Shelby Series I

Paying $113,000 (£69,000) to buy a sports car, you'll expect a Porsche or a NSX, or a Lotus, or at least a 450hp Viper. If I tell you it is a Shelby, you might say, '"Eh?". Outside the North America, not many people know what the Shelby is. Some might know Carroll Shelby is famous of transforming the ACe into the mighty Cobra. Some know he worked with Ford to create some special edition Mustang. Some know his involvement with the GT-40 and various racing cars. However, all of our knowledge could be dated back decades ago, so what is the new Shelby sports car ? 

It is called Series I, the first all new Shelby since the '60s. Being built by a company used to modify car for racing, you pay the £69,000 not for its build quality or reliability. Having known the 4-litres V8 engine comes from Oldsmobile Aurora, and output "just" 320hp, you won't pay the £69,000 for its performance. So how could Carroll Shelby plans to sell 500 units of this machine ? The answer is in the no-compromise chassis. 

The chassis is completely made of aluminium alloy. Basically it is a semi-monocoque made from aluminium box section and extruded assemblies. The monocoque forms the central section of the chassis. In front of it and at the back of it is the aluminium tubular spaceframe which support the suspensions and engine. The bulkheads are made of Alcoa honey comb aluminium sheet. The whole complex thing is completely hand made. Enclosing the chassis is a carbon fiber body shell weighing just 61kg. As a whole, Series I weighs just 1178kg, some 150-200kg below the industry standard. 

At each corners, the no-compromise double wishbones suspensions are employed. Most special is the coils and dampers are located near the center line of the body, and link to the control arms via rocker arms. This is learned from racing cars. In contrast, the brakes just come from the normal Corvette. Its 330mm / 305mm diameter disc and two-piston calipers seems not specially powerful. However, since there are just 1200 kilograms to cope with, few would doubt their stopping power. 

The Northstar V8 was derived from Olds Aurora rather than Ford, because Carroll Shelby has an unhappy argument with Ford about the right of using the Cobra name. The issue has been settled, but Shelby would rather ask GM for assistance. The 32 valves unit still displaces at 3995c.c., but sporty camshafts, free flow intake manifold and exhaust and new engine management program are employed to raise the power from 250hp to 320hp, toque from 260lbft to 290lbft. Compare with rivals, only the 911 and NSX has less power, others like TVR Cerbera 4.5 (420hp), Dodge Viper (450hp), Ferrari F355 (380hp) and Lotus Esprit V8 (350hp) are considerably more powerful. Nevertheless, the Northstar may be more reliable yet it could be serviced at any Oldsmobile dealers. More important to Shelby, it is cheap to develop and buy. 

The V8 is positioned quite rearward, as you can see from the large mound on the bonnet. This improve the weight distribution. In addition, the ZF 6-speed manual transmission is a transaxle design, that is, locate at the rear axle. All these contribute to the perfect 50 / 50 front to rear weight distribution. Again, I believe the transaxle is the same as used in Corvette. 

In reality, Carroll Shelby's engineering is really impressive. The Series I handles like a dream. Its Goodyear 315/40ZR18 rear tyres grip the ground so hard, so are the 265/40ZR18 front rubbers. The 1.6 turns lock-to-lock steering is electric quick and precise yet weighs perfect. Beautiful chassis balance allow turn-in sharply and cleanly, with near-neutral steering. If pushing too hard in corner, Series I understeer, but then again lift off the throttle will easily correct. Body roll is nearly non-exist under the stiff suspension setting.  

Carrolls claimed the car could do 0-60 in 4.4sec and 0-100 in 11.0sec. This is reasonably good although overwhelmed by TVR, Viper, Lotus and even the 911 (0-100mph only) and F355 (also 0-100mph). It seems that the Northstar V8 isn't up to the league of rivals, not only in terms of output but also in terms of willingness and sound. If not the car so light, it could have been the slowest in the group. 

In terms of styling, Shelby Series I won't disappoint American sports car lover. On the Corvette-like proportion, there are many distinctive features copying from the Shelby Cobra, such as the "big mouth" front intake, the circular headlights and the twin-stripe colour scheme. New features such as the shark-inspired side air ventilation also fit the car very well. In today, Series I is one of the rare sports cars dare to look wilder than it goes. Viper is another example. 

Inside the cabin is less impressive. Not only the craftsmanship is quite poor for a £69,000 car, all the things come from GM's parts bin - gauges from Camaro, heat control from Oldsmobile, Stereo from Delphi. OK, at least Shelby's own seat is very supportive and the Momo wheel is nice to handle. 

The above report was last updated on 21 Mar 99. All Rights Reserved.


Shelby Series I
Front-engined, Rwd.
L / W / H / WB: 4290 / 1945 / 1195 / 2405 mm
V8, dohc, 4v/cyl.
3995 c.c.
320 hp
290 lbft
All : Double wishbones
F: 265/40ZR18 ; R: 315/40ZR18
1178 kg
Top speed
0-60 mph
4.4 sec (claimed)
0-100 mph
11.0 sec (claimed)

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