Mustang MonthlyNews & Views
History of the Shelby Mustangs - Shelby: The Untold Stories
From The Men Who Built The Cars
In addition to the street Mustangs, Chuck also worked with the race cars, especially the R-models and including the hassle of building a minimum number of cars by early 1965 to make them legal for SCCA competition. "We had enough cars on-site when the SCCA came to check, or in line to be built, that they could see we were serious. We probably didn't have the number they wanted to see finished, but they could see we were building them and had parts ordered. They were happy enough that they approved the car. It was probably more of a political thing.
"With the SCCA, we pretty much had to show that we were going to do what they wanted us to do. On an SCCA production car, you could do engine modifications if they were specified and allowed. Basically, it was supposed to be production so we put all the good racing stuff on the production cars. The difference was the racing wheels and tires and racing engines. The rear windshield was a different thing but we were able to get it approved as an option. Taking the bumpers off was allowable. We had a front valance to replace the original bumper and valance, and they approved that as an option.
"The difference between the race car and the street car was the engines. We ran them at Riverside one time and the race car was about 7 seconds a lap faster than the street car. That was mostly engine and tires.
"At the end of 1965, I had to do the homologation stuff for the '66 Trans-Am cars. That was another `Get it done before Christmas' project. We went to a dealership to take pictures and sent them back to Ford, telling them to airbrush in the wheels because we didn't have any. Right at January 1966, we bought a Mustang notchback and made it into a Trans-Am car. So all that stuff was going on while we were producing and working on the street cars.
"Ford was more involved with the 1968 season. We got through a 24-hour race with the first set of Tunnel-Port engines, then Sebring, a 12-hour race. But then we ran the race after that and had a problem with something falling off the carburetor, which shouldn't have happened but sometimes those things bite you in the tail. So that's when Ford decided they were going to build all the engines and they blew up every race. If we'd have kept building them we would have done alright. Our guys could build them and make them run. We got engines from Ford and they said, `Don't touch them.' The problem was that with those big Tunnel-Port valves, we had to run them at 8,000-9,000 rpm to take advantage of the design. We'd go to the race, blow one, and have to put a second and third one in. One time, I had our engine guy pull the rocker covers to check the adjustments, a basic thing you do on a race engine. The engine was missing rocker arms and pushrods."
Lew looks back with great fondness on the people he worked with at Shelby American. But one stands out: "Ken Miles was very competitive. It's a terrible shame he didn't win LeMans. He died shortly after that. He had just learned to fly when I came out. Some of the flights were rather adventurous. He hadn't flown much. The first time we flew to Willow Springs for testing, he was getting the plane out of the hangar and hit the tip of the wing on the hangar door. So he got out the duct tape and fixed it. Another time he landed in a crosswind. There was a sort of a path that was packed down a bit at a 40 degree angle to the runway so he could try to get out of some of the crosswind. So we landed on that and got pulled off into the soft dirt. The wheel dug in and we went onto the wing tip, straight up and nose down. Another inch and we'd have gone over the top. It stalled straight up and fell back to the ground. Nobody got hurt except for the airplane."