Pictures: Shelby American
Pictures: Shelby American

Gardena, California - The original existed only as a one-off test mule that has become a legend among Mustang fans, making this ‘continuation’ replica a cult car before the first one was even built.

Shelby American is building just 10 exact replicas to special order of the original, one and only 1967 Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake, at an eye-watering $249 995 (R3.17 million) each - but when you consider that the original changed hands for $1.3 million (R16.5 million) in 2013, it’s not a bad price for a legend you can actually drive on the road, unlike Jaguar’s million-pound XK-SS and lightweight E-Types recreations, which are not street legal.

That’s because, unlike the Jaguars, which are all brand new, each Super Snake will be built on a refurbished original ‘67 Fastback bodyshell with original VIN and registration documents, so legally it’s a 1967 model and thus exempt from today’s emissions and safety regulations.

An American tale:

In 1967 Carroll Shelby was approached by Goodyear to build a special testbed for its Thunderbolt high-performance tyres. It had to be capable of sustained speeds above 200km/h for at least 800km, it had to be street-legal and, for publicity reasons, it had to be American.

For the time it was a very big ask, but Shelby chief engineer Fred Goodell was never one to back down from a challenge. He chose a white fastback at random from the test cars at the Shelby skunk works in Los Angeles, and replaced the standard V8 with a lightweight medium riser 427 cubic inch (6997cc) racing engine, modified, tweaked and tuned to GT40 endurance racing specs, and deliverimg a rumoured 383kW, driving the rear wheels via a four-speed manual gearbox and a Detroit Locker rear axle with built-in limited-slip differential.

Goodell also added heavy-duty front disc brakes, rear traction bars, a redesigned grille housing the huge radiators necessary to cool the beast, Thunderbolt tyres and special triple go-fast stripes so you could spot the car across a crowded racetrack.

World record

Shelby and Goodell took the car down to Goodyear’s test track in San Antonio, Texas, where Shelby personally demonstrated that the Super Snake was good for 270km/h. It was then handed over to Goodell for a carefully orchestrated and publicised 800km tyre test that ‘coincidentally’ produced a new world speed record of 227.2km/h for the distance in its class.

After the successful test, Shelby took the car back to California and, perennially short of cash, handed it over to Don McCain, a former Shelby employee and drag racer who was then sales manager for performance cars at Mel Burns Ford in Long Beach. He sold it to James Hadden and James Gorman, both commercial airline pilots from Texas and, amazingly, it survives unscathed to this day.

McCain then conceived the idea of a limited run of 50 Super Snakes, to be sold exclusively through Mel Burns Ford. Shelby loved the idea, but the 427 cubic-inch racing engines were simply too expensive. Even with unmodified, off the shelf 427s, the ‘production’ Super Snakes would have had to sell for $7500, the same price as a handbuilt 427 Cobra, so the project was shelved - leaving the test mule as the one and only ‘67 Super Snake.

But McCain never gave up on the idea; before his death a few years ago he was involved in the Shelby engine program and once again tried to get Super Snake replica production off the ground. He even signed ten dashboard plaques for the cars, as did Carroll Shelby, but that was as far as it got - until now.

Today rare or unusual Mustangs command outrageous prices, and the time is finally right to build 10 continuation 1967 Super Snakes, each carrying one of those plaques, and a serial number for the Shelby registry.

Nine more original donor cars will be stripped to bare metal and fitted with a seven-litre V8 from the Carroll Shelby Engine Company, built on your choice of either an aluminium or cast-iron block and delivering more than 407kW. Just like the original, each will have a four-speed manual ‘box, disc brakes all round and the iconic triple stripes.

This one, the first of the 10, will make its public debut at the Carroll Shelby Tribute on Saturday 19 May at Carroll Shelby International in Gardena.

IOL Motoring