Carroll Shelby was already pretty much a household name by the end of the 1960s and had given Ford an infinite amount of good press with his Cobra and Mustang programs. The 1970s were a little quieter at Shelby, but at the end of the decade Lee Iacocca left Ford to run Chrysler.
Shelby was called in to help give Chrysler a sportier image by hotting up existing Chrysler products, not an easy task given the fact that this was the era of the K-car and many of Chrysler’s products were small and front-wheel drive. Nevertheless, limited-production Shelby-badged versions of several Dodge models came out throughout the ’80s. Given their humble front-drive four-cylinder roots, they were also pretty darn quick compared to similar cars of the day. They were all a far cry from a 427 Cobra, of course, but so was everything in those years.
On June 3, Bonhams will hold its annual auction in conjunction with the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, and the main attraction is a group of cars from Carroll Shelby’s estate. The collection includes the first Shelby Series 1, the first 2008 GT500KR, a DeSoto Firedome, a Ford Model A, and—interestingly enough—two Panteras. Also included are seven cars from the Shelby Dodge days, sold at no reserve. Most have very low mileage and are either the first production model or the prototype. It’s unclear how much Shelby himself actually used the cars, if at all, but they all come out of his sole ownership. Bonhams also seems to be very conservative with the presale estimates on the cars. Generally, Shelby Dodges aren’t worth much, but these are all undeniably special examples.
The only Shelby Dodge pickup that made it to production was the Dakota, but there was also this prototype, built up on the full-size Ram D150 platform. Aside from the cosmetic changes like the tonneau cover, roll bar, roof lights, and body kit, Shelby also tweaked the suspension and replaced the 317-cubic-inch V-8 with a larger 360 that was breathed on a bit for a little over 300 horsepower. Shelby claimed 0–60 in about seven seconds, which is absolutely blistering for a pickup truck in the 1980s. Only one prototype ever made it to completion, so it’s a truly unique—albeit somewhat obscure—piece of Shelby history.
In an era of massive four-door Hellcats, it may be easy to forget that in the 1980s the Charger was a small, front-drive, four-cylinder hatchback. Shelby added some much-needed performance credentials with a little bit of extra power and an emphasis on handling. The car also looks the part with two-tone paint, a body kit, and Shelby graphics on either side of the body. The Charger was the first production Shelby Dodge, and the car offered out of the Shelby collection is the prototype.
For the final year of the L-body Charger, the last 1000 cars got the full Shelby treatment, with 175 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque from the 2.2-liter turbo, Koni shocks, upgraded anti-roll bars, special wheels, and special black paint. As is typical of the cars in this collection, this one is the first production example.
When Chrysler introduced the compact Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance for 1987, Shelby naturally had a go at it with the now-familiar tweaked 2.2-liter turbo four, upgraded suspension, alloy wheels and more than enough Shelby decals to let you know who was responsible. Just 750 were built for the 1987 model year and, you guessed it, this was the first of them.
The first rear-wheel drive vehicle to come out of the Shelby Dodge partnership was the Shelby Dakota, which replaced the 3.9-liter V-6 of the standard Dodge version with a 5.2-liter V-8 that was good for 175 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. A limited-slip, lower ride height, transmission cooler, body kit, special interior touches, and special alloy wheels complete the package. A total of 1475 were built, but in addition to coming from the Carroll Shelby collection, the one offered by Bonhams is also the prototype.
Barrett-Jackson sold another ex-Carroll Shelby Dakota in Scottsdale earlier this year. Reportedly used as a shop truck at Shelby American for several years, it was in fairly rough shape but nevertheless sold for $39,600, making the estimate on this prototype seem curiously low.
Towards the end of the Shelby-Dodge partnership, cars in the range featured a turbocharged version of the 2.2-liter four that was good for 175 hp and 205 lb-ft of torque, pretty impressive numbers among the sport compacts of the day. The Shelby CSX, based on the boring old Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance, also features handling bits and a variable nozzle turbo (VNT) system that reduces the lag endemic to older turbocharged cars. Only 500 Shelby CSXs were built, and the car offered by Bonhams out of the Shelby collection is the very first.
The Shelby Lancer marked a move up to the mid-size Lancer platform, which had more luxury features than the usual compact Shelby Dodges. It has the usual 2.2-liter, 175-hp turbo four and better handling bits, but also had lots of power-convenience features and a better stereo to compete with the likes of the BMW 3-Series. Just 800 were made, with an even split between automatics and five-speeds. Sadly, this example is one of the automatics, but it was also the first one built.