Shelby American, turning 50, blowing out candles

With a gleam in his eye, Shelby American President John Luft rolls back the cover on the black-and-gold 50th anniversary edition of the Ford Mustang Shelby SuperSnake at the company's Las Vegas production plant. He knows this is a car that will immediately appreciate in value.

You can't say that about many other production vehicles, at least not in the same price range as the $110,000 SuperSnake, Luft said.

Shelby's will make only 100 SuperSnakes, 50 each in black-and-gold and red-and-white.

It was 1962 when legendary car designer Carroll Shelby unveiled his first Cobra at the New York Auto Show, setting off a craze that was immortalized by the Rip Chords' 1963 hit, "Hey Little Cobra."

"This is the DNA of the brand, always has been," Luft said Friday in the shop that produces about 100 Cobras a year, without the engine or transmission. By selling only the "component" car, the Cobra doesn't have to go through crash-tests, he said.

Shelby American, a wholly owned subsidiary of Carroll Shelby International, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a four-day event culminating today with a car show and pancake breakfast at the company's headquarters at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The car show is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to noon.

The company hosted about 500 Shelby enthusiasts, including top engineers and business managers from Ford Motor Co., starting with a cruise-in Wednesday at Town Square and two days of track time at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump.

Henry Ford III accepted the Shelby Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of his late grandfather, Henry Ford II, who was named the first inductee into the Shelby American Hall of Fame at an awards dinner Friday night.

"This is just an extension of our 50-year relationship of being synonymous with Shelby and Ford," said George Goddu, business manager for Ford Racing Performance in Detroit. "It's fun to see the success. For us, it's the owners, whether they keep the car in the garage or they're out thrashing it on the 3.4-mile (Spring Mountain) course. It's the passion. I love to see that."

Shelby American, headquartered in Las Vegas since 1996, manufactures authentic Cobras, including the 427 S/C, 289 FIA and 289 street car component vehicles. It's the only automobile manufacturer in Nevada, employing about 110 workers, including 80 in production.

The company also makes after-market performance modifications for the GT350, GT500 SuperSnake and current generation Ford Mustang for about $35,000.

"This is the bread and butter," Luft said of the performance enhancement operations. "We limit our production. We're only building 350 of the GT350s."

Luft, who worked 10 years for Shelby American licensing in Los Angeles before being named president in 2010, said the plant does about 10 cars a week. Half of the buyers then send their new cars to Shelby's speed shop for a "little more."

There has always been a split between sports car drivers who prefer to buy new and those committed to vintage models, but there's been a distinct shift in what makes a car a collectible in today's environment, Luft said.

Bob Romano of Chicago, who was touring the Shelby Museum on Friday before heading over to drive exotic cars, said he met Carroll Shelby a couple of years ago at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association show in Las Vegas.

"I shook his hand and that was a big thrill for me. The guy's a legend," Romano said.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.