The word “Shelby” means a lot more to the fanatics of all-American speed machines than it does to the plebeians satisfied puttering along the interstate in their dependable CR-Vs.
Las Vegas-based Shelby American Inc. rose to fame in the 1960s with the beloved AC Cobra and the GT40. It has been souping up Ford Mustangs for high-perfomance car enthusiasts ever since.
But less than a year after the company’s namesake, the famous Texan car builder Carroll Shelby, passed away at 89, Shelby American pulled the curtain back on its Ford Focus ST in January. The company takes a standard Focus and modifies the front suspension, while adding big wheels and tires, six-piston brakes and a short-throw shifter. The modifications to the suspension help with torque-steer, a common problem associated with rapid acceleration of front-wheel drive cars. The package also includes Borla stainless steel exhaust pipes, an additional 25 horsepower to the engine and a leather interior.
The move toward modifying a four-cylinder turbocharged car is a big step away from the tradition of focusing on muscle cars, but as Shelby President John Luft told IBTimes at the New York International Auto Show, which opens to the public on Friday, it’s not the first time his company has modified a four-cylinder.
Here are five questions for the president of Shelby International about the direction the company is going in a post-Carroll world.
IBT: So Shelby recently unveiled the Ford Focus ST. It’s quite a departure from the larger muscle cars that has earned the company its status. Is this a sign of the direction Shelby might be going in the post-Carroll era?
LUFT: Back in the '80s, Carroll did a version of this kind of car, the Dodge Omni, that was a turbocharged four-cylinder called the Shelby GLH. Back in 2011 Carroll was saying, “Guys, the industry is going towards small engines, and we need to start developing it.” And he reminded us, “remember, I did that back in the '80s.” It was only fitting that we bring back what he called back then his “pocket rocket."
IBT: What was Carroll’s justification at the time, back in the '80s, for pursuing the Shelby GLH?
LUFT: Carroll went to Chrysler in the '80s when Lee Iacocca took over. He had worked with Iacocca with the Mustangs at Ford back in the '60s. Dodge was putting out these four-cylinder cars, and Iacocca needed a bit of that Shelby magic to sprinkle on Dodge products. In this case Carroll chose the little GLH, the Charger, and then subsequently he did the Viper. I really don’t know what his reasoning was for picking the little Charger back then, other than he sometimes seemed so far ahead of the curve—you know the term bleeding edge? Something that's so far ahead that it doesn’t work at the time? Had he done in the '90s what he did in the '80s, he would be known as the father of the pocket rocket. But it didn’t get traction at the time.
IBT: How has the Focus ST been received so far?
LUFT: The early buyers have been Shelby enthusiasts who own the Super Snake or the 350, who drive that car on the weekend and look at this and see a car they can drive daily and maintain the cachet of it being a Shelby. It’s not a car for the Focus buyer, though. The price point is $14,995 over and above the base car, putting it in the sub-$40,000 for a performance turbo-charged four cylinder.
IBT: What was the reason for picking the Focus as opposed to another model?
LUFT: We had the Fiesta, Focus and Fusion to pick from. Not only was the Focus a great base car to begin with, but the Focus best represented what Carroll had done in the '80s with that little GLH: similar car, similar style, a turbo four- cylinder. In Europe there’s a predisposition because of the Focus RS. There’s a consumer base that already associates the Focus with performance. Though they can’t get the RS in the states, we can give them the next best thing. This is all consistent with what Carroll said, that we needed to start developing this today, because it very well may be in our time a day where you can’t get a V-8.
IBT: It seem like the Mustang is a car for an older generation, too. Is that something you have considered?
LUFT: Right. We have one other product that is comparable in price: the Shelby GTS. The GTS is Mustang based. You can get it in the new V-6 platform, with 305 horsepower, Shelby performance suspension, tires, brake package, exhaust and everything, and it’s within $1,000 to $2,000 of the Focus ST price point. But it’s a different buyer. Like you said, not everybody wants a Mustang. This reaches those that don’t.