There’s still a tiger in Carroll Shelby’s tank

0

NEW YORK – At 83, racing legend and noted car creator Carroll Shelby has slowed a step or two, but his mind still functions as if speeding for a checkered flag.

Though the Shelby Cobra, Shelby Mustang and Dodge Viper are all on his resume, he has lent his talents to yet another car, the Shelby Mustang GTH, a V-8 sports coupe that achieves 325 horsepower and will be available this year only at Hertz airport rental outlets.

The pact between Ford and Hertz marks a return to the “Rent-a-Racer” program run in 1966, a promotion Shelby remembers well.

“They’d rent ‘em on a Friday, race ‘em on the weekend and some would bring ‘em back on Monday – after they replaced the engine with a smaller one,” he laughed at a dinner to announce the program.

But when asked whether he expects a few engine switches now, he becomes somber.

“Not this time,” he said, noting that Hertz agents will lift hoods and not just calculate mileage on the new offerings.

Shelby, of course, is of the old school that pays homage to miles per hour instead of miles per gallon and grimaces at the mention of hybrids.

Enthusiasts fondly remember Mustangs burning rubber against Pontiac Firebirds and Chevrolet Camaros. But General Motors now offers only the Pontiac Solstice, a two-seat roadster that packs only 4 cylinders and is humbled by the V-8 Mustang.

“If I had a say, I’d put a V-8 under the hood,” Shelby said of Solstice.

But Shelby would not necessarily install noted racecar owner and longtime friend Roger Penske at the helm of GM should Rick Wagoner fail to pull off a recovery.

“(Lee) Iacocca once offered him the chance to be chairman of Chrysler when Iacocca retired, but Roger said he’d be willing to run it during the week, but wanted weekends off (to race),” Shelby replied in showing how Penske blew it.

Shelby didn’t miss his chance with Iacocca. He helped develop the Dodge Viper and confirmed that it was meant for a short run before production was halted and the final copy sent to a museum.

“Iacocca promised me they would only make 3,000 copies and that would be the end of it, but the bean counters got their way and I imagine they’ll keep building it until it stops making a profit.”

Since its introduction in 1992, Viper sales have topped 19,000 units.

Frank Klegon, group vice president of product development for Chrysler Group, in turn confirmed Shelby’s speculation about the bean counters. “We’re still committed to Viper and I can’t say when or what yet, but we have plans to make some enhancements to it in the near future.

“It was brought out to serve as a lightning rod for Dodge,” Klegon continued. “Now we have the Charger and Caliber so Viper doesn’t have to serve that purpose alone, but its supporters are very loyal and I don’t see any change in our plans for Viper for some time. It still is very much a part of our family.”

Ask a simple question: Why has Ford killed plans to build a Mercury version of the Freestyle crossover at its Torrence Avenue plant in Chicago?

“In order to reallocate the money to a more productive product,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas.

Ah, so the money will be diverted to the Lincoln MKS sedan for 2008, which reportedly is headed for Torrence?

No comment.

Write to Jim Mateja, Chicago Tribune, 616 Atrium Drive, Vernon Hills, IL 60061-1523, or send e-mail, including name and hometown, to jmatejatribune.com.

Advertisement