytona coupes. Like everything else they’ve been replicated many times, sometimes with painstaking accuracy. This replica coupe says it’s a 50th anniversary car, and was nicely done and outfitted for street duty. Interior ventilation is a challenge in coupes; no doubt why this one has air conditioning.

Photo gallery

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About the author

Tom Wilson

Infatuated by things that make noise and go fast, Tom has been writing about cars and airplanes for over 35 years. So far that’s meant a decade editing Super Ford magazine, plus long associations with Road & Track, MSN Autos and more lately Kitplanes magazine. It’s also meant some SCCA racing and a lot of fun sampling everything from Trans Am cars to F1 chassis as part of “work.” Besides the racing hobby Tom enjoys flying his biplane, plinking tin cans and messing around with telescopes.
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