Every gearhead knows the name Carroll Shelby. He’s a legend in his own right and his name’s been slapped on everything from countless Mustangs to the iconic Cobra.
However, during his lifetime, Shelby and his company only ever built one car from the ground up. For this week’s Want, we are taking a look at that car, the Shelby Series 1.
While the Dodge Viper is often thought of as the spiritual successor to the Shelby Cobra, the Series 1 is closer in spirit. It’s not just the badge either; while the Viper is a big shouty car with no help from fancy computers, it’s also heavy. The Series 1, on the other hand, is lighter and more nimble — and no less shouty.
The idea for the Series 1 dates back to 1994 when Shelby kicked off the project. However, the car was plagued with issues from day one.
Shelby did have lofty aspirations though. Originally it would run a 4.0-liter GM Indy Car engine pumping out 370hp. Also, its lightweight construction would tip the scales at just 2,650lb and promise blistering acceleration.
Unfortunately, most of this didn’t come to pass – at least not initially.
By the time the first prototypes were finished, the project looked doomed. The car was way over the target weight at 3,400lb. Also, that Indy Racing engine couldn’t get past federal regulations so the Series 1 had to rely on a similar 4.0-liter engine from the Oldsmobile Aurora. This gave the car a rather disappointing 320hp — but at least the weight eventually came down.
The project soldiered on, but money quickly became an issue. Deposits for the car were either late or not enough to cover the quickly ballooning cost of the car. With an original price of $99,975, as the project went on it inflated to almost $200,000. For a car with a 90s GM interior, this was a bit unacceptable.
Eventually, the first cars were ready, but with a mountain of issues, they were fairly terrible. They broke down, ate clutches, and threw pistons. Not exactly the best way to kick things off.
The Series 1 appeared to be at death’s door, but the Venture Corporation eventually stepped in. With a boost in capital and with a company that knew how to build a car, the production was back on track.
Due to more federal regulations, only 249 Series 1 cars ever made it to customers the way Shelby intended. All the remaining vehicles, produced through 2005, came without an engine in them. By that time Oldsmobile was dead, so sourcing an Aurora V8 was also a bit of a challenge.
The most disappointing thing about the Series 1 was that it had all the makings of being a phenomenal car. Help just came a little too late for it.
However, this example offered up through Bonhams is still fairly special. Not only is it the very first Series 1 off the line, it’s also directly from Shelby’s collection.
If that wasn’t enough, it also has a prototype supercharger bolted to the Olds V8 making 600hp. In addition to boosting the power by nearly double, it also cut over a second off the 0-60mph time. While the standard car would hit 60 in 4.4 seconds, the supercharged one could do it in 3.2. Even by today’s standards that’s insanely quick.
The supercharger did eventually make its way onto the options list for customers though. But at $20,000, less than a quarter of all Series 1s came with one.
Shelby’s example shows that at least he liked the car, despite all the problems. With 10,095 miles on the clock, he took it for a spin pretty frequently — especially when you consider his extensive collection.
Auction estimates put this Series 1 at $100,000 – $125,000. Between the initial cost of the car and the ownership history, it’s a bargain for any Shelby fan. It’ll hit the block on June 3 at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance.