story of a visit to the Shelby American Automobile Club Convention,
By Grant Bradley.
(Reprinted from the Taranaki Mustang Club Mag # 76 Sept 02)
Making it happen
It had been at least 15 years since the
Shelby American Automobile Club had held their annual convention on the West
Coast of the States, so as soon as we found out last year, Dale Mathers and
myself started making plans to attend. There were other events happening around
the same time in LA so we planned a 17-day trip. Phillip Hoffman also decided to
come with us and with a rising kiwi dollar we were in for a good time.
We left Auckland airport on a direct flight to LA on Wednesday afternoon, flying throughout the night to arrive in LA on Wednesday morning. We walked straight out of the terminal and the first car we should see is a 65 Mustang convertible. I thought this is going to be good, he didn’t want to sell though. Being summer and school holidays rentals were a bit scarce, but we got ourselves our own land crab, a V10 Triton FORD Van, (it had being bent in a wreck we found out later). Plenty of room for the parts in this baby. It had plenty of go, Dales foot stayed flat to the floor all the time in this thing, I preferred to use the 80 mile per hour drafting technique behind semi trucks to push this thing through the air. The boys took a bit of getting used to this thought.
We had wheels so will travel, off to Mustang
Country our first Mustang shop and we hadn’t even been in the country 3 hours.
There were plenty of Mustangs in the car park mainly early models, some being
used for car parts but there were three 65 fastbacks which were good used cars
suitable for restoring. They however were all off to Australia, our first
encounter with the Aussies. Dale knew the owners of the business so we got to
have a look around; nice collection of cars including the Sony and Cher
Mustangs. Phil was first to spend a dollar, sign of things to come here team.
Time for lunch and my first taste of American food - settled for a turkey
sandwich here and I certainly didn’t go hungry, always plenty of food.
Next stop Ford Power Parts a major supplier of Ford Performance parts in the eighties and nineties but not too much left when we got there .
(Ron Miller of Ford Power Parts comments: "We had the largest amount of Ford Parts there including 5 complete rare engines; NOS GT-40 experimental heads (only 10 sets ever made!); GT-40 4 bolt main 289 tall deck block; 427 parts; lots of intake manifolds, cranks, rods, etc. etc. etc. We just moved our shop. See our website at www.fordpowerparts.com )
As we were to find out good Ford parts are hard to find, you have to do a
lot of asking around to find the stuff or else just buy off Ebay.
We found ourselves a motel we could use as a base for the next couple of weeks, and then off to a friend of Dale’s for the evening who had being storing the parts we had being buying prior. Early Christmas for the boys.
Thursday was the 4 of July and the Shelby club
had a bus tour organized for the day to take us around some of Carroll
Shelby’s old hangouts. Six buses and 300 people was a lot of Shelby nuts to
have in one place so we got to know quite a few people during the day.
The buses left at 8.30 in the morning from the
Hilton Ontario, which was the Convention hotel for the weekend and headed west
into Los Angles. We drove by Carroll Shelby’s original Hi Performance Motors
garage, which still today bear’s a resemblance of what it was. We then stopped
at 1042 Princeton Drive in Venice and after a short speech outside the building
got to walk through the premise. Now converted to a Design studio there was
little to tell that it was Shelby’s first race and production facility. Many
of the Cobras were assembled here and the old brick wall was still out back that
was used as a backdrop for a lot of the Cobra photos. Amazing to think we were
in a building where it really started to happen for Shelby, I bet they had some
fun out on the street with Cobras.
Back on the bus in which we were lucky enough
to have John McCombe on board. John was a Shelby race team driver and drove a 67
Trans Am Mustang in 67, helping Ford win the title for the year. He told some
good stories and made the whole trip very interesting. He along with Chuck
Cantwell even remembers Paul Fahey buying his 67 Trans Am Mustang and shipping
it back to NZ.
Our next stop was at 6501 West Imperial
Highway right by LA airport. This was where Shelby’s operations got a lot
bigger and he had a lot more input from Ford. Shelby’s race shop for the
Cobras, GT 40 and GT 350 was here as well as the production facility for the
road cars. Phil got to see where his 67 Shelby was completed. The hangars are
now used by Nippon cargo and Qantas but we got to go inside them and were given
a presentation of what was where and how it all worked back in the sixties.
Apparently there was a lot of space out back and many a test run (100mph) was
done out there, I guess it was the airport though.
After this we drove by a couple of the smaller
shops Shelby used from time to time, but not much to recognize there now. We
then stopped for lunch at Shelby’s current premise in Gardena. Here he has his
Goodyear race tire outlet and engine building shop; all aluminum 427 or bigger
built here. They had one on the dyno and it was singing, easy 700hp. The engine
shop was spotless with the best of everything, we were very lucky.
While we were there Carroll Shelby appeared in
person, he had just had an operation on his leg but managed to speak to as many
people as he could, I almost got to him. Carroll had a couple of his own cars
there, Cobras, Shelby’s etc and the souvenirs were selling well, Phil and
Grant guilty here. Cool.
Next we were off to Dean Moon’s shop in
Santa Fe Springs where the first Cobra CSX2000 had a Ford V8 fitted. It is the
original shop with a retail outlet, machine and production facility for Moon
Equipment. It is not a big place but they make plenty of stuff for Rods etc.
Back on the bus and the long haul out to the
old Riverside raceway, nearly an hour inland but we got to see lots of the
countryside, desert that is. There’s nothing left of the track as it has being
bulldozed and a shopping center and housing estate built there. We however got
to stand where the track was, stood on the famous turn 9 and were given a full
run down on the good old days of racing there and the exploits of Shelby testing
which they used the track for.
Back to the hotel after this where we were given more goodies and piece of the wall from Riverside. We completed registration and spent the evening in the car park looking at the cars and speaking to everyone. The Aussies, Ian Blume and friends caught up with us and so started the sheep jokes and bullshit, all in good fun and we had some good laughs especially keeping one step ahead of them at the swap meets.
Shelby Swap Meet and Racing Day 1
Friday was out to California Speedway for the
swap meet, vintage racing and car show, which went basically for the next three
days in this format. Cars just tended to come and go from the show area so you
had to keep an eye out for the new arrivals. The Shelby conventions are based
around racing and everyone getting as much track time as possible.
California Speedway is a brand new 2-mile banked D shaped oval. The
facility is huge and unless you see something like it you can’t image how big
it is. Everything was based inside the track and the pit garages are as good as
they get and when they are full of Cobras, Shelby’s and Mustangs they are
The swap meet was not big but we managed to
get a few bits and pieces, there was a bit of NOS Ford parts and some more
specialized Ford parts. We were lucky to see all these parts in one place
because we sure didn’t see as much at Pomona the following weekend. There were
parts there that I probably should have brought, even at the price they were
asking for them, but we all did pretty well in the end. Now I just got to put em
all on my Boss 302 one day.
We spent a lot of time in the pit garages
speaking with everyone and looking at the cars. There were Cobras, 427,and 289
originals and replicas, GT350, GT 350R, GT 500, Boss 302, factory 67 Trans Am
Mustangs and various 65/66 Mustang fastbacks and coupes converted into track
cars, as they call em. I think there was as many genuine Shelby’s converted
into track cars as there were road going. The most popular Shelby’s there
appeared to be the 66 GT 350 both on and off the track. Still there was a good
number of 65 ‘s to look at, a couple for sale, which got Phil thinking. We
found one particular 65 Shelby that was an original untouched 22,000-mile car
and it looked new. Money wouldn’t buy it, the guy had a Shelby of every year
and model, all on display at the convention and all in excellent condition. It
was an awesome sight.
The cars that were racing were split into a
couple of groups based on times and experience. They were then given half hour
sessions to do as many laps as they like and as long as you had the money. For
US$100 per half day you could drive Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the track.
They put a chicane into the main straight to slow the cars down and also used
the infield of the track to put a few extra corners in. A spectacular track and
very fast which saw a couple of motors blow, but no problems for the serious
guys as they just put the spare in. Some of these guys had semi trucks with a
couple of cars, spare motors, diff's etc and a workshop in the truck. Vintage
racing is big over there and some guys know how to spend the money.
Friday night involved a dinner and a couple of speakers telling us all the old Shelby stories, it was pretty low key and was all over in a couple of hours so we spent a couple of hours in the bar bench racing with the Americans.
Shelby Racing Day 2
Saturday was much the same out at the track
with the swap meet, car show and more racing. We still managed to fill the day,
brought more parts and talked more cars with everyone. Phils resolve had
increased by now and we were looking hard for that 65.
Saturday night was another dinner with more
guest speakers from the Shelby days, Linda Vaughn Miss Hurst was there and spoke
very well; got her autograph. Carroll Shelby was meant to be there but his
health kept him at home. However he rang in on his cell phone, which was
broadcast in the PA system. He’s still got some life in him yet and said to
watch out for his forth-coming project with Ford in the near future. A very
enjoyable night even with a couple of Americans trying to sell overpriced
Shelby’s to us, the word was out.
Long Beach Swap Meet and More Racing Day 3
Sunday we rose at 4.30am and headed off to
Long Beach for a swap meet, breakfast at Denny's and then into the swap meet at
6am along with a couple of thousand others. No house stuff at this swap meet
just automotive, not too much Ford stuff but we got a few bits and pieces. This
meet is just a bit bigger than Pukekoke but being all automotive takes a lot
longer to go around. We found a guy selling NOS Ford stuff, more for the Boss
and we got talking to him. He had worked for Ford since 1967 and was into
Mustangs and in particular had a 65 carry over Shelby.
Sounded like a nice car so Phil got his number and we continued on. Not
too many cars for sale at the swap meet and what was there had big prices on or
needed a heap of work.
Another feed and then it was back to the
Shelby meet to watch the final races in the afternoon. This is where they got
real serious and there was some excellent racing with over 40 cars racing in the
GT350 / Trans Am group. It was a great sight to see them all blasting down the
We did a bit of negotiating on the last of the
parts and souvenirs and that was the Shelby convention. I don’t think we
realized what were seeing at the time but I recommend anyone to go to these type
of events because you see so many cars, parts and people that would take you so
much longer to travel around America to see the same.
We had a bit of time left on Sunday afternoon
so Phil made a call to Jack the guy we met in the morning at Long Beach swap
meet and we were off into the desert to look at the Shelby. We drove up into the
hills on the way to Las Vegas to a place near Victorville, which I believe was
the home of the Hells Angles a while ago. Victorville is on the old Route 66
road, so we got to do some miles on Route 66, it was a neat place. Anyway we
found Jacks place and had a look at the Shelby. Very nice and restored with NOS
Ford parts to a very high standard, everything was detailed to the max and done,
as it would have come from the factory. The car was a multiple trophy winner
when Jack was showing it and had not lost any of its class. What we thought
would take an hour turned into 4, they were very hospitable and enjoyed the
interest we showed in the Shelby and their other Mustangs.
We left about 9 o’clock that night most impressed, I don’t think Phil got any sleep that night.
Mustang Business Visits
Monday and Tuesday we spent in LA visiting
various businesses including back to Carroll Shelby’s to leave some parts for
Carroll to autograph, Larry’s Mustang, Edlebrock Corporation in which we got
to spend some time with one of their technical managers who knew exactly what
parts we should use to make any amount of horse power.
We went to Redline Webber and got a tour
through their business and another associated business involved in distributing
auto parts around the US. These guys had a big place and were into all sorts of
We also stopped by Stillen to buy some Nissan
parts and as we were leaving Steve Millen walked in the door. He was very
hospitable and gave us an hour of his time as well as a tour through his
business. Steve has done really well in the US and his business specializes in
dress up kits and upgrades to sport trucks and cars mainly Japanese performance.
They will do anything the customer requires. Most of his parts are manufactured
and assembled in one of his premises, it’s a big business. We thanked Steve
very much for his time.
Everywhere we went people were very
hospitable and went out of their way to show us around. I think we were very
lucky as I don’t think this is a common practice.
Tuesday night we drove up to Modesto about an
hour inland from San Francisco stopping off at National Parts Depot to buy some
more Mustang parts, these guys are good and have an excellent selection of new
We spent the next couple of days in the bay area going to Mustangs Plus and Delta Bay Mustang looking at more cars and buying more parts. One thing we noticed was that all the Mustang shops were busy, the phones never stop ringing and there are customers always in the shops, Mustangs are still very popular and there was plenty of early cars on the road as well as a stack of new ones.
We caught up with a few guys into Mustangs and had a good look around before we headed back to LA.
Time to Buy that
Friday we started packing
some of the parts and then it was back to Victorville to buy the Shelby; Phil
had his car. It took a while to do the deal by the time we talked, they
reminisced about the car and we had dinner but eventually it was done. It was
about an hours drive back to where we were going to store the car so I got to
ride with Phil in Shelby, cool. This thing drove as good as it looked and went
real well. We got plenty of looks on the freeway and had a blast, I'll never
forget that ride.
Saturday and Sunday was the Pomona Swap meet,
more parts and Dale brought a 67 Mustang Hardtop. It’s a big swap meet with
thousands of people attending, heaps of automotive parts but once again not too
much specialized Ford stuff. Plenty of novelty stuff to buy and lots of cars of
all types in the car corral. An excellent day and we had a ball. You have to be
at the swap meets by 6am otherwise you miss out and usually by mid day they are
all over, makes for a long day.
Packing up and off home
Monday and Tuesday were spent getting all our
parts and cars to the shipping company and sorting out the last few bits and
pieces. The trip was almost over, it was hard to believe as it had gone so fast.
We took a short trip down to a place outside of San Diego on Wednesday to see a
guy by the name of Craig Connelly, he’s into Shelby’s so we had a good old
session with him, most knowledgeable guy and he has owned a lot of Shelby’s.
We did a quick tour of the Petersen Museum before we dropped the rental van off at the airport and that was that. On the plane we got a free upgrade to business class just to top everything off, and flew through the night back to NZ to a chilly 4 degrees in Auckland. My first thought when we got out of the airport was "where have all the people and cars gone"? We are such a small country compared to the US or even compared to California.
Its nice to be home though, just got save for the next trip now!