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Fine Lines: 1998-2002 Shelby Series 1

A Shelby Series 1.

A Shelby Series 1. Credit: Wikipedia / Kostas22

Few people could build cars Carroll Shelby's lean and mean way. 

Take his original Cobra of the 1960s for example. His personal car, with 800 horsepower, once sold at auction for $5 million. Rare and powerful defines all Shelby vehicles and the Series 1 was no exception. 

With Oldsmobile power corralled inside an ultra-sleek structure, this hot-shoe roadster represented pure driving pleasure for the well-heeled - and patient - enthusiast.

The Series 1 came along more than 30 years after the startup of Shelby's initial creation, the AC Cobra. For the uninitiated, the Cobra blended varying strengths of Ford V8 power stuffed inside a 1950s-vintage British-designed sports car. The result, first displayed in 1962, was an awe-inspiring performer capable of embarrassing pure-bred European sports cars, both on the street and in competition at some of the most famous race tracks in Europe and North America. The last of the original Cobras left the Shelby plant in 1968, but the body style continues to be offered in kit form by many cottage-industry companies. 

The Cobra made Carroll Shelby, himself a former world-class racing driver, a household name among anyone with at least a passing interest in automobiles. Ol' Shel, as he was affectionately called, went on to produce a series of modified Ford Mustangs as well as attaching his name to several specialized Chrysler Corporation products over a 15-year period. He also jumped into the Cobra kit business himself, producing metal and fiberglass-bodied versions of his original.

Despite his continuing "snake" business, Shelby's car-building itch still needed to be scratched. This time, however, there would be nothing nostalgic or retro about the attempt. Along with several key associates, Shelby embarked on creating the next ultimate sports car and a worthy successor to his classic Cobras. 

The Series 1 project began its lengthy gestation at Shelby's facility near Las Vegas, Nev. The first mock-up, minus its powertrain, was demonstrated at the 1997 Los Angeles Auto Show. Although unable to run under its own steam, the car's engineering development was impressive. The chassis was made from aluminum, as were most of the suspension components, while the body featured the latest in lightweight carbon-fiber techniques that pared its weight to a mere 100 pounds. 

From every angle, the Series 1 was nothing less than eyeball popping, with more than a hint of Cobra heritage in its oval-formed front-air intake and bulging rear fenders.

Months following its initial showing, the first running prototype made its debut. Under the hood was an all-aluminum 4.0-liter V8 originally intended for use in the Oldsmobile Aurora. It produced a modest 250 horsepower in stock form, but Shelby managed to bump the output up to 320 horsepower by adding new camshafts, free-flowing exhaust and other racing-type trick pieces. 

For optimum weight distribution between the front and rear wheels, a six-speed transmission was positioned just ahead of the rear suspension.
As far as performance was concerned, the Series 1 was an enthusiast's dream. Zero to 60 mph required a mere 4.4 seconds and the waiting time to reach 100 mph was 11 seconds. Not only was the 170 mph top speed outstanding, but the 3,100-pound car stuck like glue to the tarmac.

The Series 1 seemed to have all the right ingredients, but the preproduction version still had rough spots that needed sorting out. It would take another two years (late 1999) before the car was ready. By then, the original estimated $50,000 sticker price had more than doubled and would continue to steadily climb throughout its brief production run. For their money, buyers received a reasonably well-engineered state-of-the-art vehicle, complete with air conditioning, power windows and a premium sound system.

More performance became available a couple of years later, courtesy of an optional supercharger that added 60 ponies to the base 320-horse powerplant and boosted the cost of a Series 1 to more than $180,000.

A lot of money to be sure, but the "blown" engine brought Shelby's creation within range of his arch-nemesis Ferrari, as well as other Euro-based exotics, something Shelby had worked at for the previous 40 years.

Shelby was later involved in more dynamic and exotic projects from Ford, ending with the 662-horsepower 2013 Shelby GT500. Shelby died May 10, 2012, but he lived long enough to see the fastest and most powerful Mustang, ever, come to life.

But of all the projects Shelby had on the go, the Series 1 was his most original road-going creation.


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