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SAAC 46: Shelby Cars Converge On Sears Point

Cars on display in The Cobra Experience

The Shelby American Automobile Club arrived at the historic Sonoma Raceway on the weekend of July 31st, 2021, for the national club convention. A once a year event held at a different road race venue every year, the Shelby Club puts on a celebration of all things Shelby Mustang, Cobra, GT40, King Cobra, BOSS 302 and everything related.

An occasional Ferrari or Camaro sometimes sneaks in, participates, and leaves unmolested. Celebrities and semi-celebrities are often seen at the track and make appearances at the banquet.

“SAAC 46”, the 46th annual national club convention, drew hundreds of attendees from all over America. A non-profit event held for members, proceeds fund club activities and help keep the Shelby legacy going.

The organizers do not seek publicity, and this event is usually not covered by the media. Outside of Shelby club members, it is not as well-known as similar vintage auto events—but it deserves to be.

This is a fabulous weekend of vintage racing, open track driving, a car show, a drag race, a Concours, a banquet, and a visit to a great Cobra/Shelby museum, The Cobra Experience. It’s also open to the public for spectators. Here are the highlights.

Driver and passenger in open-top black Ferrari at Sonoma Raceway

SAAC 46 in Sonoma was the prelude to Monterey Car Week. The Pre-Historics at Laguna Seca began the following weekend. It attracted a number of significant original race cars, including an early 289 Cobra, a one-of-two GT40 lightweight prototype, the Essex Wire “R” Model GT350, the unrestored Howard Pardee “R” Model, a Shelby King Cobra, and an early prototype of the Shelby GT350.

The Stars of SAAC 46: Notable Guests & Speakers

Chuck Cantwell

Chuck Cantwell—manager of the GT350 race shop where all 36 racing “R” Model versions were built in the 1960s—roamed the track and the convention hotel. I missed out on his photo at SAAC 46, but here he is behind the wheel of #003, the first GT350 street car, with Peter Brock leaning on the door at the start of the Pebble Beach tour in 2014.

Chuck Cantwell and Peter Brock posing with GT350

Peter Miles

Peter Miles, son of the late Ken Miles—the incredibly talented Shelby race driver who SHOULD have won LeMans in 1966—made a presentation and fielded questions at the banquet about his life as Ken’s son. He also shared his thoughts on the film Ford vs. Ferrari, his experiences with Ford executives involved in the GT40 racing program, Carroll Shelby, the Ford GT40 racing team and their adventures, and his father.

Peter Miles speaking into microphone

Rick Kopec

Rick Kopec, RIC (“Roastermaster In Chief”), tap-danced on Howard Pardee for nearly half an hour. Howard must be used to playing doormat. He’s a good sport.

That’s it, Rick. Look into the camera. He practically melted the camera sensor with that intense gaze.

Rick Kopec speaking at podium

A Visit to The Cobra Experience

Attendees met in Richmond, California, on Friday night at The Cobra Experience—a museum dedicated to the GT40, Cobra, and GT350.

Cars on display in The Cobra Experience
Photo credit: Jeff Burgy.

GT40 frame in museum under TEXACO signA GT40 Frame.

Red cobra chassis next to yellow cobra chassisThe Chassis of a 427 Cobra in Red and a 289 in Yellow.

Slot car trackSlot Cars.

J Car and Essex Wire 427 Cobra Race CarA “J” Car and the Famous Essex Wire 427 Cobra Race Car.

1964 Ford Indy EngineThe 1964 Ford Indy Engine.

Row of cars on display in museumWhat a collection!

Mechanic in jeans underneath destroyed GT500A little last minute wrenching on a recently acquired GT500 to prepare a display for the club.

On Display: The S65003

This car is known as #003, even though it was the first Mustang delivered to Shelby American from Ford for conversion into a GT350. This is the car that started it all in 1965—created by Shelby American and used to promote both the company and its GT350 street cars that followed. There are not many opportunities to see this car.

Mustang GT350 decal

Note the stamped steel wheels. Most owners have bought Shelby’s upgraded street car wheels. This is also the only GT350 Shelby American produced with a GT350 decal on the front fender.

White car with hood up in parking lot

The owner usually displays it with the stamped delivery wheels on one side and the optional Shelby American Cragar wheels on the other side (as seen below).

White GT350 with hood up in parking lot next to sign

Close-up of white Mustang GT350 engine underneath raised hood

Close-up of engine in white Mustang GT350 with raised hood

#003 won a significant car award at the Amelia Island Concours in 2014,—the first time it appeared in public after a two-year restoration. The restoration returned it to its original condition as a race car, and it ran on the track for a number of years. It was awarded second in class at Pebble Beach the same year.

The Howard Pardee “R” Model

One of the best examples in existence, Howard Pardee’s “R” Model is unrestored. Most of the 36 “R” cars are destroyed or restored, so this was an unusual opportunity to see one as it looked when it left the race track after its last race.

White Mustang GT350 parked in showroom

Ex-Rick Kopec Original “R” Model and Vintage Racer (The Essex Wire Car)

A successful original race car once owned and vintage raced by the editor of The Shelby American magazine.

The car is original, but the name is rumored to be a replica.

Close-up of Mustang with RICK KOPEC and American flag decals on top

The King Cobra

This car is a Cooper Monaco adapted to contest the prototype road race class against Jim Hall and his Chaparrals, various specials, and European road race prototypes by strengthening the tube frame for the torque of the Ford 289 motor.

Shelby American employees Wally Peat and Dave McDonald (the eventual driver) installed the 289 V8 Ford in the chassis. McDonald won the prototype class at Riverside and Laguna Seca in the King Cobra in 1963.

An improved version of the car won Riverside again in the fall of 1964 with Parnelli Jones driving, but by then more advanced cars were taking over the class. The following year, Shelby took over the GT40 program at Ford, ending the King Cobra program. See the King Cobra on track for parade laps below.

Blue King Cobra on racetrack

Blue King Cobra being driven at speed on track

#13 AC Cobra (Tom Benjamin Driving)

The number #13 Cobra is an early example of an unrestored 289 Cobra race car. Known as the “Gerber Car,” it was owned and raced by Dan Gerber, son of the founder of Gerber baby foods, and by highly successful Cobra driver “Gentleman” Tom Payne. This is the last worm and sector car AC Cars made.

Number 13 AC Cobra bring driven by driver in helmet

The Alan Mann GT40

This GT40 MKI P (one of two and the only one running) made its last track appearance with owner Rex Myers. MKI GT40s were heavy cars that stressed the engines, brakes, and drivetrains in endurance racing, leading to mechanical failures in 1964 and 1965.

Not one GT40 finished a race in those years. So Ford commissioned Alan Mann Racing in Byfleet, Surrey, to build a lightweight prototype version—thus the “P” designation.

With a top speed exceeding 210MPH, It was fourth-fastest in practice at the 1966 24 Hours of LeMans after a “J Car,” an MKIV, and the MKI P sister car. Ford told Mann not to contest the race with the GT40 P’s.

Ford had already moved on to the MKII program, a very different car using the 7-Liter NASCAR side oiler. As a new, untested race car, having suffered failures in the GT40 program to date, Ford had to be concerned that their new factory car, the GT40 MKII could be beaten by the very Alan Mann lightweight prototype that appeared at SAAC 46.

Worse yet, what if the Ford-built MKIIs failed and the Alan Mann MKI P won—or finished the race ahead of the newer model?

The Alan Mann car will forever be remembered as one of two GT40 MKI P’s that might have won the 1966 24 hours of LeMans had Ford allowed them to compete. Ford won easily with the MKII in the legendary 1-2-3 sweep depicted in the movie Ford VS. Ferrari, and again in 1967 with the MKIV.

A GT40 MKI, the same chassis number car, won the race in 1968 and 1969 after engine capacity was limited to 5-liters to ban the 427 Ford and return competition to the event after four straight years of Ford domination. This meant the Alan Mann car could have been competitive in 1966, 1968, and 1969—three of the four years in which Ford won. What a shame it wasn’t given a chance to contest LeMans.

Having accomplished their goal, and with their world-dominating engine banned, Ford withdrew from contesting the 24 hours of LeMans. Porsche took over from Ford. Ferrari never won again.

Myers took the car for one more event, driving it on the track for parade laps and a few laps at speed during SAAC 46 (see photos below) before displaying it in the garage and paddock for the weekend. It failed to meet the reserve price at auction two weeks later in Monterey.

Alan Mann GT40 being driven on track

Close-up of driver side window of Alan Mann GT40

Rex Myers standing in front of cars with helmet under armRex Meyers.

The Vintage Race at SAAC 46

The vintage race is, for many attendees, the highlight of any SAAC event. Here is the pole sitter for SAAC 46. So, what happened in the race?

Where Is the Pole Sitter #10 Daytona Coupe?

The driver lost it in the second turn of the first lap, spun, and almost hit the wall. Here he is below on opposite lock, trying to save it, pushing hard enough to pull the inside wheel off the ground—three-wheeling a Daytona Coupe!

I was shooting the sequence above through a photo window in the fence, leaning on the wall and facing the other way. I didn’t see the spin. After the last car passed, I turned to my left and was startled by the Daytona facing backward right across the wall from me! I could have reached across the wall and touched the bonnet.

Blue car on track during vintage race

Blue car on side of track after spinning on turn

Blue car with number 10 decal on track during vintage race

And the Winner Is:

Ex-Professional Indy Car League driver/race winner, experienced in numerous two and four-wheel types of racing—Jim Guthrie, in his early model red-with-gold-stripes Mustang GT350, car #314.

Below you can see Guthrie motor over the top of the second turn, in the lead and pulling away from the pack. Even from where I was shooting through the photo window, I could see the difference between a professional driver and an accomplished amateur.

See for yourself—Jim was way faster, had the right line, and was smooth and in control all the time. It was a joy to watch him drive and to witness an early model so well driven.

Red and gold Mustang GT350 on racetrack

Red and gold Mustang GT350 on racetrack

Red and gold Mustang GT350 on racetrack

Paddock Photos from SAAC 46

Yellow car with number 2 decal

Blue car with white strip and number 28 decal

Light blue car with number 98 decal

Red car with number 16 decal

Line of cars on pavement during event

Red and blue cars on pavement during event with building in background

 Line of cars being driven near building during event

 Red, blue, and white cars on pavement during event

SAAC 46 at Sonoma Raceway: Something for Everyone

For 20 bucks, if you have a helmet, you can run your car up the Sonoma Raceway drag strip and go home with an official time slip.

Drive any car you want, as long as you don’t exceed 140 MPH—above which the track warden will send you home if you don’t pack a parachute. One car, a 2021 GT500 with a blower, was sent home with a 142MPH trap speed!

Orange car racing down track ahead of blue car

Sign showing times and O'Reilly Auto Parts logo

Vintage cars speeding down Sonoma Raceway track

Red and white car ahead of blue car on racetrack

That’s a wrap for SAAC 46—can’t wait for SAAC 47! Nobody knows where it will be. It won’t be decided until early 2022.

Thanks for joining me at this event. If you’re hungry for more, read all about the original Shelby Mustang GT500—or, if you prefer contemporary to classic, check out the 2021 version.

SAAC 46 Photo Gallery