September 30, 2013 -- Bright lights, casinos, and A-list entertainment - that's why most people visit Las Vegas. However, there's another good reason to plan a trip to the City that Never Sleeps, particularly if you're a car buff, and most definitely if you're a Shelby fan. Shelby American, the company that Carroll Shelby founded over 50 years ago, is now located at the southern end of the Vegas Strip. Here, the Shelby team performs its magic, making fast cars even faster and sexy cars sexier. Whether you're looking at the iconic Cobra Roadster, an enhanced Mustang, or an upgraded F150 Raptor truck, there is no mistaking the Shelby look. Gary Patterson, VP of Sales & Customer Services, took me on a tour of Shelby American for an inside look at how these special vehicles are built. This is ground zero, where the collector cars of tomorrow are being produced today.
The main production building is organized so that each vehicle has its own individual workstation, with a two post surface-mounted lift in the center. You can imagine that it is quite a spectacle to see Super Snakes, Shelby 1000s, GT350s, and Shelby Raptors in various stages of assembly. Gary explained that a Shelby team member completes all specified upgrades here, except body stripes and wide-body kits. However, one special vehicle, the Shelby 1000, requires an additional stop in the Speed Shop, because of the unique modifications it requires.
Initially, as I walked through the Shop, I didn't see any Cobras. I thought, "Shelby American must have them somewhere," and sure enough, they were being handcrafted in the rear of the main production building. In fact, I got a terrific photo op, when I spotted a highly-polished aluminum body Cobra off to the side.
When I stepped into the Speed Shop, Gary pointed to a Shelby 1000 that was missing an engine. To pump up the power to 1000 horsepower, these ultimate Snakes require special modifications inside the engine, in addition to the typical supercharging that is common in other Shelby models. The missing Shelby 1000 engine was being reworked in a separate room. It's a sure bet that Carroll Shelby spent some quality timge at this heart of the operation, where extra horsepower was developed.
In addition to ongoing Shelby mods, work was in progress on a late model Cobra Jet drag car and a ZR1 Corvette. Gary explained that the Shelby mechanics work on many high performance cars, not just Fords and Shelbys, either to add more power or sometimes to put cars back together that have been pushed beyond their breaking point.
The popularity of the Shelby wide body kits introduced last year has created a large demand, as customers line up to get this upgrade, so it's no surprise that the body and paint shop is very busy. The wide look, which can be added to only the rear end, or to both the front and rear, is available on Mustangs, starting with the 2005 model year. It was interesting to see a brand new Mustang, with the window sticker still in place, getting the wide-body makeover.
Completed cars are sent to the inspection booth, where under bright lights each vehicle is closely examined before being released for delivery. A row of newly- minted Shelbys, a Ford GT, which had received an upgraded supercharger, and a Ford Focus, were waiting in line for their turn in the inspection booth.
A trip to the Shelby facility wouldn't be complete without visiting the onsite museum. Several cars of Carroll Shelby's personal collection are housed here, along with some late model builds. The very first Cobra ever built, designated CSX2000, is a featured car on display in the museum. This 1962 AC Cobra, with a small block 260 engine, may be one of the most valuable sports cars in the world, with some estimates being as much as $26 million. Also, don't miss the man cave next to the museum, which has Shelby items for sale, including a Cobra-inspired golf cart. This special cart may not improve your game, but you'll be able to outrun anyone on the fairway.