Muscle car maestro: Carroll Shelby
Mustang fans can rejoice this fall. The racing legend, who collaborated with Ford on the powerful 2010 GT500, unleashes his latest and greatest: the Super Snake.
(Fortune Magazine) -- Carroll Shelby's life has always been tinged with an "against all odds" flavor. In the 1950s the young racecar driver shot to the top of his field, until a potentially deadly heart condition ended his career.
In the '60s he channeled his competitive edge into a business that took European sheet metal (the AC Ace) and married it to powerful Ford V-8s -- and the Shelby Cobra was born.
In 1964 he helped Lee Iacocca launch one of the most important American cars of all time: the Ford Mustang GT350. In '66 and '67, he oversaw Ford's two Le Mans wins.
Now Shelby, at 86 the oldest living double-organ transplant patient in the world, is improbably building some of his finest stuff yet.
For starters there's his involvement with Ford's 2010 Shelby GT500 (from $46,325, on sale now). The past few years' worth of Mustangs have continued to improve, but this iteration gets it just about perfect. The design is reverential to the original without being overly retro, and the driving experience is surprising -- historically Mustangs were powerful, but they never had good brakes or luxurious interiors.
For true Shelby diehards, though, the real action is at his own facility in Las Vegas, where for the past four years he's been pumping up production Mustangs to some truly formidable levels.
The Texan in the Stetson offers seven variants. The latest, baddest boy is the 2010 Shelby GT500 Super Snake, which comes in two potent strengths: 630 or 750 horsepower. You buy your own base 2010 Shelby GT500 and bring it in for transformation.
The package costs from $29,495 (Shelby offers other packages that can be added to 2005-09 Mustangs). Once Shelby-ized, the Mustang has the kind of power and handling that befits the Super Snake name: The 3,900-pound car manages to feel light and lithe and, despite a sizable body, also taut.
I threw it around the road course at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and was impressed by its magnificent grip and poise. Then there's the pure under-the-hood grunt -- hotter than you'll ever need, but no longer brutal, a hallmark of some earlier models.
Shelby is still constantly scheming about better, faster, cooler stuff. "I'm interested in making the company money so it can build all the crap I dream up," says Shelby with a laugh. What's his next car? Ford won't comment, and Shelby only grinned when I tried to pry info out of him about a badass-looking thing I saw under a sheet in the corner of the shop. I could see white with blue stripes, just like his first and most famous pony, the GT350.