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Shelby may ease up on accelerator

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Muscle car builder Shelby may ease up on accelerator

By TERRY BOX / The Dallas Morning News


After 45 years of creating Cobras and hot-rod Mustangs, Carroll Shelby says his latest car – the 2011 Mustang GT 350 – might be his last.


Shelby, who is 87 and one of the world's longest-living heart transplant recipients, says he can't make much money building modified muscle cars, and he wants to focus on selling high-performance parts.


"I want to build fewer cars and sell more parts," Shelby said recently in a telephone interview from his East Texas ranch in Pittsburg. "It's hard to make any money on a car. But our parts business is growing 15 to 20 percent a year."


Shelby, a racing legend and Ford icon who built his first Cobra sports car in the early '60s, plans to spend the next two or three years filling orders for the new GT 350 – a reprisal of the track-ready Mustang Shelby originally conceived in the mid-1960s.


He figures he will build about 500 of the GT 350s a year, as well as continuing to offer extensive Super Snake modification packages for the GT 500 Mustang built by Ford.


Shelby, a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, also wants to open some Shelby speed shops throughout the U.S. – similar to Quantum Performance in Farmers Branch, which is certified by Shelby to build Super Snakes and make other Mustang modifications.


The current GT 350 is a "post-title" car, meaning customers must first buy a 2011 Mustang GT from Ford and then have it shipped to Shelby's facility in Las Vegas for extensive modifications – a process that can cost $70,000.


His last car, the 2007-08 Mustang Shelby GT, was built from Mustang GTs supplied directly by Ford and shipped to dealers for sale. Shelby sold about 6,000 of the cars.


"We don't build 5,000 or 6,000 of anything anymore," he said.


Since January, Shelby American's production facility in Las Vegas has cut its workforce by 30 to 40 percent and is down to about 75 employees, said John Luft, president of Shelby American and Shelby Licensing.


"For the production of the vehicles we have, this is the right level," he said.


But Luft, who has worked closely with Shelby for more than a decade, isn't so sure that Shelby is preparing to slowly withdraw from building the fast, distinctive Mustangs he loves.


"You've heard him say for many years that his favorite car is the one he will build next," Luft said. "That still lives within him."


As part of his continuing work on the Super Snake, Shelby says he has built a twin-turbocharged 5.4-liter V-8 for the cars that thunders out 1,000 horsepower.


"That's one of my values to Ford, I guess," said Shelby, who guided Ford-powered racers to a European world championship in the '60s. "No one needs 1,000 horsepower. But we're in a battle with Camaro – a real battle. And big numbers get you on the covers of magazines."


Whatever Shelby's ultimate plans are, Shelby American is smaller than it has been in years and more diversified than ever. In addition, the company has nothing on the drawing board currently to succeed the GT 350, Luft acknowledged.


"But I wouldn't read a whole lot into that," he said. "The intent for now is to diversify the portfolio."


At the least, Shelby says, it is a significant shift in emphasis for Shelby American.


"We are downsizing and going for the parts business," he said. "Simplify the business – that's what I'm saying. And that's what I'm doing in Las Vegas."


Shelby's best friend, Dallas automotive artist Bill Neale, thinks Shelby might be serious when he says he's not that interested in continuing to build low-volume, high-performance Mustangs.


"I've told him, 'Shel, you need to put your feet up and take it easy,' and he doesn't argue much," said Neale, who has known Shelby for more than 50 years.


Matt Stone, editor of Motor Trend Classic, said it makes sense to him that Shelby would gradually wind down his car operations while building up his parts business.


"At some point, everybody has their day," Stone said. "Carroll Shelby made his last for 50 years."



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