The legacy of car designer Carroll Shelby lives on with the unveiling Tuesday of the 2013 Shelby GT500 Super Snake and Shelby Focus ST at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
"This is new ground for Shelby American because it's never existed as a company without Carroll," said John Luft, president of Las Vegas-based Shelby American. "The good news is Carroll spent 50 years developing the strongest performance brand, and it'll last beyond me and you. It's no different than what Ferrari faced when Enzo passed a few years ago."
Shelby, who designed the legendary Cobra in the 1960s, died last year at age 89.
Detroit is the "granddaddy" of all U.S. automobile shows and a good place to meet with peers and partners from Ford Motor Co., Luft said.
"We're first out of the box in 2013. We might as well hit it hard and follow up with some exciting stuff in New York," he said. "We're going to have our 2013 lineup there (Detroit), but two cars we're going to pull the silk back on. One is the baddest Shelby production Super Snake we've ever built."
The 850-horsepower Super Snake package installed at Shelby American's plant at Las Vegas Motor Speedway costs $40,000, in addition to the vehicle base price. The 662-horsepower package is available for $29,000. It meets emission standards in all 50 states, Luft said.
"Ford Motor Co. gave us such a great car to start with. It's easy to make great music on a Steinway," the auto executive said. "On top of that, one thing everybody talks about is being able to get power to the pavement. How does horsepower in front of the car transfer to the back of the car? We've fought that engineering battle for years. The design change is we added wide-body components that put 14 inches of rubber on the ground, which gives it tremendous grip."
The other car is a Ford Focus, which Shelby American turns into a road-course dream with about $15,000 in performance upgrades, including custom engine tune, suspension, brakes and short-throw shifter.
"The Focus RS is a rock star in Europe, and the Focus ST is pushing numbers that are staggering on performance and handling," Luft said. "We take this car and add Ford racing suspension, front and rear brake packages and tuned exhaust and of course the custom Shelby interior."
Carroll Shelby was at the forefront of what he called "pocket rockets" in the mid-1980s, souping up the Dodge Omni long before the craze caught on with Japanese compacts. He often referred to pocket rockets as some of his greatest fun behind the wheel, Luft said.
"Carroll was so far ahead of the curve. There's leading edge, and then there's bleeding edge. You're so far ahead you never get traction," Luft said. "He was so far ahead of that curve on four-cylinder, turbocharged vehicles. Had he done it in 1995 instead of '85, we'd be the leader of that segment. Now we've got an American pocket rocket that will rival all the foreign vehicles."
Shelby American employs about 100 people at its Las Vegas plant and produces 400 to 500 cars a year, including 150 Super Snakes last year. Production of the Shelby Focus ST will be limited to 500.
Carroll Shelby once told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he always wanted to make one less car than he could sell as a way to keep them valuable and collectible. He also said the greatest regret of his career was breaking up with Ford. They reunited about 40 years later.
Shelby founded Shelby American Motorsports in 1999, opening a 130,000-square-foot assembly plant at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's industrial park. The company started out manufacturing replicas of the famous Shelby Cobra, as well as the Shelby Series 1, a $135,000 high-performance car powered by the Oldsmobile Aurora V-8 engine.
"I have to see that this company goes forward after Forest Lawn gets me," Shelby said during an interview at the plant in 2000.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at email@example.com or 702-383-0491.