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posted on November 18th, 2019

Cars not named Mustang or Cobra

When we think of Carroll Shelby, striped Mustangs and big block Cobras with massive fender flares are usually the cars that come to mind. While the Cobra, Mustang, and a certain mid-engined GT car that was just 40 inches tall have cemented the legendary duo of the Blue Oval and the Snake, the legendary Le Mans-winning chicken farmer had his hands in all sorts of automotive ventures over the years. Let’s take a look at some of the other cars that received Shelby’s magic touch.

Most people think of the Mustang when Carroll Shelby’s name is mentioned

Sunbeam Tiger

Sunbeam Tiger advertisement with Carroll Shelby

Affectionately known as the “poor man’s Cobra,” the Tiger followed the same architecture as the Cobra: Take a Ford V8 engine and cram it into a small British sports car (a Sunbeam Alpine). While Shelby wasn’t in charge of manufacturing the Tiger, he received a royalty for every Tiger sold for his role in its development.

While the Ford 260 (and later 289) added some serious muscle under the hood, it was a total shoehorn that barely fit. The steering had to be swapped out for a rack and pinion, and servicing one the spark plugs requires accessing through the firewall, not to mention the heavier duty suspension and rear axle required to handle the American powerplant.

Toyota 2000GT

Shelby-prepped Toyota 2000GT (Image: Driving Line)

I assure you that’s not a typo. Toyota’s famed 1960s exotic sports car may pull over a million dollars at auction these days, but a lot of people don’t know that it saw action as a Shelby racer. Like many Japanese automakers of the time, Toyota wanted to make a name for itself in America, and what better way to do it than to go racing?

Shelby prepped three 2000GTs for the 1968 SCCA C-Production Class. Modification included wider wheels and massaging the Yamaha inline six engine to produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 horsepower. Despite solid performance for its first outing (particularly against the Porsche 911), Toyota pulled the plug on the program after the 1968 season.

Dodge Omni GLH

1986 Dodge Omni GLHS (Image: Hemmings)

The Dodge Omni name doesn’t mean much to enthusiasts (and means nothing to regular Joes), but the popularity of small hatchbacks (particularly the VW Rabbit/Golf) was spreading like wildfire in Shelby’s time. Not one to dismiss this trend, Shelby went to work modifying the pedestrian Dodge Omni into a proven performer.

While the GLH (Goes-Like-Hell) Omni existed with an upgraded naturally-aspirated engine, the party really started when the turbo version arrived on the scene for 1985. With a 146 horsepower and tipping the scales at a featherweight 2,200 pounds, the Shelby-ized Omni could certainly scoot.

Dodge Viper RT/10

Trevor’s 1994 Dodge Viper RT/10 (San Jose, CA)

While Chrysler handled production of the original Viper, Carroll Shelby played a major part during the development process. By the time the 1992 Viper was ready to be unveiled to the public, it was just as raw of a car as its spiritual predecessor. A massive V10 good for 400 horses, side pipes ready to burn your legs, and absolutely no driver aids meant the “Sneaky Pete” badged car required the utmost attention while behind the wheel. And just like the Cobra, the first-gen Viper makes lots of noise and still turns heads to this day.

Shelby Series 1

Shelby Series 1 (Image: Silodrome)

There’s no denying the popularity of the original Cobra formula, and by the late 90s, Shelby was ready to give things another shot. This time it wouldn’t be a Cobra, nor a Viper, but rather a completely new car using the latest technology available. It would be called the Shelby Series 1, and it was the first all-new Shelby car that wasn’t based on an existing model.

Under the hood sat an Oldsmobile-sourced 4.0-liter DOHC V8, and with less than 2,700 pounds to haul around, the new car was quick on its feet. Unfortunately for Shelby, just shy of 250 cars were built before a mix of financial troubles and changing DOT regulations finally put a halt on the Series 1 production. Nonetheless the Series 1 marks a very interesting chapter in the Shelby history before he rejoined forces with Ford for the next generation of Shelby Mustangs.

Joey is usually thinking about one thing: cars, cars, and did we mention cars? If he’s not talking about cars, chances are he’s tinkering under the hood of his old E30 BMW.