The Shelby ME - The dream that might have been!
I was made aware that the Shelby ME was being advertised for sale in the USA earlier this year. Upon contacting the vendor for more information I found that the car is still in the hands of the men who tried to bring the AC 3000 ME to the states, Steve Hitter and Barry Gale.
I asked Steve to give me the history behind the failed attempt at bringing the ME to the American market, below the tale unfolds, however before reading the tale it’s worth knowing a few details about some of the people/cars mentioned.
Carroll Shelby: as well as Cars, Carroll Shelby is also famous for Chili. This started in 1967 when he and Dallas Attorney, Dan Witts wanted to dispose of their ranch in Terlingua, Texas. They came up with the idea of having a Chili cook-off at the ranch to find the best Chili in the world. This started as just a gathering of friends but grew to into an annual event and now there are over 300 cook-off’s some attracting a crowd of 15,000 or more. The land was sold and Mr Shelby founded the Original Texas Chili Company to boot.
Lew Spencer: an accomplished racer, raced the first Sunbeam Tiger developed by Shelby from the Sunbeam Alpine for Ian Garrard (Rootes West Coast Manager), just as the Cobra had been developed from the AC ACE.
Lee Iacocca worked for Ford as a marketing manager and was instrumental in agreeing to Ford assisting in the creation of the AC Cobra. Known also as the ‘Father’ of the Mustang. He moved from Ford to become Chrysler’s President in November 1978 and became Chairman in 1979, a post he held until stepping down in 1993.
K cars – These 1980’s cars such as the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant were based upon 4 and 6 cylinder front wheel design and were to save Chrysler. The American market of the early 80’s wanting smaller more fuel efficient cars rather than the fuel guzzling V8’s that Chrylser had been producing.
At that time the US car manufacturers were introducing 4 and 6 cylinder front wheel drive cars with the engine mounted in front of the wheels and transaxle. Barry and Steve we realised that they could take the complete drivetrain and mount it in the rear of the AC to create a mid-engined car.
In the interim, Barry and Steve had contacted both GM and Ford to supply drivetrains. Ford was interested, but at that time only had low powered 4 cylinder engines in the proper configuration. GM had 6 cylinder engines in their "X" cars, which seemed to be a good fit and were willing to do "something".
While waiting for GM, Barry and Steve started redesigning the body. Dealing with GM was proving to be a very long and frustrating experience, layers of people that could never say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but sent you to someone else. Months later, they received a Buick V6 with an automatic transmission, instead of the Chevy V6 with 4-speed transaxle that had been requested.
Shelby went to Kas’, understood what they were trying to do and agreed to get involved. The facility that Chrysler was building for him in Santa Fe Springs was not finished, so Barry and Steve continued work on the exterior at Kas’. Restyled the body, pulled the moulds and replaced the original exterior panels (primarily wings and front end) with the new design. The body was painted white and when the Chrysler Shelby Performance Centre (CSPC) was ready the car was transported there.
The plan was for Shelby to install the highest performance Chrysler K car engine and transmission and then present the car to Lee Iacocca as the AC Shelby Chrysler. Barry and Steve would do the final assembly in California, just like the original AC Shelby Cobra.
The AC project was not the priority at Chrysler Shelby. Before this project was viable, there had to be a performance version of the Chrysler K Car and its offsprings. The mandate At CSPC was to create Performance Chrysler Sedans and Trucks and this they did. In the mean time they fitted the Chrysler Turbo and five speed into the AC and got it running. New wheels and tyres completed the exterior revisions.
Finally the time came for the presentation to Iacocca and the rest of the
When the Chrysler / Shelby deal ended, and they closed the Santa Fe Springs facility, a disappointed Barry and Steve picked up the car and put it in storage, however Steve remains philosophical about the whole episode saying ‘If Shelby could not make it happen, it wasn’t going to happen’.
Kas Kastner went on to run the highly successful Nissan racing teams
The car has been in storage in Southern California since being picked up by Barry and Steve. It was never driven in rain, and has remained good and dry since then. In total it has done less than 1000 miles.