MM: Can you make a comparison between Shelby American in the '60s and Shelby Automobiles in 2008?
Shelby: It's the same philosophy I started with Shelby American when I walked into [Ford president Lee] Iacocca's office in 1962 to ask him for $25,000 to build two Cobra prototypes. A small company in partnership with a large company can sometimes do things a lot quicker. We're operating today in Las Vegas with the same philosophy we operated with back then. That is, we're partners with Ford. We can decide on a car and in three to six months we can be in business. But Shelby Automobiles couldn't do it without Ford. Particularly, Ford takes care of emissions and safety, which it has thousands of engineers working on. So we're doing the same thing we did 45 years ago. Even with some of the same people. They're old and wobbly now, but they're still great people.
MM: Obviously a lot has changed in the last four decades. One thing that seems to be popping up these days is trademarks. Is it more important for you to protect your trademarks today?
Shelby: Trademarks define a company's brand. Back in the late '60s, I started trademarking where I could. I couldn't trademark the shape of the cars back then. However, in the '70s that became possible. We've got the trademark now on the 289 Cobra and the Daytona Coupe, and we're working on the 427. And that would complete my ambitions as far as trademarks are concerned, so I can leave them in the hands of my heirs and Ford. About the only one we're having a fight with is Factory Five. And I hope that will be over in a few months.
MM: Can you explain why it's so important to protect your trademarks?
Shelby: Trademarks give you the right to build what you created and keep people from coming in and taking what's rightfully yours. My trademarks include the GT350, Cobra, GT500, King of the Road...As I said, I've been fighting for many, many years for the shape of my cars. And that's coming to a defining moment very quickly now. It's not a matter of profit-it's the heart and soul of any business. You see Ford, General Motors, and other companies fighting to keep people from using their trademarks and their products. It's like what's going on in the music industry now.
MM: That brings us to SAAC. You've decided not to renew their license to use the Shelby name. Can you explain why you made that decision?
Shelby: I appreciate the chance to clear the air on this because they're trying to create a cancer when there is no cancer. There are some good people in that club, such as the registrars. I'm not trying to stop them from doing what they do.
I and a few others formed the Shelby American Automobile Club as a nonprofit club in 1974. Austin Craig and Jim Wicks were running the club while I was in Africa. A year or two later, Rick Kopec and Ken Eber forced them out and changed it from a nonprofit club to a for-profit club.
I've been telling Rick for 15 years that I was unhappy with the way the club was run. They pick and choose who they want to work with. They don't even recognize the new Shelby Mustangs.