Friday 4th November 2016. A trip back to the Shelby Heritage Center to be had where a full, unprecedented all access tour was coming our way. As this is a large post with lots of pictures, it’s well worth scrolling through to the end as these rare behind the scenes pics have not been in the public eye – until now!!!!
We arrived early before the doors opened at nine sharp. As a group we were hanging around by the side roller door of the factory waiting for our guide, we could already see some rather nice cars parked inside. Adam had arranged to meet with Shelby American Inc’s Director of Production and R&D, he is also their Chief Test Driver; Vince LaViolette. Vince was going to be our very own personal guide.
A few more other guests joined had by now joined our little group, thinking this was a way in. However, once the introductions had been completed with Vince we were shown in, some random other people followed us. Vince asked if they were with us and we of course said no. With that Vince advised them that we were on a private tour and that they should wait outside. The first thing to see was lines of post ramps, all with cars in various states of their build along with the sheer scale of the factory.
Behind us stood a very rare original GT40 owned by Bob Bondurant this was his personal car, and what a car it is too. In 1965 Bob won the FIA Manufacturers’ World Championship for Shelby American and Ford, winning seven out of ten races against the class dominating Ferrari 250 GTOs in Europe. Bob is also known for being a driving instructor to actors James Garner, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Robert Wagner and Tim Allen, Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage to name a few.
We were taken down the ramps and shown each of the cars in detail, and what they (Shelby) do to them to make them a “Shelby”. If you thought it was “scoops and stickers” then you are so far from the truth. The cars are ducted, cooled, tweaked, upgraded etc. but we will go into that a little later.
The cars have to be registered when they arrive at Shelby in order for the work to be done. The stock parts are removed from the car ready for the Shelby parts. This car below was going back to Australia as a rare right hand drive Shelby version. The little blue stickers on and around the car are where the body shop checks for damage, and what needs to be touched up after the series of complex engineering work has been completed.
Moving further on there was works race cars, replica GT40’s and Cobras of course.
We got up close to a Cobra being assembled. All the racks that hold the parts are covered so they don’t even put the smallest of marks on them, such is the level of care and detail.
The Cobra was waiting for the engine to be fitted and Vince explained the quality control that it all goes through before it even gets near the car.
Moving round to the back of the factory, are the little seen areas of the body assembly. There is a huge storage area off to the side where the parts from the new cars that were removed are stored before the new bespoke Shelby parts are fitted to the car. Some of these “spare” parts are sold on or maybe modified as required.
The car’s brakes and suspension having their upgrades fitted.
The very back of the workshop well away from the public gaze is the body paint and prep areas, the light booths will show any imperfections for the paint to be fixed.
We mentioned earlier on that the cars are all ducted and vented etc. The hoods are designed to cool the engine as every 100deg saved from the hot running engines will give around 4obhp, that’s A staggering figure just for cooling. The engines can run hot to about 400deg, but with the Shelby ducting designs this can be reduced to around 260deg, that’s why the venting is so important and the simple (in principle) way to obtain more power. This also applies to the brakes, there are cooling ducts under the cars to make sure the brake temperatures do not go out of tolerance no matter what the style of driving. The fabrication area is where each car has its own bespoke bodywork fitted or panels made for the car. Vince showed us the process for the carbon fibre and the fibreglass made on site, quite literally everything is hand finished to an impeccable standard.
Vince explains and shows us why all the little fins and ducts are there along with the benefits they produce. Nothing on a Shelby is just for show when it comes to the panels & bodywork.
Vince and Yogi discuss the finer points of body styling with Shelby’s best.
We emerged from the body shop out into the main factory area again, here more cars were being finished and some more new parts storage.
Vince explained that every single car is given a thorough road test adjusted and tested again. Vince gave us an example of one particular car even had a tiny break wobble at the rear at high-speed braking. The problem was tracked down to the position of the rear calipers being to high. A new design and fabrication was made to the calipers to re-position them, just to stop that issue that any mere mortal wouldn’t even detect, but they are there. If you think that the Shelby cars are expensive – now you know they are cheap considering what you get and what goes on behind the scenes to make your car the best it can be.
The suspension handling is set up to the tires and their pressures when testing as on this 1000bhp just back from an initial test run. So when the owners change the wheels, tires or stance, they are undoing all that fine tuning and hours of testing done by professionals.
We walked up to the cleaning area passing more completed cars and a trucks, vince, Yogi and Adam leading the way.
The obligatory photo shoot with Mustang Maniac’s core personnel and Vince.
The crew; Gary, Jason,Yogi, Vince, Adam and Mart.
We mentioned in an earlier post that you can sign the walls of the Shelby American Factory, which we obviously did a few days ago in the public area. This time Adam wanted to do something a little different, so the idea was born to draw around Adam and we all sign inside with a message.
Gary is quite a talented cartoonist and we put him on the spot to replicate our business card logo. We even stuck that business card in Adams silhouetted hand. What did we write? Just a message to the Shelby Factory and Cleo Shelby too from yesterdays catch up with her.
As Vince said, “there are no stickers or scoops here.”
For over two hours of Vince’s valuable time he answered our barrage of questions and showed us everything. As with most very busy people he was due at a meeting, we said our thanks and Vince departed leaving us to make our way back to the factory museum and shop. We of course took another look at the cars which are out of reach of the general public.
Then Chris and Mart took a Shelby for a spin! (OK, they just sat in it!)
That was our tour over; a rare, unique and personal guided tour around the whole of the Shelby factory. We weren’t allowed to take photo’s in couple of places, such as Vince’s own R & D area and another fabrication process area for obvious reasons. However, we were given that full unprecedented access and shown everything no stone unturned. Vince even showed us what he was working on for the 2017 Mustang in that R&D area! Not bad for a “small time parts dealer” as Adam said again.