Farewell Carroll Shelby – Turbocharged 1980s and the Birth of the Snake


In the early 1980s, Carroll Shelby received a call from then Chrysler President Lee Iacocca to help resurrect Dodge’s performance image. Just like Shelby, the Dodge brand basically got out of the hot rod business while the company was going through bankruptcy during this era. Lee knew Carroll was just what the brand needed to get it back in the forefront of the enthusiast market, and since Lee and Carroll worked together back in the 1960s, there was no doubt he was the right man for the job.


Carroll began collaborating with the Dodge engineers in 1982, as the new 2.2L Charger was to debut the following year. His team immediately made improvements to the already nimble FWD platform, and eventually his team’s involvement laid their magic touch and tuning prowess on the four-door GLH. By 1986, Shelby’s engineering and upfit facility in Whittier, Calif. created a limited run of 2.2L Turbo-Intercooled GLHS models. These hot hatchbacks could do battle with just about any muscle car, including the V-8 pony cars from the 1980s and early 90s.



In 1987, Shelby worked with the Chrysler Powertrain engineers on the upgraded 2.2L Turbo II engine, and made limited runs of the sinister GLHS, but this year’s model was based on the two-door Charger platform. Again, unsuspecting challengers didn’t know what hit them when they lined up against these Dodge pocket rockets. There were also “Shelbyized” Daytona’s and Shadows that made a name for themselves on the streets and the SCCA and IMSA racetracks. Looking back, one could argue that Dodge and Shelby created the FWD Tuner market over two decades ago.



Shelby also applied his formula to the Dodge Lancer and the end result was a BMW fighter. Fitted with the venerable 2.2L Intercooled Turbo, the limited edition Shelby Lancer had luxury features like leather seats and a then revolutionary CD player, but it could out accelerate and handle Europe’s best at the fraction of the cost.This was typical of Shelby’s DNA; give the customer an exciting, well-balanced, fun-to-drive car that the average enthusiast can afford.


Carroll was also a visionary and saw the growing Sport Truck market among young buyers who were looking for a fun yet versatile vehicle. In 1989, the Shelby team looked at the Dakota, and with a clean sheet of paper, they created an exciting package that would appeal to these consumers. By installing a 318 cubic-inch V-8, unique wheels, graphics and body components, the Shelby Dakota was an instant hit.



However, the pinnacle of the Dodge-Shelby partnership came with the introduction of the Viper, back in 1991. Carroll defined what the ultimate American sports car should be — light, powerful and extremely fast, just like his AC Cobra back in the 1960’s. As a performance consultant and “spiritual guru” on the project, he, along with Bob Lutz and François Castaing were involved in all aspects during the development of the iconic and legendary Viper. From its aggressive styling to its raucous all-aluminum V-10 engine, this brain trust worked together and never lost sight of Carroll’s vision of building a world-class sports car in the heart of Detroit. The Viper would go on to epitomize what the new Chrysler could accomplish and become a halo vehicle for the Dodge brand during the 1990’s — something that still holds true 20 years later.



Carroll Shelby will be missed but the vehicles he created and fortified with his track smarts, ingenuity, imagination and tuning expertise gave generations of passionate drivers a ride they’ll never forget.


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