Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
March 21, 2011
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

Carroll Shelby: Future of Performance

If you want to get Carroll Shelby riled up, just ask him about electric cars. He doesn't like the fact that "They're trying to stick them up our you-know-what" (our wording, not his, because this is a family magazine). He's waiting until someone with sense asks, "What are we going to do with all these batteries? This stuff is ruining the atmosphere! These batteries are causing global warming! We've developed the auto engine to be very clean and now we might be creating a horrible mess with all these batteries. They're toxic! And the electricity has to come from somewhere too."

Like the 1970s, the performance industry is facing stricter emissions, high fuel mileage standards, and increasing fuel costs. In the 1980s, Shelby worked with Chrysler to build smaller performance cars with turbocharging, so we asked him if he thinks we're headed in that direction again.

MM: Do you think turbocharging is going to be the wave of the future-again?
CS: It's still free horsepower, except for paying for the mechanical parts. Supercharging has its advantages and turbocharging has its advantages. With supercharging, you lose a lot of horsepower at the top end. Why not a little of both of them? Then you have instant response and top end.

MM: Do you see us headed back to a time when performance cars will be smaller?
CS: It's inevitable with us spending billions of dollars a year on something the Arabs have that we won't develop in this country when we have it. I'm not trying to get into politics, but we don't have a choice. I still go out and drive my Dodge GLH every once in a while. Those pocket-rockets are still very interesting to me.

MM: It almost feels like 1970 all over again. We've got 412hp GTs, 725hp Super Snakes, and Ford is coming out with a new Boss 302, yet we know things are going to tighten up not too far in the future.
CS: Yeah, they are. GM says they are going to develop an engine for Indianapolis. They're saying we've got to go to smaller engines and turbocharging so Indy is the place to develop it.

MM: Obviously new technology continues to help performance.
CS: It all goes back to electronics. During the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s, we were lost out there in performance because they were sticking that crap back into the crankcase and trying to get rid of it with a catalytic convertor. We still use that process in a sense, but electronics have turned performance completely around with variable valve timing and all the other things that are possible. Where electronics can take us, nobody knows.

MM: With the new GT350 you're starting with 412 hp.
CS: Yeah, with a 5.0-liter engine, which would have been practically impossible a few years ago with this octane of fuel. With just a little boost in supercharging, you can get 525 or 550 hp. Even 600 if you want to. And I hope the 5.4 doesn't go away. They've got 1,200-1,500 hp in Ford GTs with a turbocharger on top of the supercharger. SVT has done a tremendous job in developing that engine. People at Ford like Alan Mulally, Mark Fields, and Jim Farley are working hard to carry on with what they've started.

MM: What's the future of performance at Shelby American?
CS: As far as Las Vegas is concerned, I'll never build 8,000 to 9,000 cars a year again. I'll probably never build 1,000 cars a year. I want to build fewer cars. I'm interested in getting back into the performance business with the smaller cars. I intend to concentrate on parts and a few high-horsepower cars with both small and large engines. I want to spend what time I have left developing things we're working on with electronics. Thank God I'm back with Ford. I'm glad to know that I'm going to die being in good stead with Ford.