Shelby GT-H

With plans to attend the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January of 2007, I decided to arrive at my first race at the World Center of Racing in style. Hertz and Shelby Automobiles had released a 40th Anniversary Edition of the famed Shelby GT350H "Rent-a-Racer". I had somehow convinced my girlfriend Sharon that the extra dollars to rent a legendary American Muscle Car was worth the premium price. Like the racing history of Daytona, Shelby is truly an icon of American Speed. In our oh too short ride here on the rock, it is important to not only have a means of mobility, but to do so while satisfying the soul.

I had followed the annual sports car marathon from afar, in the midst of frozen New England winters for decades. The event was on the “to do” list for at least twenty years. I knew that by attending in a Shelby, rented or not, it was a sure method of maximizing the grin factor.

We arrived at the Airport in Orlando and went straight to the Hertz Rental Center. Until I was in the driver’s seat on the highway heading north, with my right foot planted and dual exhaust howling, I still had my doubts this dream would come true. My suspicions were aroused when I noticed no last name on the Gold Club Member Board for easy pick up. We went inside to investigate. The agent told us that there would be a special inspection (interrogation) vehicle walk through and waivers to sign before releasing the beast to its weekend masters.

One of the issues was that the agency didn’t want a repeat of what actually happened forty years before. Racers would rent the GT350H and return after a weekend of flogging, sometimes bringing it back with a different engine! She showed us where the power plant was safety wired into the chassis, pointed out the large identification plate on the firewall and the VIN. “When you bring this car back, we want the same engine in it that it had when you picked it up.”

We noted any nicks on the bodywork we could find and the plastic trunk lining that detached around the latch each time the lid was opened and closed. With a cooler in the trunk at a 24 hour race, the issue would be a weekend running gag. After agreeing, (with our fingers crossed) to be good citizens, we were released out of the parking lot, scraping the low front chin spoiler on the speed bump exiting the Hertz parking lot.

The Company

Carroll Shelby was a successful racer who had to give up his racing career in 1960, due to health problems. He had already accomplished much, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and setting land Speed Records at Bonneville. He turned his attention first to Team Manager, winning the FIA World Grand Touring Championship and ran the Le Mans winning Ford GT race program for the Blue Oval. It was a natural progression that he design his own lightweight V8 sports car and in 1962 the Shelby Cobra was born.

Shelby’s racing success spawned Shelby Automobiles and his reputation for taking American cars and making them go faster is where he truly made his legend. Association first with Ford, then Chrysler and Oldsmobile has come full circle with his update on the Mustang GT. To this day, the name Shelby commands a hair raising mystical reputation as big as the legend’s home state of Texas. Carroll Shelby was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1992.

Model Description

Ford limited total production of the recreated GT-H to around 500 units. They were not available for sale as new cars. Hertz took delivery of all vehicles for their rental fleet. Not until after their rental duty was over were they offered for public sale. The Shelby is an inch and a half lower than a standard Mustang and sports a performance hood with pins, a brushed aluminum grille, front spoiler and body side scoops give the rental a beefier look than the stock Mustang GT. Like the original GT350H it is painted jet black with a striking gold contrasting stripe to match the Hertz corporate colors.

A cold air induction, free flow mufflers and cat back exhaust boost horsepower by 25 and torque another 10 foot pounds over stock. On the handling side, as mentioned are the lowered springs, revised shocks and bigger anti-sway bars and a strut tower brace. The increased rigidity rolls on old school GT Wheels on Pirelli P Zero rubber.

Unfortunately on this Shelby for rent, the traction control switch that allows the function to be disabled is permanently in the on mode. The lawyers have spoken; no smoky burnouts and throttle induced power slides. Also on the dash is a large Shelby badge, numbered and stamped with the Shelby signature.


Driving Impressions

Part of the rental agreement included a 500 mile limit “free of charge” specification. If we went over the limit, an expensive rental would become a very expensive rental, to the tune of an extra 39 cents per mile traveled. Using my best grade school mileage calculations, I was ever vigilant of driving distances. The trip from Orlando to Daytona and daily drives to and from the track from our beach side Hotel and the after race trip to Punta Gorda to visit family would have us right at the limit. But nothing specified, (at least what I paid attention to) how fast we could use up those 500 miles of fun. Right out of the airport the obligatory run to triple digit speeds was something that had to be done. Just because.

That accomplished we settled into the standard passing lane gait, blending in with the other law breakers. It just wouldn’t be right to obey the speed limit and cruise in the travel lane. Not in this black bad boy. Light throttle application is all it took to stay ahead of the flow of traffic. But with the joyous sound of this Shelby’s song, stabs to the floorboards were more than occasional.

Memorable moments during the all too brief love encounter came upon check in at the Hotel and the low burble exhaust note echoing through the parking garage. But it was at the track where we felt like we were the King and Queen of the Prom. From the ticket taker at the gate, to the thumbs up and turning heads of our fellow fans, it was a gas to be in such a cool car. The ultimate had to be heading into the infield and through the famous Daytona tunnel. Pedestrians in the walkway were treated to the V8 symphony of 325 Horsepower.

We actually did retreat to the Hotel after 10 PM, when it started to rain. Not my original intent, but I was the first to say let’s go; another chance to hang with our steed. Armed with coffee and a roll of paper towels we were among the few early morning fans in the stands. All the late night revelers had pulled stakes during the deluge, early attrition in the bid to party all 24. Our chicken cordon bleu sandwiches and frequent trips for cold beverages had the trunk liner reminding us that this was after all a product of Michigan manufacturing. We would just fix it before the return.

After the race Sharon took the wheel for a horse ride along Daytona Beach. Cool enough on the throttle that the traction control never engaged, even when we were in the deeper sand of the entrance and exit from street to beach. We shared driving duties on the run southwest to Punta Gorda. I think J.P. liked seeing the Shelby in his driveway and it certainly looked good there. We all wished we didn’t have to bring it back!

We decided to blast some back roads on the return trip to Orlando. Not only would it be a more adventurous drive than the highway miles, the more direct route was an idea hatched to shave some miles off the return trip. It was all working great until we saw the sign that said "Sebring 11 miles". There was no way that I was going to not drive by the site of America’s oldest Sports car race; the Mobil One 12 Hours of Sebring.

We circled in on the track and stumbled upon a street of destiny. Carroll Shelby Way appeared to us just before Sebring International Raceway. Like a wayward horse finding its barn, the GT-H had driven us to pay homage to its creator. Now the side trip not only threatened to drive us over our allotted mileage, there was a time issue with the car return and flight back to Boston; another excuse to use all the ponies one more time. As long as there were no wrong turns on our “short cut” and the splash and dash for fuel was exercised with efficiency, we would be good to go.

With sadness, the Shelby was returned to its stable and our brief fling with the steed from the Hertz Fun Collection was over. The odometer read 492 miles and I briefly considered a few high speed loops of the Airport road, but decided those would probably be the 8 miles of trouble we didn’t need. The thousands of miles covered in basic pedestrian airport rentals could never compare to the thrill of briefly having the pleasure of driving a muscle car with pure American pedigree. Even Sharon, ever practical, thought it was money well spent.

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Copyright 2001-2011 Greg Sarni, USA