Jerry Heasley
March 17, 2005

Would you rather own a GT500E Super Snake or an authentic Orange CountyChopper "theme" bike in the image of that famous car? Both aresupercharged, both have a Shelby heritage, and both are muscle-bound. Wewere fortunate to be close to both vehicles when the American Choppermet the great American musclecar while the American Chopper TV showfilmed the wild event in Las Vegas this past November.

The GT500E is anauthentic Shelby continuation car, based on the '67-'68 Mustangfastback. Built by Unique Performance for Carroll Shelby, the car is acombination of vintage good looks and contemporary speed equipment.Shelby and Unique also offer a second continuation car, the '65 GT350SR.Each of these genuine Shelbys receives a Shelby identification numberand will be documented in the next Shelby American Automobile Clubregistry.

The Super Snake is even more special than the Shelby GT500E.The car may be the most powerful production Shelby Mustang ever offeredto the public. It features an aluminum Shelby 427 engine, a UniquePerformance rear suspension, a Tremec transmission, and other modernperformance features. With the optional supercharger, the Super Snakechurns out over 725 horses. Only 75 total will be built with an MSRPbeginning at $159,000.

The GT500Es are built in a 30,000-square-footfacility in the legendary racer's home state of Texas. UniquePerformance is owned by Richard Kearby (CEO), Douglas Hasty (president),and Chris Layne (chief operating officer).

Most musclecar fans alsoappreciate cool motorcycles and we all know about Orange County Choppersfrom the hit cable TV show, American Chopper. The group's patriarch isPaul Teutul Sr., who used downtime from his Orange County Ironworksbusiness to create custom bikes. In 1999, he recruited his son, PaulJr., as the chief fabricator and designer for Orange County Choppers.The company jumped onto the scene at Daytona Biketoberfest in 1999 with"True Blue," a classic chopper. Today, OCC has grown into what AmericanIron recognizes as one of the world's top-12 motorcycle builders. Theirreality TV show, American Chopper, is a family affair with loads ofdrama and tension from building custom "theme bikes" for customersworldwide. It first aired on The Discovery Channel in September 2002 andquickly became an international hit.

A Chance Meeting

Unique Performance CEO Chris Layne explained, "It's ironic how the OCCdeal unfolded. Douglas, Richard, and I had business with a company inNew Jersey. At the time, Richard wanted one of those cool bikes. Thiswas the early part of 2003 when American Chopper, the TV show, was onlyabout six months old."

Hasty recalls, "Richard had been following theirTV show. While we were in the Montgomery, New York, area on business, hewanted to run by this company called Orange County Choppers. I had notseen the show yet."

The trio drove to the OCC shop and priced somebikes. While they were there, the Teutuls walked in. Out of curiosity,they pulled up Unique Performance's Web site and ogled cars. Chrisexplained, "Paul Sr. saw the GT500E and was wild for the car. Heimmediately pulled his producer into the trailer, and we spent a coupleof hours talking about different things." During the lunch break,Richard brought Doug up to speed on the Teutuls and what they did ontheir show. Doug remembers becoming "pretty excited and pumped about thepossibility of a Shelby theme bike." After lunch, they brought up thesubject of a Shelby GT500E theme bike. The Teutuls accepted the idea asan "unbelievable challenge," Doug recalls. Before the trio of TexasShelby builders left New York, the wheels were in motion to build a carand a bike.

At the time, there was no formal talk of a trade. It wasmore like, Hey, maybe you guys could do a theme bike for us and we coulddo a car for you. This all took place in early 2003, which was a yearbefore Unique Performance signed a deal with the TV show Rides to do asegment on The Learning Channel. Also, American Chopper hadn't yetgained the notoriety it has today.

Chris remembers, "They were on theedge of becoming huge." Coincidently, so was Unique Performance.

The Deal

Paul Teutul Sr. rolls the GT500E chopper out of its trailer for all tosee at SEMA. The cameras were taping the event for American Chopper.

The next year was busy for both companies as the Teutuls' TV showexploded while Unique Performance worked hard to keep up with demand forthe GT500E. However, both groups kept in touch and the ideas continuedto percolate.

The Teutuls agreed to a trade with Doug, Richard, andChris, but not under the usual circumstances. A TV show sweetened thedeal with international publicity. A press release sums up how the twobuilders came to terms. "Unique Performance and Orange County Choppershave signed an agreement to team up for a special Shelby project. Theconstruction of a GT500E-theme motorcycle and a pair of the Shelbys willbe featured in a special two-hour segment of the world-renownedDiscovery Channel TV program American Chopper in the 2005 season."

Theculmination of the really big chopper show would be an exchange, bikefor car. Furthermore, it would take place in November 2004 at a pressconference during the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA)show. Neither party would see their bike/car before the show.

Capturing A Design

Mustang fans would probably take the four-wheeled Super Snake, but whoknows? Carroll himself advised that the motorcycle version of the GT500Eshould be supercharged and the baddest thing on the street. It justmight be.

Before construction of such an important project, the bikerequired a great deal of thought and ingenuity, a characteristic thatOrange County Choppers has become famous for worldwide. If you've seenthe show, you might have seen such awesome builds as the Fire Bike, theBlack Widow Bike, the Comanche Bike, the P.O.W. Bike, and the Statue OfLiberty Bike.

To this list, add the Shelby GT500E Bike. UniquePerformance's input was simple, but clear. Hasty told us, "We wantedpeople to walk away from it saying, 'That's a Shelby GT500E on twowheels,' and we think they will." He added, "We wanted the traditionalShelby GT500E color. That was the only requirement we had. We leftcomplete design and creativity to OCC, and let them come up with whatthey felt it needed to look like."

Obviously, OCC wanted all of thephotos and images of the Shelby they could find. They needed componentsas well, such as emblems. Unique also shipped a seat, a shifter handle,a wood steering wheel, and many other pieces unique to the GT500E SuperSnake.

But the real kicker was a trip to the Texas factory, and CarrollShelby, the Snake Charmer himself, was there to meet them. "We felt thebest way for the Teutuls to really understand our car was for them tovisit the factory and team that creates every Shelby," added Kearby."They not only met the guys who are their musclecar equivalent, theywere also immersed into the Shelby culture. It was a great meeting, withthe Unique team, Shelby, and the Teutuls talking about the elements andcharacteristics that make our car so special."

Building The Car

While the OCC team was busy creating their Shelby super bike, UniquePerformance was building a special GT500E for the Teutuls. Paul Sr.wanted the car painted yellow, which was a first. He also opted for theblown 427 Super Snake, with 725 hp, rather than the standard model. Hesimply told us, "I'm from the musclecar era."

Construction of the carand bike would become the content of an American Chopper episode, whichturned into two episodes to include the construction of the ShelbyGT500E Super Snake. The projects, both car and bike, unfolded on TheDiscovery Channel in January.

The Super Snake was already part of asmall run of Shelbys being built. Still, Unique wanted to do somethingextra for this build. Bobby Mikus, vice president of Operations,explained, "As lifelong hot-rodders, we were especially excited to workwith the OCC guys on these one-off custom vehicles. So the UniquePerformance team took the opportunity to find some ways to make PaulSr.'s car even more special. For instance, everything on the car ispolished."

Bobby referred to aluminum parts, such as the wheels, gastank, battery box, fuel cell, block, heads, and blower intake. Even thestrut bars on the suspension were polished to a high finish. And theTeutul Super Snake was painted one of the new Hot Hues colors fromDuPont called "Chrome Yellow." It's eye-catching to say the least. "Wealso put a console in the car with twin gauges: a boost gauge and avoltmeter," notes Mikus. "There are lots of little touches to help makeit stand apart."

Crafting The Bike

Paul Teutul Sr. checks out his GT500E.

Does the Shelby GT500E chopper capture the essence of the Super Snakecar? We'll leave the answer up to you.

Paul Sr. recalled, "We did quitea bit of sheetmetal work on that bike. We did the spoiler in the back.The tank was actually made like a Cobra." A key styling element of anychopper is the gas tank. From the topside, the tank is custom built tolook like the head of a real cobra snake. From the side, it resembles acobra head with fangs below the handlebars.

LeCarra fabricated thehandlebars, which feature wood inlay like the original Shelbys. RowePerformance wheels are machined to resemble the PSE wheels on theShelby. The mirror uses the GT500E logo on the rear, and the Super Snakelogo stands proudly across the bottom of the bike. Shelby GT500E logosadorn the chopper in many key spots and the logo is embroidered into theleather seat.

Musclecar Meets Chopper

The bike was engulfed with frenzied fans and media as Paul Sr. and hisson Paul Jr. handed it off to Unique's Chris Layne (left, in whiteshirt), Doug Hasty (center, in black-and-white shirt and hat), andRichard Kearby (hand on Paul Sr.).

Finally, on November 3, 2004, theexchange was made, bike for car, car for bike. What better place for thetwo flashy vehicles than Las Vegas? In fact, the opportunity to have thefilmed exchange was so appealing to SEMA that its president and CEO,Chris Kersting, rearranged his schedule to be part of the program.

In astatement for the event, Paul Sr. said, "Carroll Shelby built only oneGT500 Super Snake in 1967, which became the king of performance at thetime. I'm honored to have created a one-off bike that salutes the GT500ESuper Snake, which is a modern evolution of that legendary car."

Whenthe big moment arrived, Paul Sr. drove the pewter-with-black-stripedbike out of its trailer for the thousands of SEMA attendees andinternational press that had gathered. After the applause for thechopper finally ended, Unique's Gregg Bond drove the yellow Super Snakeout of the Hot Hues trailer to cheers from the throng.

The press mobbed the GT500E Super Snake during its presentation to theTeutuls.

As car and bikemixed into the crowd, the exchange was made while American Chopper tapedthe historic event. You can watch the episode on TV and see the surpriseacross the faces of the new owners as they receive their vehicles.

Thisbrings us back to our original question. Which mode of conveyance wouldyou choose, supercharged car or bike? Both are GT500Es, and both have aShelby heritage.