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
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.
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.
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.
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…