It was supposed to be the car that showed that still had it going into the 21st century. But some called it “too ambitious,” and in a way, it was. Surprisingly made for over seven years (from 1998 to 2005) the Shelby Series 1 was, in essence, an almost new-age Cobra. Almost. Well, not quite — but that’s what Shelby wanted you to believe.
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The Series 1 was rumored to be the only car designed and engineered from scratch by Shelby himself.
Rather than go with its long-running partner Ford for parts, Shelby went to GM this time around. This resulted in the car being rather odd in my opinion. Power for the Series 1 came from Oldsmobile’s 4.0-liter L47 V8, which was a variant of the Cadillac Northstar engine. Aside from the Series 1, the L47 V8 only ever saw duty in the Aurora.
Power output was 320 horses and 290 lb-ft of torque (a gain of 70 hp and 30 lb-ft of torque over the standard engine) that was routed to the rear wheels by a six-speed manual. It was light, too. Its carbon fiber body and honeycomb aluminum chassis weighed just 2,650 lbs. Because of this, performance was impressive for the time: It could reach 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and do a quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds.
If you wanted even more power, Shelby offered a supercharger option. It wasn’t cheap though. For an extra $35,100, you got another 130 hp as well as bigger brakes and a beefier clutch. This all knocked that 0-60 time down to 3.2 seconds, which was pretty wild for the late ’90s.
Shelby even raided the GM parts bin for the interior of the Series 1. While small bits of carbon fiber attempted to hide it, GM plasticky 90's glory still showed through. Things like buttons and switches came straight from GM products. The car’s whole speedometer and climate controls were lifted from Pontiac for instance.
Auto magazines at the time fawned over it, but when the time came for the car to be driven by the public, a few issues made the car nowhere near as impressive as Shelby made it out to be.
The car somehow gained 700 pounds, and the price had risen three times in less than a year by the time buyers could actually get their hands on it. Tesla would be proud. From Car & Driver:
Many orders for the car — about 225, some sources said — had been placed and deposits of $25,000 taken against the car’s declared price of $99,975. By September 1999, that sticker had escalated to $134,975, and now, due to unexpected costs of production, the price of the base model — the one that is not supercharged — is $181,824.
When Car and Driver got their hands on it, their review made the car seem more like a kit car from a small company than something that was made by the great Shelby Automotive. Under testing, the car nuked two clutches, threw out an engine pulley, and got a nail in the tires. That might not seem like a big deal, but the tires were custom designed specifically for the Series 1. The engine also blew a piston. It wasn’t a good look for its first outing. What’s worse are the legal and health problems Shelby was having at the time which eventually lead to his company going bankrupt.
Ultimately, the Series 1 was a good effort by Shelby, at least as far as its performance went. But it never caught on. It’s hard to pin down how many were actually made, as records are contradictory and don’t make much sense. Most things say that 250 were made, all in 1999. But its production ran over six years, until 2005. So they are relatively rare. And they aren’t as expensive as you’d think they’d be. One example, owned by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart sold for just $175,000 on Bring A Trailer in 2021. Shelby did attempt to make a Series II, but only three prototypes were ever built. So the Series 1 may go down as a forgotten piece of performance from Shelby. And given its rarity, many of us will probably never get the chance to experience one.