Jerry Heasley
August 14, 2003

"Let Bobby get a hamburger. He just flew in. Then we'll get Eleanor,"Steve Sanderson told us from his cell phone at Shelby's place on thegrounds of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

We phoned while driving north on I-15 to the track, where Carroll Shelbybuilds Cobras, Series 1 Shelbys, the Eleanor GT500E continuationShelbys, and who knows what else (we hear a continuation '65 R-model isnext). Bobby Mikus had Eleanor fueled and ready to cruise.

The occasion was SAAC 7 Does Vegas, starring Rick Kopec and the ShelbyAmerican Automobile Club. These people aren't much for showing andshining. There would be a rally to the Valley of Fire on Sunday morning.Saturday would be track day, as in road racing. Sunday afternooneverybody would meet at Shelby's facility for a barbecue. When Carrollhimself is wandering the grounds, excitement is afoot.

We showed up fairly late in the day for SAAC registration. People cameout of thin air to check out Eleanor.

"Meet us at the Iron Skillet behind Shelby's place," Steve said.

Everywhere Eleanor is parked, people gravitate. It was mid afternoon,and the restaurant was almost empty. Before I could get out of my carand walk 20 yards, four men peered in the windows to inspect the GT500E.

"Eleanor," one smiling man assured us in a heavy Spanish accent. Thereis a certain trepidation approaching a car in a parking lot, yet peopletake the risk.

Our aim was to drive Eleanor down the Las Vegas strip and gauge publicreaction. First, Bobby and I would drop by the Boardwalk Hotel on thestrip, where SAAC entrants were registering.

Kopec had warned us of a backlash with Eleanor; some Shelby puristsdidn't have the big picture, but Kopec knew the history well:

"Shelby reinvents himself every ten years," he said. "In the '50s, hewas a driver; in the '60s, he built the Cobras and Shelby Mustangs; inthe '70s, he was a business man; in the '80s, he was with Chrysler. Inthe '90s, he built his Series 1 Shelby and CSX 4000 series Cobra."

At SAAC's registration, members were quick to get down on their kneesand check out the underpinnings.

The 21st century is here and with it a new Shelby to appeal to a newgeneration. Kopec assured us we could never predict what was going tohappen. On Sunday afternoon, I got the idea he was right, when the tourguide at Shelby American spoke about building a hydrogen-powered car.

The SAAC people were all over Eleanor when we pulled in the parking lotof the boardwalk. Or, more precisely, they were all under it.

"Take a look at that rear suspension. Exotic," said one.

Others inspected details under the hood. Owen Kelly and his friend GaryMichael flew in from Missoula, Montana. Kelly owns a '67 GT500. He wasecstatic to walk around and inspect Eleanor in person.

Mechanicals are a big deal to Shelby purists. What's under the hood?

Obviously, Eleanor wasn't a threat to him. In fact, he said after themovie came out, his car got a lot more attention and had escalated invalue. The backlash Kopec warned us about wasn't surfacing, although weknew it existed.

Kopec told us some members had gone so far as to ask, "Can you make himstop?"

They were referring to Carroll and the cars he builds. Some purists evensay SAAC is "in bed" with Shelby American, meaning they exist to promotehis cars. Actually, SAAC registers them in the Shelby American WorldRegistry so that many years from now someone doesn't show up at aconvention and claim to have an original Cobra or Shelby when it wasconverted much later. Thus, all cars are numbered, registered, anddocumented.