Every time you go racing, you put your reputation on the line. —Carroll Shelby
I’m still grieving the loss of Carroll Shelby. What I’ve decided to do with this little music post, is celebrate ‘ol Shel’s life a little bit with music. Some of the music you may not be very familiar with, while others will be songs that you consider old friends. You know, Maurice Sendak died and the whole world seemingly stopped with all manner of thoughtful reflections on Where the Wild Things Are. Carroll Shelby had a bigger impact on your life than you may know or realize, but only the gearheads sung his praises. So this post is sort of an homage to him and What the Wild Things Drive. And endurance racing experience is why your cars’ engine can last, with proper care and maintenance, for over 200,000 + miles.
I hope to honor Carroll’s life with a story, some tunes, and some awesome sounds, the likes of which your mind may not appreciate, but your heart and soul will. First up, is an appreciation of a car by Jeremy Clarkson, host of the BBC motoring show Top Gear. It starts out with a rock n’ roll homage to all of the cars that belong in the 200 mile per hour club, and then Clarkson realizes a dream when he is given the opportunity to drive the automobile equivalent of the SR-71 Blackbird.
I’m talking about the Ford GT40, the cars that won LeMans for four consecutive years from 1966 until 1969. Carroll Shelby rescued the GT40 program from oblivion, see, as the idea that looked good on paper had proven lame on the track. Shelby, and his crack crew of racers and mechanics in Venice California, junked most of the internals that came along with the chassis of the cars when they took custody of them from Ford Advanced Vehicles in 1964. Shelby & Co. ditched the 260 cubic inch engines and put in Shelby prepped 289′s. Later, they would put honking 7.0 liter, 427 cubic inch, torque and horsepower monsters in there, and win LeMans with that motor in 1966, and 1967. The domination of these cars was so lopsided, it would lead the FIA to change the rules, mandating that no motors larger than 5.0 liters would be allowed to compete. At that point, Shelby turned the program over to John Wyers Automotive in England because, as he said at the time, “both the GT40 and John Wyer are obsolete.” Everyone figured he was right, but it was one of the few times he was wrong.
In the first video below, Clarkson gets to drive one of the John Wyer GT40′s. It’s the kind of GT40 that I have a close kinship with, as it’s powered by a small-block Ford Windsor V-8, the ancestor of the motor which powers my own Mustang. It displaces 302 cubic inches, is basically a stroked 289, breathing through two valves per cylinder, actuated by pushrods following the lobes of a single cam in the middle of the block, via roller rocker arms pushing down spring loaded valve stems. Forged crankshaft and pistons fill cylinders with air and fuel breathing thorough aluminum heads designed by Dan Gurney and Henry Weslake, with vertical intake ports cast integrally into the cylinder heads. No separate intake manifold was required. Just bolt eight Weber carburetors right onto the heads, and let the games begin. Simplicity and hardiness like this is the text book definition of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “Antifragile.” Powerful, durable, and embarrassing to the whizbang techno-marvels from Ferrari, Porsche, etc.
Without Carroll Shelby’s team sorting out the GT40 in the first place though, the four year domination of Ford at LeMans would not have happened. So let’s turn to the sounds of success, shall we? Clarkson gives us a taste of automotive perfection. Crank up the volume for the best.sound.track.ever.
It’s sort of like sharing the Good News, see? It doesn’t get much better than this. Especially when you recall what Shelby said about the GT40 being obsolete.
In 1966, the Mark II versions won the field in a controversial dead-heat finish where all three cars crossed the finish line within inches of each other. In 1967, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove a Mark IV to victory. But in 1968, and 1969, Ford was back to competing with the original Mark I models, though outfitted with the improved Gurney-Weslake heads, etc.. Ferrari picked itself up off the mat and came charging back for more. Porsche had their eyes on the prize too, and they came prepared to win. But 24 Hours is an awfully long time to run at wide open throttle, and one of the Fords, chassis #1075, took the checkered. In 1969, Porsche came back determined to win this time, with it’s top notch 908′s and it’s new threat: the 4.5 liter, 12 cylinder, boxer engine powered 917′s.
It looked so hopeless for Ford that Jackie Ickx walked to the car during the LeMans start (where the drivers used to sprint to their cars), calmly climbed inside, and pulled away as the last car to cross the starting line. Twenty-four hours later, that very car would do what only one other car had ever done before, or since. It would take the checkered again, after trading the lead with the remaining contending Porsche several times on the last lap, as the photograph at the top of this post shows.
What was it like to drive a small-block GT40 around LeMans? That’s where are next “music” video will share with you. First some big band sounds and a little summary of the competition in 1968. The GT40 ride, powered by a 289 ci Shelby built engine, begins at 4:45, but don’t be in a rush.
“And Pedro Rodriguez, co-winner last year…” in the same GT40 that will win this year. (Oops, spoilers!)
Lookee here, Frank, you’ve bored us to death for over 800 words, and I haven’t heard a single song yet. You’re kidding me, right dear reader? Surely you heard the concerto of the internal combustion engine. Isn’t that enough? Well if not, then I’ll share a few more road worthy songs for you. They aren’t as pleasing to the ears as the basso profundo of a tricked out 5.0 liter Windsor Ford V-8 at idle, or the sonorous scream of one running wide open, but they are pretty good nonetheless. Minimal liner notes though, ’cause I’m spent.
Charlie Ryan and the Timberline Riders, Hot Rod Lincoln (1955). Hmm, a Lincoln vs. a Mercury, and Cadillac thrown into the mix. Pretty much perfect, except for the jail time. Don’t drive like this on the streets, kids!
The Beach Boys, Little GTO. Bringing gearheads into the mainstream since the early Sixties.
Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run. Fuel injection and run away American dreams!
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Runnin’ Down the Dream. No explanation necessary, right?