Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
March 1, 2009
Photos By: Courtesy Shelby Automobiles, The Austin Craig Collection

We've heard the Carroll Shelby stories many times--about how the "Cobra" name came to him in a dream, about how he originally tried to fend off Lee Iacocca's desire to turn the Mustang into a sports car, and about how he named the GT350 by asking an employee about the distance between the office and the shop. Carroll's stories are legendary. But underneath them all and behind the scenes at Shelby American, there were hundreds of men (and a handful of women) who supervised departments, drove the race cars, created and sold parts, and installed the fiberglass hoods, stripes, and other components that transformed Mustangs into Shelby GT350s and GT500s.

In 1964, the Shelby American facility on Princeton Street in Venice, California, was a very busy place. In addition to building and racing Cobras, Shelby had his Goodyear racing tire company and took care of Ford's show cars. By the end of the year, with the addition of the Mustang GT350, 427 Cobra, and Ford GT programs, Shelby American was forced to move to a much larger 96,000 square-foot, 12-acre facility on Imperial Highway at the edge of Los Angeles International Airport. By the end of 1965, some 300 people would be employed there.

Here are some of their stories.

Bernie Kretzschmar, 1965-1967
Bernie Kretzschmar was a 22-year-old speed shop employee and nighttime college student when he drove his '32 Ford roadster to Shelby American on Princeton Street to apply for a job. "I think the car got me the job because they all came out to look at it," Bernie recalls. "I filled out an application and put down that I had eight years of experience working on race cars and hot rods. Plus I had my own tools and could weld."

By the time Bernie Kretzschmar joined Shelby American in early 1965, the company had moved to the pair of hangars at Los Angeles International Airport.

Like many of the employees there, Bernie had read about Shelby in magazines. "When I showed up, they were hand-forming the first Daytona Coupe, the dyno was running wide open, and these guys were working on these bitchin' cars. I decided that I wanted to be a part of it."

A couple of months passed before Bernie got the call. "They'd moved to the airport by then and were expanding, hiring right and left," Bernie says. "I rolled my toolbox in and thought I'd be working on Cobras. They said, `Not Cobras, we're going to have you work on this other project.' And they had these Mustangs there, which no one had seen before. They were the first fastbacks. I ended up going to work with Jerry Swartz and Mike Sangster on the R-models and Jerry Titus' race car. We built all the R-models and won a national championship with Titus."

Bernie worked in the race shop for three years, primarily attached to Titus, who switched to Trans-Am in 1966. "Chuck Cantwell was our boss," Bernie says. "We were very busy. They always had three guys doing five guys' work. We'd go in at 8 in the morning and work into the evening. By Wednesday we'd have 40 hours in, so the rest of the week would be time and half pay. We worked six days a week unless we were getting ready for Sebring or Daytona, when we'd work seven."

Bernie remembers seeing Carroll Shelby only occasionally. "He'd come trotting through the shop. I'd be head down working on something, and by the time I looked up he'd be gone. He had so many things going on--the GT40 team, the show car division, Goodyear tire division, Daytona Coupe, Cobra, Mustang. I don't know how he slept at night."

Bernie also went on the road as part of the Trans-Am race crew. He recalls a practice session at Green Valley, Texas, when Titus rolled his Mustang hardtop, crushing the roof so far that the windshield was against the steering wheel. "Titus asked if we could fix the car. So we went to a Ford dealer and took over, using their body and paint shop. Instead of going to the parts room to find parts, we just got a new Mustang and pulled off what we needed. We spent all night straightening that car out. We painted it in the middle of the night and ran the next day."