When Bob Carlson first went...
When Bob Carlson first went to Shelby American, he was hoping for a job as a driver. He ended up as the parts guy for the race shop.
In addition to his regular job in the race shop, Bernie also volunteered for other duties, such as taking a Mark II GT40 on a six-month tour of the southern U.S. At one point, he found himself at Ford's San Jose assembly plant changing speedometer gears on four-speeds. "Borg-Warner had sent them with the wrong tailshaft speedo gears. So they gave me a sack of gears and a tool box and I flew up to the assembly plant. In this warehouse were all these four-speeds, about 40 or 50 of them, sticking straight up on pallets. So I got an air gun and worked Friday and all day Saturday changing the gears. On Sunday I went over to Haight-Ashbury and all that, then flew back for work on Monday morning."
Recently, Howard Pardee from the Shelby American Automobile Club called Bernie to tell him that while digging through some of the old Shelby American paperwork, he'd found the invoice where Shelby had billed Borg-Warner. "He asked me to guess how much Shelby billed them for changing those gears. I figured $200. He said they charged them $7,000. Turns out there were 46 four-speeds. Well, they put a `2' in front of it, making it 246. And they said I took them out of the cars to change them."
When Shelby American started shutting down in 1967, Bernie left to start his own shop, where he continued working on Shelby customer cars. A few years later, he joined the Huntington Beach Fire Department. "With a wife and three kids, I needed a real job with medical insurance and a retirement plan. You know how that goes."
Bob Carlson, 1963-1966
Bob Carlson was 19 when he strolled into Shelby American looking for a job as a race car driver. He found himself being questioned by Carroll Shelby. "My father was a mechanic when I was growing up in Ohio and had worked for Art Arfons on the Green Monster, the first drag racing jet car. When I moved to California he told me to look up Carroll Shelby. So I went over to Princeton Street and sat around to wait for an interview. Finally, Carroll came downstairs. I told him I was going to be a race car driver. He said he thought he had something for me and sent me to the parts manager. So I went from being a big-shot driver to a parts guy."
Bob eventually ended up as the parts man in the race shop, where he would track down parts for Phil Remington and the other engineers. He recalls that sometimes on a Thursday afternoon, Shelby would put a "Gone Racing" sign on the door and they would all head out to Riverside. "A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, and Dan Gurney would be there. That's when I figured out I wasn't going to be running on the front row for a long time. They had 10 years of experience on me, so my dreams of being a driver went down the drain."
Later, Carroll created a marketing manager position for Bob, where he placed ads and sold parts to racers around the country. When Shelby and Lew Spencer opened Hi-Performance Motors, he moved there. "I thought that was going to be more fun. We had a lot of movie stars buying cars--Steve McQueen, Mort Sahl, Dennis Wilson from the Beach Boys, and the kid from Father Knows Best. Jay Sebring, who later died in the Sharon Tate murders, had a Cobra. He'd bring it down so I could tune it up.
"I heard all the conversations between McQueen, Sahl, and all those car guys. Shelby was like a god to them. He was the toast of Hollywood, all the women were in love with him, and the guys wanted to be just like him. To be part of that program was a thrill because I was thrown into situations with people who were overwhelmingly popular. They used to hang out with me because they wanted to get close to Shelby."