Carroll Shelby's Terlingua Mustangs

With Shelby Automobiles bringing back GT-500s and Hertz rent-a-racers, the KR series and even the fabled Super Snake, the return of the Terlingua nameplate to the 2008 Shelby line-up is not a big surprise. It is definitely a pleasant one for Shelby enthusiasts, no question. The big surprise is in addition to the ’08 Terlingua Mustang, Shelby will, apparently, build a “continuation” series ’67 Terlingua Mustang and offer it to the public for $99,500.

My trips to photograph and gather information on both these cars began with a flight to Dallas and Keith Craft Motorsports in late October. There, Rob Camp showed us this ’67 Terlingua coupe, painted and lettered like one of the original Terlingua racing cars of the glory days. Bill Neale, the famous automotive artist and life long pal of Carroll Shelby drew the original Terlingua logo in the 1960s. He still lived just 10 minutes away.

The name Keith Craft is most associated with building hot engines. Keith Craft, Inc. is located in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Keith Craft Motorsports in Dallas builds early hot rods, Cobras, and late model Restomods such as Mustangs. I noticed a ’69 fastback on a lift that a customer was spending six figures to build into an ultimate ride with a Cammer big block.

Rob Camp is a “managing partner.” He worked at a Ford dealership 20 plus years and received the Ford Senior Master Technician Certificate. He puts dirt under his fingernails and knows how to build cars. He’s not a pencil pusher.

I took pictures most of the day that ended with a brief ride and drive. Camp began, “Shelby asked us to build this Mustang, the first one, a prototype. The car had to be done by the annual “SEMA” show in Las Vegas. So, we built the car from the ground up in 82 days.”

This was a Friday and SEMA began the following Monday, October 29th. The coupe looked like a show car. I marveled along with Camp when he said, “Three and a half weeks ago, this ’67 coupe was sitting on my lift as an empty body shell.”

Shelby Automobiles’ plan was to unveil both cars at a press conference/party the following Tuesday night at SEMA. Along with the ’08 Terlingua Mustang and the ’67 classic would be one of the new CSX4000 series 427 Cobras rigged up in the colors and logo of Terlingua.

Late in the morning, Bill Neale arrived at Keith Craft Motorsports’ shop at 859 J Place in Plano. I took pictures of him with Rob and shop personnel. Rob explained Bill took such an interest he had even applied the decals to the front fenders. He wanted this car to be right. It was a big deal to him.

Bill was obviously excited about the project. Right away, he jumped in the driver’s seat and laid down a little rubber I the parking lot with Camp in the passenger seat for a quick test drive. On his return, Bill explained to me how the Terlingua project got off the ground. “Shelby heard we weren’t going to do anymore 1966s. He was up here in the studio and said, ‘Neale, why don’t we do some 2007 Terlingua cars?“

Neale’s studio is where he works. He doesn’t paint cars. He paints pictures of cars. He referred to the 1966 Terlingua coupes he had licensed in early 2004 with Dallas Mustang Parts. (See “Mustang Monthly” issue date xx/xx.) That deal is gone. Just “4 or 5” cars were built.

“The next thing I know, Amy calls and she comes down and spends a couple days with us. We talked and talked. I said, okay, let’s do it. Out of that came this ’67, which you know a lot about. Keith Craft? They did a great job. And Shelby said, ‘I want to do some more of those Terlingua Cobras.”

Amy, of course, is Amy Boylan, president of Shelby Automobiles in Las Vegas. She’s the fireplug that gets the wheels turning, literally. She got the deals rolling with Ford on the new Shelbys coming out of Las Vegas, from the initial Hertz GT-H to the 40th anniversary GT-500, the new Super Snake and the KR.

I was very familiar with the ’67 Terlingua of the 1960s, so I was much more excited to see the treatment Shelby gave the new Mustang. I wondered how they molded the theme onto a Gen 5 coupe. All Shelby Autos would tell me for now was the latest Mustang was the reverse in paint scheme. Instead of being the infamous “Gawdawful Yellow” (one of the 1960’s terms from the rowdy days of Terlingua) with black hood and stripes, the ’08 was the reverse in color. However, Shelby will still offer Gawdawful Yellow with black fstripes or the ’08.

Rob loaded the ’67 onto an enclosed trailer and headed west from Dallas Saturday morning en route to Las Vegas. I flew to Vegas Monday and drove north to Shelby Automobiles on the grounds of Las Vegas International Speedway. I walked into the Mod Shop and asked Vince to pull the cover off the new Terlingua. I was pretty much blown away by the totally finished look. The badges on the rear tail light board, for example, are solid metal, thick, and look like jewelry. I expected to see merely sets of decals. The paint scheme is enough to jerk heads, but the car is loaded with special features, such as 20” American Racing “Razor” wheels, Borla side exhausts, a Shelby fiberglass “deep draw” hood, and a flat black mesh grille. Replacing the Mustang running horse in the grille is the Shelby Terlingua rabbit- a substantial piece, cut from a solid chunk of billet. The new Terlingua is definitely is one tricked out pony.

I could understand keeping the new Terlingua under wraps. Enthusiasts made the trek to Vegas by the tens of thousands for SEMA at this time of year. Hundreds were walking in and out of Shelby Automobiles. Many were snapping pictures. For our photo shoot, Davis actually cut a hole in the car cover so the driver could see out as he steered, very slowly. Our photo location was across the street on the other side of the giant Shelby storage lot, full of over 1,000 new Mustangs.

Rob met us there with the ’67, which didn’t need to be under wraps. Basically, it looked like a classic coupe somebody had built into a Restomod. It’s the first “old” car built by the new Shelby Automobiles. It’s still too early to tell for sure where they will be built, and if they will be built for sure, though Amy is saying they will at press time. We know for sure the ’08 is a go.

A V6 With 375 Horsepower

With 155 less pounds over the front wheels, the V6 is bound to be more nimble than a V8 Mustang, especially with the upgraded Shelby suspension. It’s easier to insure than a V8, and with 375 horsepower, the V6 Terlingua needs no excuses because it’s easily faster than most V8 cars on the market today.

Amy Boylan, president of Shelby Automobiles, explained, “All our cars are built for street, with some track elements. The V6 Terlingua is a balanced performance car. It’s like the Shelby GT, and like the CS6. They’re all balanced performance.”

A V8 With 525 Horsepower

The ’67 is a serious street legal Mustang. Under the hood, the Keith Craft built 408 turns out 525 horsepower. According to Craft’s website, “Only a few of these cars, with a MSRP beginning at approximately $99,500, will be built annually under contract by Keith Craft Motorsports. Each will receive a Shelby serial number that will be registered in an official Shelby Automobiles registry.”

Amy’s “Rat Pack”

Amy Boylan is president of Shelby Automobiles. She’s a world different from Carroll Shelby in that she’s a woman, she’s short in stature, and she comes not from Texas, but from the East. She does a very poor Carroll Shelby Texas accent. (But, she’s working on it.)

However, Amy is outspoken and interesting. This is Shelby-esque. What’s important is she has a record of turning divisions around inside companies. She’s unconventional. She fits no molds. She knows how to get things done without a committee meeting for every little detail. Since Amy came on board a couple years ago, Shelby Automobiles is on a very fast track. We asked her about the new Terlingua. Amy was short and to the point.

“Terlingua is a very irreverent lifestyle. It was about racing and having fun. We wanted to bring something back with six cylinders for guys and girls and give them a piece of the Shelby brand that is a little bit more younger, hipper, and of the anti-establishment type of mentality.”

The Inner Circle Was The “Rat Pack”

Everybody’s heard of the show business” Rat Pack.” They were Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr. They hung out at the Sands Hotel & Casino on the strip in Las Vegas in the 1960s, where they made up their show as they sang and danced and had fun on stage.

Amy refers to the originators of the Terlingua legacy as the “Rat Pack.” Bill Neale liked the term and felt like it fit that little group. They consisted of Carroll Shelby, Bill Neale, David Witts, and Tom Tierney.

Shelby Automobiles has their own club. Neale can see potential here for a Rat Pack inside the main club. Neale laughs when he says this inner circle is “a very non-exclusive group.”

Carroll likes the idea, too. Neale told us, “Shel said the same thing. Maybe we’ll get people to sign up for the Rat Pack. We’ll have some fun with it.”

The Legacy: Terlingua

For the record, Terlingua is the name of a tiny town in far West Texas, near the Mexican border. There, Shelby got in a real estate deal with Dallas attorney David Witts in the purchase of 223,000 acres of land.

Mainly, Shelby and his Rat Pack used this land to hunt and ride their dirt bikes. The place was full of huge jackrabbits. So, when Shelby decided to name one of his racing teams after his ranch at Terlingua, Bill Neale got involved drawing up a logo.

Neale explained to me, “The idea was to take some animal and use a form of heraldry the way you see them done in Europe. They do them with lions and eagles and gargoyles. I had done a rabbit cause the jackrabbits are big in that part of Texas. He is holding his paw up to say no more peppers in the chili. Shelby liked it. He liked the yellow and the black. That resulted in Shelby asking me to help with a paint job in ’67 for the Trans Am. That’s when I added Terlingua Racing Team across the top of it. Then, the rest of it is kind of a long story about how much fun we’ve had putting it on various cars and things of that nature. It really has been amazing. It’s been on so dog gone many cars and airplanes.”

Terlingua didn’t originate on the ’67 Trans Am Shelby coupes. The Terlingua Racing Team emblem appeared on the 1965 Shelby G.T.350 Competition team car (5R002) and the 427 Cobra (CSX3002) that raced at Green Valley, Texas on February 14, 1965. Ken Miles was behind the wheel of the Shelby Mustang’s very first win that day. So, Terlingua goes back a long ways in Shelby history.

In order to sell the land, Tom Tierney, a Ford PR man, dreamed up the idea to have a chili cook off. This idea sprang from the chili suppers Neale and his friend David Witts had on Friday nights once a month in those great days of the early 1960s.

Neale said, “It was never met to be more than one. We’ll have a big party, have some fun, and get a lot of publicity. And it really was. It was in the Wall Street Journal front page. It was in Sports Illustrated (five pages). It was in a lot of publications. This was due to Tom Tierney’s swat he had as PR guy for Ford.”

Carroll’s Recent Take

Most of us have heard and read the story of Terlingua many times. Still, it’s fun to hear Carroll Shelby tell it in his own colorful Texas accent. Here’s how that conversation went, recently. I got Carroll a little riled because my simple questions had him thinking I’d never heard the story before.

Jerry: The racing story about Terlingua is pretty well known.

Carroll: Jerry Titus was the spark plug in that.

Jerry: With Terlingua?

Carroll: Yeah. I owned 120,000 acres in Terlingua with David Witts from Dallas.

Jerry: Terlingua is the name of the town. Right?

Carroll: The name of the town, and we had a ranch. I bought half the Cherokowa Ranch, which David Witts owned. And we re-named it Terlingua Ranch- 120,000 acres of rocks. So, we decided to sell it.

Pause…

Carroll: Have you heard the god damn story?

Jerry: Yes sir.

Carroll: Well, then there’s no use of telling it again.

Jerry: Sometimes it’s better coming from you.

Carroll: All right, then we decided to sell it. So, Tom Tierney, who is a former Ford PR man, said give me a couple weeks. And he came back and said we’re going to have the world’s first championship chili cook off in Terlingua at the city hall. The only people who can come are people of the press and all they can bring is their sleeping bag and a toothbrush. And that was the first one. Now, it is world famous. It is so famous that typical Texans got to argue with each other and after 40 years they don’t speak. They have one across the street from each other on the same day. That’s how stupid- that’s how stupid the red necks down there are.”

Jerry: Who’s not talking to each other?

Carroll: The two organizations. They have two different chili cook offs.

Jerry: Oh.

Carroll: On the same day in October, or November or whenever it is.

Jerry: Did the chili cookoff help sell that land?

Carroll: Yeah, we sold it a couple years later.

Jerry: How did that get from the chili cook off to the racecar name?

Carroll: I owned this ranch and we just decided we needed a name for a racing team, so we named it Terlingua racing team.