The writing was on the wall. With the Eleanor-look fastback so popular, a convertible would be built. Shelby did the same in 1968; he expanded his lineup then, so why not now?
Doug Hasty, president of Unique Performance (builder of the GT500E Shelbys), might have been too busy to feel the urge to build more Eleanors because his shop was backed up with fastback orders. "It never entered my mind to do a convertible with the look and feel of Eleanor," Hasty told us. "But, the more I looked at the '68 Mustang convertible in my showroom, the more I felt it would be a beautiful car."
Beauty is the catchword for a convertible, as in "boulevard cruiser." Yet, with 515 hp on tap, this drop-top has more than good looks. Actually, the padded rollbar is for real, whereas the original '68 Shelby rollbars were mainly for looks.
There are "challenges," Hasty explained, when building a convertible with mega-horsepower and torque. This white-with-blue-stripes GT500E is the first convertible in the Eleanor series. Perhaps for this reason, Unique didn't go whole-hog with a Super Snake.
In the hierarchy of Eleanor builds, the base model is the standard-issue GT500E, powered by a 302. Next up the ladder is the Performance Edition, packing a 351 Windsor bored out to 408 cubic inches. At the top of the ladder is the 725-horse 427 Super Snake.
As we write, three more convertibles are on order, and two will be Super Snakes. For the time being, this Shelby is the sole Eleanor convertible. Hasty liked the car so much that he took delivery himself, which turned out well for a Shelby that became a TV star. The first Eleanor convertible has been taking bows since Bobby Mikus, David Reed, Gregg Bond, and the rest of the crew turned the stunning Shelby out of the Unique Performance shop in Farmers Branch, Texas, at the end of December 2004.
On January 25, Spike TV aired "AutoRox," a 90-minute show hosted by Carmen Electra, who handed out a dozen special car awards selected by the general public using Internet voting. The GT500E fastback earned the Best Muscle Car award. Funk Master Flex handed out the award while standing next to the GT500E fastback prototype. The car got the award, not the people who built it, as in "the car is the star."
Meanwhile, Kid Rock, the famous rock 'n' roll star, was scheduled to be driven on stage in a truck, specially flown in for the occasion. Apparently, he got a glimpse of the GT500E convertible parked outside, and it was love at first sight. Instead of the truck, Kid picked the Eleanor drop-top for the ride to the stage with an attractive young blonde in the driver seat. The white convertible spun on a turntable while Kid Rock performed.
Spike TV also presented Carroll Shelby with the Automotive Icon award. Shelby, who was driven on stage in a Cobra, made the crowd laugh when he said he didn't know what an "icon" was, but he'd take the award anyway.
From the hangar at the Santa Monica airport (where "AutoRox" was filmed), Unique shipped the GT500E convertible to the Barrett-Jackson classic-car auction. However, it was not for sale; instead, it was part of Unique's display.
Hasty calls the exterior color Pure White and the stripes Argent Blue, a color combination first for a GT500E but similar to '65-'66 GT350 fastbacks, although the blue is slightly darker than the Guardsman Blue used on the original Shelbys. The convertible top is cloth "like used on some of the most expensive luxury cars in the world," Hasty explained. It's fitted with a glass backlight.
To date, all GT500Es have had black interiors. For the convertible, Unique went with standard blue seats that look custom with Carroll Shelby signatures embroidered into the backs. The dash is deluxe Mustang, with Shelby's signature on the passenger side, like all Eleanors. White-face, Shelby Signature gauges include a 10,000-rpm tachometer and a 160-mph speedometer. Also standard is the LeCarra 15-inch wooden steering wheel and a Sony stereo with CD player.
There's no console between the seats. Instead, Unique mounts a fire extinguisher and its "Remove Before Flight" red ribbon, referring to the adjacent nitrous-oxide switch, as used in the Gone In 60 Seconds movie car.
The 408 cubic-inch engine, which develops 475 hp in the Performance Edition 500 with carburetors, now develops 515 hp with fuel injection. There's no loss in the underhood looks-the DC & O fuel injection system resembles a set of Webers with air stacks.
Convertibles, due to their structure, have extra bracing from the factory. But with over 500 hp, the first Eleanor convertible needed even more rigidity. The rollbar stiffens up the unit-body construction, but Unique also adds special frame connectors and X-bracing.
One concession on the convertible is a five-speed manual instead of the standard six-speed. Mikus explained, "The six-speed has a bigger housing and we didn't want to destroy the floorboard." Due to the extra reinforcement, the convertible's floorboard is actually smaller. So Unique used the new TKO 600, which Mikus said is "really a stronger transmission."
The result is a GT500E with the performance of the fastback and the showboat looks of a convertible. It was bound to happen, and we wonder what could be next. In 1967, Shelby produced a prototype known as Lil' Red, which was a coupe with a blown big-block. With Shelby, there's no telling what may come.