"Let Bobby get a hamburger. He just flew in. Then we'll get Eleanor,"Steve Sanderson told us from his cell phone at Shelby's place on thegrounds of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
We phoned while driving north on I-15 to the track, where Carroll Shelbybuilds Cobras, Series 1 Shelbys, the Eleanor GT500E continuationShelbys, and who knows what else (we hear a continuation '65 R-model isnext). Bobby Mikus had Eleanor fueled and ready to cruise.
The occasion was SAAC 7 Does Vegas, starring Rick Kopec and the ShelbyAmerican Automobile Club. These people aren't much for showing andshining. There would be a rally to the Valley of Fire on Sunday morning.Saturday would be track day, as in road racing. Sunday afternooneverybody would meet at Shelby's facility for a barbecue. When Carrollhimself is wandering the grounds, excitement is afoot.
We showed up fairly late in the day for SAAC registration. People cameout of thin air to c
"Meet us at the Iron Skillet behind Shelby's place," Steve said.
Everywhere Eleanor is parked, people gravitate. It was mid afternoon,and the restaurant was almost empty. Before I could get out of my carand walk 20 yards, four men peered in the windows to inspect the GT500E.
"Eleanor," one smiling man assured us in a heavy Spanish accent. Thereis a certain trepidation approaching a car in a parking lot, yet peopletake the risk.
Our aim was to drive Eleanor down the Las Vegas strip and gauge publicreaction. First, Bobby and I would drop by the Boardwalk Hotel on thestrip, where SAAC entrants were registering.
Kopec had warned us of a backlash with Eleanor; some Shelby puristsdidn't have the big picture, but Kopec knew the history well:
"Shelby reinvents himself every ten years," he said. "In the '50s, hewas a driver; in the '60s, he built the Cobras and Shelby Mustangs; inthe '70s, he was a business man; in the '80s, he was with Chrysler. Inthe '90s, he built his Series 1 Shelby and CSX 4000 series Cobra."
At SAAC's registration, members were quick to get down on their kneesand check out the und
The 21st century is here and with it a new Shelby to appeal to a newgeneration. Kopec assured us we could never predict what was going tohappen. On Sunday afternoon, I got the idea he was right, when the tourguide at Shelby American spoke about building a hydrogen-powered car.
The SAAC people were all over Eleanor when we pulled in the parking lotof the boardwalk. Or, more precisely, they were all under it.
"Take a look at that rear suspension. Exotic," said one.
Others inspected details under the hood. Owen Kelly and his friend GaryMichael flew in from Missoula, Montana. Kelly owns a '67 GT500. He wasecstatic to walk around and inspect Eleanor in person.
Mechanicals are a big deal to Shelby purists. What's under the hood?
Obviously, Eleanor wasn't a threat to him. In fact, he said after themovie came out, his car got a lot more attention and had escalated invalue. The backlash Kopec warned us about wasn't surfacing, although weknew it existed.
Kopec told us some members had gone so far as to ask, "Can you make himstop?"
They were referring to Carroll and the cars he builds. Some purists evensay SAAC is "in bed" with Shelby American, meaning they exist to promotehis cars. Actually, SAAC registers them in the Shelby American WorldRegistry so that many years from now someone doesn't show up at aconvention and claim to have an original Cobra or Shelby when it wasconverted much later. Thus, all cars are numbered, registered, anddocumented.
On the Vegas strip, Rick and Randy, in town for a tile and carpetingconvention, came down
On the Las Vegas strip, Eleanor faced rugged competition for looks. Whenwe turned onto Las Vegas Boulevard, in front of us was a red Viper withwhite stripes. The driver, a young man with his hat on backwards, revvedthe V-10 at the light. We only wished we could have been side by side ona strip for racing and not just for casinos--we'd have shown him a realsnake!
To our surprise, the attraction to Eleanor on the strip proved much morethan cosmetic. You light the V-8 and the air crackles. Side exitingexhausts are a trait of big-block Cobras and Trans Am race cars. Two mencame running from the escalators from the walkway surrounding theBellagio Hotel.
"My Charger used to sound like that," Randy Martinson from Tucson toldus. He and his friend Rick were in town for a tile and carpetconvention. That they had chosen our site--or should we say sound--was atestament to the magnetism of a Shelby. Fire up this baby and windowsrattle, the ground shakes, babies cry, people run for their lives.
Fernando Quaintania, Yosu Aranguena, Eugenio Aranguena, and FernandoBosada, all from Mexic
We were in for more laughs in front of the Bellagio. There, GeorgePappas, the valet parking supervisor, welcomed us with open arms. A20-something, he told us he had rebuilt '65 and '66 Mustangs for his ownuse. He recognized Mustang Monthly--he was one of us.
The Las Vegas strip is a humongous traffic jam, and we had to get offthe strip to find a place to park. As people ambled by, they recognizedthe car. One married couple, not into cars, stopped and deliveredplayful banter.
"It's a Dodge," the husband said.
"No, it's a Mustang," she rolled her eyes.
"Oh yeah, wait. The movie, with Nicolas Cage, where he stole all thosecars."
Eleanor is a pretty picture in the Nevada desert.
Most people identified Eleanor with the movie, not with Shelby, and theydidn't realize Eleanor was based on a GT500. Also, we're willing to betthey didn't know the latest movie was a remake--hotter and faster thanthe original but using the same formula. Several people questioned,"Fast and Furious?"
The funniest comments came from four men from Mexico City who oohed andawed over the silver fastback with black stripes and a bulging hood.
"It's a GTO!" said the first.
"No, a Shelby Cobra," a second man said with certainty.
"Yes, I remember, Gone In 60 Seconds," a third announced.
In front of the Bellagio, Eleanor created quite a stir among tourists.
We got their names--Fernando Quaintania, Yosu Aranguena, EugenioAranguena, and Fernando Bosada--as they posed for a picture with the"E."
"What do you think?" we asked.
Bosada was serious: "It is a car that all the men, we want to have."
Yosu cautioned, "Oh, it's a beautiful car. But you couldn't have thiscar in Mexico City because, uh, too dangerous. You can't drive this onthe street. You're going to be having lots of criminals behind you."
Our cruiser Shelby GT500E was powered by the base 325hp 302, but aperformance package is a
Quaintania kept it simple: "I want it." Next, Sherman Davis from Bostonadmitted he drove a Porsche Boxster, but he liked the "nice lines" ofEleanor and thought the car "could be European." When he said, "I wishit was European," his friend Justin Grosfelt joked, "I wish it wasmine."
Apparently, Eleanor is back-ordered at this writing. The success isphenomenal. Our friend Owen Kelly spoke with Bobby Mikus while we talkedwith the people passing by on the strip. He learned Kobe Bryant of theLos Angeles Lakers has ordered a car, as have two members of the DenverAvalanche.
The Eleanor GT500E is marketed by Sanderson Sales. For more information,contact them at: 400 Chisholm Place, Suite 114, Plano, Texas 75075;972/234-2882; www.sandersonsales.com.