If you attend enough car events, eventually you will start to recognize familiar faces in the crowd. That is unless you’re as face blind as I am, at which point, you start to recognize cars over facial features and passion over names. In doing so, you create a deeper connection than any small talk or memory could ever provide. I found myself performing this same mental game at both Carlisle Ford Nationals and Mustang Week, as I visited the towering Shelby American canopy.
The same passionate individual I met at Carlisle was quick to greet me at Mustang Week. I knew the cars that surrounded us quite well, as Shelby American’s outdoor exhibit hosts the Shelby cars and trucks I’ve covered throughout the year. However, the man who was standing in front of me broke down any mental lapse I had, as his intense feelings towards the brand he had helped guide for the past 25 years shone past his stern facial expression and into collected excitement, quickly reminding me of who he is.
His name is Gary Patterson and he’s the President of Shelby American Inc. Aside from overseeing all manufacturing, sales, operations, distribution, and marketing, he is also an enthusiast who enjoys the perks of being a developmental driver for Shelby. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions regarding his history with Shelby American and what the future holds for the company.
Ford Muscle: You have a strong passion for the Shelby brand, what was it that brought you into loving cars so much?
Gary Patterson: You know, I did it the old fashion way. I can still blame my parents for my involvement, as my dad was a car enthusiast from when he was little. We always had some kind of performance car, even though we didn’t have a lot of money. In 1964 he had a Hi-Po 289 cubic-inch convertible Mustang in the driveway.
My father also had an Oldsmobile with a J-2 big-block and three carburetors on it. Our aunts and uncles were the same with 427 cubic-inch Corvettes and GTOs. Everyone was out burning rubber and having a good time, so I took that from them and evolved it within myself.
FM: Seeing as how you grew up around American muscle, I assume your first car was one as well.
GP: My first car was a 1969 Cobra Jet Mach 1. I still have it, I still drive it, and I still do smokey burnouts with it.
FM: How were you able to meet Carroll Shelby?
GP: I was always at open road racing, autocross, or drag racing events. In doing some of those events, I was able to meet Carroll Shelby. He was dying at the time. He didn’t have much to do with cars anymore when I was young. However, after seeing Carroll not give up and his heart not quitting after the give year’s the doctors had speculated, he became an inspiration to me.
FM: Did these trackside interactions with Carroll lead to your employment with Shelby?
GP: Roughly 25 years ago I had a chance to work for Carroll. I was already successful in retail distribution, but it was a business. I liked it, and I liked the people. But this was a chance I knew I’d never, ever get again. I took the opportunity and went from supervising 500 people to looking in the mirror saying ‘are you going to ship this box or not?’ The president at the time told me the job could last five years or five months, we really didn’t know. But here we are 25 years later.
FM: What are some of the key things that kept the company strong through all these years?
GP: Carroll was always about innovation and trying new things, if we hadn’t changed our business model, we would just be building Mustangs and continuation Cobras. While there’s nothing wrong with that, 80 percent of our business is now trucks. These are not just stickers and scoops, we’re doing wheel, tire, brakes, and suspension too. We even have a single-cab pickup that does 0-60 mph in 3.45 seconds, in a pickup!
We had a turbine-powered indy car in the late ‘60s, and now hydrogen and electric-powered ones. We’ve paired with Hertz rental car company again and will be producing 400 coupes based on the 2022 Mustang GT that we convert to Shelbys, and 25 that will be GT500 versions with 900 horsepower, in a rental car!
FM: It sounds like Shelby American has not slowed down, even with the delay in vehicle production from manufacturers.
GP: No, we’re hard on the gas. At Shelby American, we’re always looking out the windshield, not just the rearview. A lot of people see the Ford v. Ferrari movie and that was great, but we built those cars in the ‘60s. We’re very proud of those cars.
We have built more cars in the last 25 years than Carroll ever did back then. We’re doing all kinds of new things and diversifying our product groups. We have five different truck versions that we sell today. We didn’t have one truck nine years ago. We just continue to evolve the business, as the public and people want.
FM: What does the future look like for Shelby American’s relationship with Ford?
GP: We plan to continue to work closely with Ford Motor Company and the engineers there. Even though Shelby is an independent business and Ford is an independent business, Carroll would want us to look at Ford and polish the Blue Oval and whatever we do is complimentary.
Shelby American appears to be in good hands with Gary Patterson at the helm. His leadership has allowed the company to thrive and enter new markets and old alike. Instead of relying on traditional builds alone, he has followed what Carroll Shelby wanted by being innovative and trying new things. In any case, we’re excited to see the company continually be a dominant player in the Ford marketplace.