Shelby Cobra—Vegas Grand Opening 1997
Never let it be charged that SAAC (Shelby American Automobile Club) does things in a small way.
On January 2–4 1997 SAAC hosted Shelby American Incorporated’s gala Grand Opening in Las Vegas. Assisted and generously promoted by Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Richie Clyne, the extravaganza assumed the aura of a Hollywood premiere. Over 400 Shelby musclecar enthusiasts (with over 70 Shelby vehicles in tow) showed up to
pay tribute to the take-no-prisoners Texan who started it all way back in ’62. You remember 1962: Camelot, Cuban Missile Crisis, Carroll Shelby.
Not least among the celebrities present were ’60s Cobra drivers Jerry Grant, Bob Bondurant, Dick Smith and Bob Johnson, as well as other luminaries from nearly every turn of Shelby’s checkered (flag) career. Automotive publishing was aptly represented; chief among the automotive journalists present was McMullen/Argus’s Bob McClurg, who has covered Ford and Shelby and Cobras and Mustangs since the 1970s.
And no wonder! We mere mortals (automotive journalists and owner/enthusiasts alike) for years had been mystified as to what phantom force was keeping CS from once again continuing the CSX-serial numbered production of his Cobra roadsters. We still don’t have a definitive answer to that dilemma, although at his after-dinner speech on Friday night he did offer a trademarque Shelby explanation “We stopped making ’em when people stopped buying them,” referring of course to the last of his CSX 3000–Series 427S/C roadsters back in 1968. Still no hint as to why it took him so long to resume production.
SAAC’s Grand Opening Event began in the Imperial Palace’s Royal Ballroom, and proceeded (on Friday and Saturday, January 3rd & 4th) at the brand-new, world-class, eat-your-heart-out-Indianapolis Las Vegas Motor Speedway. If we may quote from SAAC’s own description of the site: “To refer to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as merely ‘a race track’ is to describe Disney World as ‘a carnival ride.’ The main track, a 1.5-mile banked oval, and an assortment of infield road courses are finished, but work is still continuing on the drag strip, asphalt oval and motocross course.” We agree wholeheartedly with SAAC’s words of adulation; if anything, the club wasn’t effusive enough in its praise.
Carroll’s cherished “Shelby Heart Fund” enjoyed a major boost, both from a Friday-night auction of Shelby memorabilia and mementos ranging from a 1965 1st Edition copy of “The Cobra Story” and a Shelby-team racing jacket, to autograph sessions at the speedway on Saturday. Also auctioned for the heart fund were helicopter rides to the speedway (with Carroll on board), and, with a mind-boggling bid of $2,000 by Bob Lowthorp of Bishop, California, a drive around the oval track behind the wheel of CS’s original number 98 Cobra–with the legend himself taking the passenger seat! Shelby American (Inc.) asked me to express their gratitude for everyone who lent a helping hand to the heart fund, notably among them: Richie Clyne, President of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Mel Larsen’s helicopter service, the Nevada Development Authority, the Business Development Office of Las Vegas, the auction participants and of course SAAC itself.
In any event, we elected to make this Shelby adventure a visual Cyberspace treat as well, so here for you is a pictorial spotlighting of some of the significant events of the 3-day Shelby Spectacular…
The Shelby Grand Opening began with a cocktail party and reception on Thursday night (January 2nd) in the Imperial Palace’s Royal Ballroom. Most of the distinguished speakers are pictured below…
Ken Eber opened the ceremonies
on Thursday night.
Richie Clyne seemed to be everywhere at once, giving speeches, helping with the Shelby Heart Fund auction, and making certain that everything went smoothly at both the hotel and at the motor speedway.
Wherever Linda went, folks paid scant attention to anybody else around… even legendary Bob Bondurant had to share the limelight with this zesty blonde!
Team driver Jerry Grant was there to relate war stories from the Shelby ’60s.
Dick Smith showed up from Fresno (California) along with his venerable, red #198 427S/C Cobra… the same one he raced in the ’60s.
Former Shelby Cobra Team driver Bob Johnson rarely misses an opportunity to attend a SAAC National Convention.
At the Royal Ballroom dinner on Friday evening, Mario Garcia, Manager of Business Development for the city of Las Vegas, and A. Somer Hollingsworth, President & CEO of The Nevada Development Authority and in behalf of Nevada Governor Bob Miller, proclaimed January 2nd, 3rd and 4th as “Shelby American Day.” Don Rager (at right), Shelby’s Chief Operating Officer, accepted the award proclamations.
bottom right: Bob Shaw of Cobra outfitter Operations Plus shown above in his 289FIA number 33, after corralling a menagerie of Mustangs. At the beginning of the next run his group was forced to leave the track under a heavy downpouring of rain and marble-sized hail… the aluminum-body-denting variety. After a short delay and some track de-puddling, the sun made a reappearance and so did the snakes.
Bishop (California) dentist Bob Lowthorp in above 3-photo collage. Lowthorp bid $2,000 (to the Shelby Heart Fund) to pilot the venerable Texan around the track in Shelby’s old #98 Cobra roadster (you ever gonna get that thing painted, Carroll?). These photos of Bob Lowthorp were generously provided to us by renowned automotive photographer Tom Shaw of Long Beach, California.
#1 In #98’s cockpit, ready to roll: Bob & Carroll (Where’s Ted & Alice?)
#2 Bob’s $2k whirlwind tour of Las Vegas Motor Speedway
#3 Lowthorp after the run. No discernible evidence of visceral thrill on Bob’s face…
Cobra owner Martin Drengenberg (and his lovely and charming Frau Gabriela, unfortunately not shown here) traveled all the way from Olfen, Germany to partake in the festivities.
Carroll’s ‘ole number 98
You can email SAAC’s Howard Pardee and let him know what you thought of their Las Vegas spectacular… and how you’d like to see more of the same! On the other hand, if you weren’t able to make the trip, tell him what you think of their show coverage here on Cobra Country… and how you’d like to see more of the same!
Following the event, feedback from SAAC members was so enthusiastic that SAAC has mandated that this (Las Vegas blowout) will be an annual event, and has already started planning for 1998. The major change which is likely to please everyone is that the open track event will be expanded to two full days and will make use of a combination of the track’s 1.5-mile banked oval and the 1-mile infield road course. Shelby American’s new facility will likely be completed by that time.
Monday, 6 January 1997: This article was written, laid out, copy-edited and uploaded to the Cobra Country website and made available to you less than 48 hours after the close of festivities. It’ll be months before you can read about it in your enthusiast magazines. You’ve just experienced firsthand one of the compelling advantages of the World Wide Web.
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