My Classic Car: Ed Fisher’s 1961 Ford Starliner

Photo courtesy of Ed Fisher
Photo courtesy of Ed Fisher

Way back in 1961 or 1962 I had a “401” 1961 Starliner, 3-speed with overdrive. I won many Super Stock trophies with it. Had a great time. One fantastic memory was driving it from Akron to Daytona, checking into the motel, putting slicks on it, and drag racing on the back stretch of Daytona Speedway on Saturday night the night before the 500.

I was first loser (to a towed Super Stock). What a memory. That was also the year Curtis Turner was driving a ’61 Starliner. Came from the back of the pack to I believe 5th place and then blew the engine! That was accomplished in just a few laps.

What a car!!!

I had the chance to buy a ’61 Starliner 3 years ago. It has the “401” also. It is aqua and white,very original. So I went to North Carolina and bought it.
I live in Phoenix and take it to various shows here.

Ed Fisher
Akron, Ohio

Many thanks to Ed for sharing his story.  Why not share yours?

Vehicle Profile: 1955 Ford Thunderbird

1955FordThunderbird

Henry Ford II’s answer to the successful launch of the Chevrolet Corvette in 1953, came in 1955 as the Ford Thunderbird (1st generation, 55 through 57 T-Bird). Backtrack a couple of short years…. after a visit to Europe in the early 50’s, Henry Ford II decided he wanted to build a 2-seater, convertible sportscar for the American public. He had also heard rumors, to the effect, that Chevrolet was working on a similar sporty concept vehicle made of a new lightweight material and so, he was further inspired to push his designers to come up with a competitive vehicle. He sought out and commissioned Vince Gardner, formerly a top designer with Cord Automobiles, to design a lightweight, 2-seat roadster for the Ford Motor Company. The result was a beautiful, yet European-looking vehicle named the Vega (also, ironically, a name used later on by Chevrolet for one of its models).

The Vega, completed in 1953, ended up a one-off, aluminum bodied, 2-seat sportscar with many styling characteristics borrowed from the Cord/Auburn automobiles including hide-away headlamps incorporated into the front fenders. Unfortunately, it proved to be much too costly to put into production and besides, Mr. Ford was looking for something more modern and American in the style department. So, back to the drawing board and a team of FoMoCo designers came up with the Thunderbird, so named, after a mythical “Bird of Prey”. Oh, and the Vega sat in the Ford Rotunda Exhibition Center for many years in Dearborn, MI, until it was eventually sold at the 2006 Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction in Scottsdale, AZ for $385,000.

The excitingly new Ford Thunderbird was quickly pushed into production and by October 1954, they began to arrive in dealerships across the country, thus, the 1955 T-Bird was born. Although inspired by and built to compete directly with the Corvette, Ford maintained that it was more a personal luxury vehicle and not just a sportscar. This must have appealed to the public, as in 1955, Ford sold a whopping 16,155 units, against the Corvette’s 700 units for the same year. Complete with its non-functional, yet stylish, hood scoop and front fender vents and borrowing many other characteristics from its Ford siblings of the era; it really took off. One of the few changes for 1956 was the addition of an extended rear bumper area to accommodate a continental kit spare tire arrangement intended to improve trunk capacity. This, however, was dropped in 1957, as it created undesirable steering issues due to the added length and weight in the rear of the vehicle.

During the entire 50 year run of the fabulous T-Bird, 1955 to 2005 (with a brief hiatus from 1998-2001), over 4.4 million units were produced. In fact, one famous racing T-Bird, driven by Bill Elliott, still holds the fastest lap speed record of 212.809 mph in a 1987 NASCAR version of the vehicle, at the Talladega SuperSpeedway . . . A record that has yet to be broken to this day.

Vehicle Profile: 1965 Ford Mustang

The year of 1965 was a great one for the Ford Motor Company, with the introduction of a totally new vehicle in their lineup called the Ford Mustang! This beautiful, yet economically minded car, created a new class of vehicle which was dubbed the “Pony Car” (a sporty, 2-door coupe design which incorporated a long hood and a short, rear deck area). The car was introduced unusually early in the model year (on April 17, 1964 at the New York Worlds’ Fair and to rave reviews!) as a 1965 production model, with room to seat 4 people and was based on the affordable Ford Falcon chassis. Many purist’s still refer to these early production models (April thru September 1964) as 1964-1/2, but all were actually produced, titled and coded as 1965 models!

The Mustang also happened to be Ford Motor Company’s most successful new model launch since the Model “A” way back in 1927! The Mustang would become Ford’s third oldest nameplate to date, being surpassed only by the F-Series pickup models and the Falcon which is still in production in Australia. To date, there have been five generations of the Ford Mustang and it is also the longest running, uninterrupted production run of the original “Pony Car” in existence. Other Pony Cars that followed the Mustang have come and gone and some are even seeing a revival today, as new, current models being produced by General Motors and Chrysler.

Ford Motor Company originally estimated that less than 100,000 units would be produced for the 1965 year model, but due to huge sales and consumer demand, over 1 million were actually produced in the first 18 months of production. The car was well built and stylish, not to mention a great car to drive! It also didn’t hurt, that its 1st movie debut was in the hugely popular James Bond film, “Goldfinger”, released in September of 1964!

It’s funny, that there seems to be some confusion as to who actually chose the name for the Mustang but at least two arguments exist:

1.) That Ford’s Executive Stylist at the time, Pres Harris, who was a huge fan of the infamously successful WWII Mustangs of the North American Aviation Company not only chose the name but was instrumental in the design of the body.

2.) That Ford’s Division Market Research Manager of the time, Robert J. Eggert, due to his love of American Quarterhorse breeds, and after receiving a book, as a birthday gift from his wife back in 1960, named “the Mustangs” (by J. Frank Dobie) was responsible for using his influence to name the new car.

Either way, Lee Iacocca is still considered the “Father” of the Mustang project and his team of designers, stylists and all who were involved can be very proud of the little Pony Car that could and DID!

Vehicle Profile: 1932 Ford 5-Window Coupe

1932 Ford 5 window Coupe

The 1932 Ford Coupe (more commonly known as the “Deuce Coupe”) is the epitome of the true, original American Hot Rod. The 1932 Ford Coupe is one of several 2-door models, of the new Model B series from Ford.  The car that started it all was born at the end of the Ford Model A run. It was a one-year model that transitioned the Model A series into the upgraded 1934 Ford model lineup (the 1934 and 1935 B models were significantly changed from the stand-alone 1932’s).

As our boys returned home from the theatre of WWII in the early 1940s, they found an outlet in hot rodding old cars (if you consider a 1932 “old” in the 40s).  They were expressing themselves with new energy, restlessness and maybe a bit of rebellion. The older cars to hot rod were readily available in large numbers and the 1932s were even more desirable than Model As, or even Model Ts, due to their more powerful Flathead V8 drivetrains (the Flathead V8s were actually marketed as the Model 18, in their day).

The 1932 Fords were produced in many variations of both 2 and 4-door models but the 2-door models seemed to make the best Hot Rods and Street Rods. There were also many different styles in which to modify these cars, like the Highboy, Lowboy, Lake, Bobbed, Gasser and Rat Rod, just to name a few. Each one became an individual expression of the owner’s (or creator’s) idea of what he thought a Hot Rod or Street Rod was meant to be.

There was a lot of part, component and drivetrain swapping going on and some people got very creative with fabrications.  Many businesses sprang up as a result of these early pioneers, builders and dreamers, and still exist to this day in what has become known as the enormous automotive aftermarket. In fact, many of the innovations born from the Hot Rodding and Street Rodding world, have been adopted by and installed on production vehicles from all the major automobile manufacturers in the world.  If it wasn’t for the early pioneers of the Hot Rodding and Street Rodding cultures, I doubt we would have all the beloved and prized muscle cars running around out there.

Vehicle Profile: 1962 Ford Thunderbird

The 1962 Thunderbird offers two different models for classic car buyers to choose from. One is the Landau. This model originally featured vinyl roofs and simulated S bars on the sides. The introduction of vinyl roofs on the Landau was the beginning of a popular design trend that continued for Thunderbirds over the next twenty years.

The other 1962 Thunderbird model is the Sport Roadster, a limited production model. This model originally featured special upholstery on the seats and chrome plated Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels. The Sport Roadster was also designed with a fiberglass Tonneau cover, that makes the vehicle look like a two seater. The Sports Roadster is considered the more exciting of the two 1962 Thunderbird models, by classic car enthusiasts.

Before we discuss innovations include the bases. The style was influenced by fashion, “Kalifornia Kustom” of the early 60s, the model 62 had a redesigned grille with four horizontal lines with small bright vertical bars. In front of the grid a “jaladera”. Moldings were replaced “stacked” in the back of the compact model 61 by a horizontal dashed line. After the spring, some cars were built with a horizontal chrome line along its side. Large, round taillights brand attributes were decorated with more chrome.

The price difference between each of the models was a little over $151 U.S. dollars. Apparently it was a modest amount, but it was in 1962. From 1958 to 1960 the increase in the price of the car averaged $60 per year, but the brand new T-Bird 1961 jumped more than $400 in price. An increase of $150 in 1962 would have been seen as a stepping stone for anyone who negotiates the purchase of a 1959 model. But for those who bought a T-Bird a year was less than the previous year’s effort. It is also worth noting that the convertible broke the line of $4,000 for the first time in 1960, whereas it did in 1961 Hardtop. Convertible Roadster for 1962 came to $5,000.

A long list of standard equipment included in the high price of the car. According to Car Fax 1962, including auto exhaust system with dual output, fuel filter, oil filter, engine 390 cubic inch carburetor four throats padded dash, padded sun visors,electric clock with a second , courtesy lights, directional, deep center wheel, the horn ring and horn dual, individually adjustable front seats, adjustable rear view mirror day-night double door locks with safe, completely covered in the wheels, armrests built , carpet, vinyl upholstery, Ashtray, lighter ashtray air filter, automatic transmission, power brakes, power steering, electric windshield cleaners, hand brake (or emergency), glove box lights, ashtray, luggage, support and in magazines, heating and defroster, a movable steering column (new to the standard equipment list), a console between the front seats, and black tires 8.00 x 14. The Sport Roadster convertible included cover rear seats with padded back for the head, chrome spoke wheels and a handrail for the front passenger.

To appreciate the stature of the Thunderbird at the time, we must consider that in the period 1961-1962, the base models of Ford and Chevrolet only included directional, sun visors, and oil filter as standard equipment. The list of equipment for most cars was two to three long lines. In contrast, the T-Bird 1962 was equipped with almost all car accessories fitted quite well today (one difference may be the air conditioning, which is more common today). The T-Bird was also appreciated as extremely quiet, in a time when ordinary cars were noisy. About 45 pounds of sound-absorbing materials were placed in the car, including the isolation of aluminum, felt or fiberglass putty were applied to the roof cavity of the rough, board, instrument panel, passenger floors and floor trunk, roof panels, trunk, and panels of the compacts.

There were some additional revisions to the 1962 Thunderbird. A manual emergency brake, slight changes in trim, and adjustments in the indicators of the board were some of them. Below the car, a zinc-based coating was applied as protection against oxidation. Also applied three coats of primer or primer. On top of this, two coats of enamel “Never Wax.” Aluminum muffler also been upgraded with stainless steel sections in some critical parts in the exhaust system, such as resonators.

The T-Bird engine were made improvements in the intake system. Only in the carburetor were made 15 improvements plus the addition of a fuel filter that worked for 30,000 miles. The oil filter life also extended to intervals of 4,000 or 6,000 miles by removing a valve. At this point, most cars used antifreeze that required change almost every year. Thunderbird buyers were given a permanent anti-freeze protection to -35 degrees and had to be changed every two years or 30,000 miles. Taimen had better brakes. It said a larger master cylinder would increase the efficiency of braking with less pedal pressure. For durability and strength will be new materials used in mechanical brake. However, the T-Bird was three years of having disc brakes, something that fans of the brand thought very necessary.

Outside, 18 colors were available for simple Hardtop. Twelve of these colors were unique to the Thunderbird. A color, Blue Diamond, was added during the model year. Including Blue Diamond, there were 21 combinations of two tones. Nineteen interior options were available in four models of the Thunderbird in seven basic colors. The seats came in full on vinyl seven options, five options in vinyl and cloth, and seven full leather options.

1962 Thunderbird seats were low and soft. The heater controls and a glove compartment were incorporated in to the center console between the seats. The steering wheel moved 10 inches to facilitate entry and exit of the car, but it only works when the transmission selector was in Parking. Car and Driver (August 1962) mentioned “wide opening doors and generously sized interior” in both models. However, the magazine said that when setting back the front seats reduce the space for rear passengers’ knees and even then, the front seats do not fit enough to handle with arms outstretched.

A quick look at the 1962 body codes shows that the four models had only two different model numbers. This means that the differences between cars of similar body was in the ornaments of the chassis, rather than the body structure. There was only a minor difference of importance in the shape of the windshield or the roof line, Ford had used a different code to distinguish the cars. Both bodies had the same form of “projectile” front end and design of dual jet pipe at the back in 1961. The hardtop roof was again the trend of formal style. The convertible had a deck in the rear seat folded up and hidden mechanism “accordion” that Tom McCahill joked in May 1962 Mechanix Illustrated magazine.

“The first time I went down the roof, I thought the car was about to eat itself,” Tom McCahill said. “The roof of the rear seats opens, the panels are unfolded, the roof is straightened up, all accompanied by a noise similar to a missile launch. The spectacle of this operation is sufficient to cause thrombosis of a playboy 3rd Avenue slightly intoxicated. The total operation are seen as fellow woodcutters Buck Rogers of Abraham Lincoln and the end result, though the roof is successfully hidden, leaving less space in the trunk in a Volkswagen. ”

The convertible was the basis for the Sports Roadster. A large lid “tonneau” fiberglass made it a two-seater car. The convertible roof has to be hidden in order to install the cover and the cover can be installed or removed in less than three minutes. A Tom McCahill liked the idea of a conversion to two places and said “This vibrating glass fixture saw the T-Bird as an Easter hat parade.” Going back to 1955 (the system of baldness that Tom McCahill was used to define dates, “when he was three more in my bald hair.”) The writer had created a record of the T-Bird in speed on the track at Daytona. He liked the two places. But Uncle Tom was at the question of what to do with the cover to be away from home. “I could work in a slightly larger problem that is in the Congo,” he threatened, referring to a political issue at the time.

The British magazine Motor Sport, said that the tonneau cover was “made of thin fiberglass” and questioned if this could cause annoying noise. However, the tonneau cover was very well designed. The section of the headrest was shaped like a horseshoe to adjust on the chair seat Thunderbird. A secure early release was holding the transmission tunnel between the seats. The tonneau slipped below the top of the rear seats to be attached to the rear. You could add or retract the convertible roof tonneau cover in place. With the lid on in the back seat was a hole, this allowed to keep small items from sliding below the deck, cushioned by the back seat. Access to this “hiding” was achieved simply by folding the front seat forward.

The Sport Roadster for some, resembled a toy car racing spoiler with two figurines in the front seat. Tim Howley, author of Collectible Automobile, said he gave the impression of a large aircraft with the pilot and copilot sitting in the front. Car Life magazine compared the large area between the seatback and the rear of the car with the cover the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. The equipment also included Sport Roadster Kelsey-Hayes wheels ray-top nut, a fastener for the front passenger, special badges to the front of the compact front below the letters Thunderbird, and wrote off the tail of the compact rear. Tom McCahill said, “The Roadster is the only Thunderbird wheels with spokes and simulated as a nut cup.”

However, Car Fax 1962 lists it as a regular T-Bird plus a cost of $262.90 for distributors and additional suggested price list of $372.30 dollars. The Tim Ford Howley expert agreed that this was the case. It is possible that other T-Bird wheels have been sold with lightning and simulated nut cup. The tail of the compact was removed from the Sport Roadster due to problems space with simulated nut cup, but the restorers have found a way to put them. The compacts also open allowing greater ventilation for the brakes and the car make it look more sporty. The rays wheels do not work well with tubeless tires.

The new model “forgotten” was the Landau or Landau Hardtop. It was produced with a cover in black or white vinyl roof. The cover was designed to look like a leather cover. To reinforce this impression the ceiling was decorated in a more classical. “The Landau has, as might be expected,” Landau Ornaments “vertically and attractive sides of the roof panels,” reported The Motor Sport. “It’s a very nice combination with genuine leather upholstery optional . The number of built Landaus was not recorded separately, but the model Hardtop pushed sales at more than 7,000 units.

The performance of the T-Bird Road remained largely unchanged since 1961. The standard engine of 390 cubic inch V8 with 300hp gave the Thunderbird enough speed for a typical buyer of the T-Bird, though not a Muscle Car McCahill reported an average of 9.7 seconds to take the car from zero to 60mph in Sport Roadster weight of 4.530 pounds. According to Motor Trend (September 1962), in a Sport Roadter of 4.842 pounds of weight in the same test they showed a 11.2 seconds time. Car and Drive Management 11.3 seconds in a convertible than 4,400 pounds. It is possible that the aerodynamic properties of the tonneau cover has made faster Roadter Sport of McCahill, although the proximity of the two results suggests greater accuracy. The great engine of T-Bird ran smoothly and quietly tore most of the time. Car and Driver said, “is nearly undetectable.” The Convertible Car and Driver recorded a top speed of 110mph, while McCahill said his Sport Roadster arrived at six miles more than that. (Probably the old Tom is not calibrated the meter). Motor Trend said “an honest 107mph in our Weston electric speedometer.” An optional engine was available in 1962. His production was limited, “tell me that under pressure and with the help of a member of Congress, it is possible to order the T-Bird with a more powerful engine” joked Tom McCahill. This engine was a version of 390 with three Holley two progressive carburetor throats, a compression ratio of 10.5:1 and an aluminum air filter distinctive. Known as the power plant Code-M was capable of generating 340hp and 430 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm. Car Fax showed that the engine had a cost to distributors of $ $ 171 and $ 242 added to the selling price.

Although hard to believe was true, so it only took 120 Sport Roadster M. Code A M Roadster could reach 0-60 mph in about 8.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 125 mph. Although the T-Bird was a sports car fast, it was not a Muscle Car fast. The management was slow and vague and inadequate to conduct themselves in corners. Professional management techniques were necessary for driving gear corners closed due to slow response and leadership position. “These are shortcomings that most owners never meet,” said Car and Driver. Motor Trend rated the car as fast, but printed a photo caption in criticizing the chassis. There were problems in the mechanics of the braking system. The brakes work very well under normal conditions, but the mechanisms were warming rapidly and lose their braking when driving at high speed. It was necessary to wait a long time to cool the brakes to work right again.

Vehicle Profile: 1968-1969 Ford Torino

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In 1968, Ford Motor Company forged ahead with their intermediate sized (116-inch wheelbase) muscle car selections.  They added the Torino name to the upper end offerings of their redesigned Fairlane model lineup. The Fairlane badging was discontinued after 1970, when all models would be badged as Torino (with various option/package levels through 1976).

The new larger and heavier Ford Fairlane/Torino was available in a 2-door coupe, fastback (or SportsRoof as they called it) and convertible (very rare, due to minimal production numbers). It was also available as a 4-door sedan and a 4-door station wagon, which was the only model in the lineup which actually had a shorter (113-inch) wheelbase.

The 1968/69 Fairlane/Torino again had 4-headlamps. Two each, placed side-by-side, at each end of the recessed grille opening, as opposed to earlier models where they were stacked vertically on top of each other at either end of the grille area. Parking/turn signal lamps were located in the front fenders at each corner just above the chromed bumper and wrapped around to incorporate the side marker lamp as well (to keep in step with Federal mandates for side-marker lamps).  Similar to previous models, the taillights were a squared style with the backup lamp located across the center of each lamp (either vertically or horizontally, depending on specific model). Keeping with the advantages of vehicular rigidity, safety and lower production costs, the unitized construction style of build was used.

Engines ranged in displacement from 200-cid L6-cyl in base model Fairlanes and 302-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor in all base model Torino GTs, to late addition (April 1968) of a 428-cid V8 Cobra Jet big-block motor (with supposed underrated hp of 335) in the rarely seen Cobra Jet optioned models. Also available, in various models, were the 289-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor, 390-cid, V8 big-block with either 2 or 4-barrel carburetor and the even more rare (like ghostly rare) 427-cid V8 big-block. The 427-cid V8 big-block was an initial offering but no records of a car actually being produced with this engine seem to exist.

All Fairlanes/Torinos came standard with the 3-speed manual transmission, with an available 4-speed manual (which also had staggered rear shocks to help eliminate inherent wheel-hop, while performing burnouts) and C-6 “Cruise-O-Matic”, automatic transmissions as options. There was an exclusive, Torino GT only, handling-suspension option available which gave you heavy-duty springs, shocks and larger front sway bar. However, any V8-equipped model, could be ordered with a heavy-duty suspension which also gave you heavier springs and shocks. All cars came with drum brakes, but could be upgraded to front discs and even power assist. Suspension was carried over from previous models and had rear, solid-axle, dual semi-elliptical leaf springs, with independent front coil springs and upper/lower control arms.

On the interior front, we saw a new cockpit area with four cylindrical gauge openings placed in front of the driver.  The cockpit area included the fuel gauge and engine temperature warning lamp in the far left pod. The second pod had a 120 mph speedometer (situated directly above the steering column). The third pod had an “idiot” light for charging system and low oil pressure warning (also available was an optional tachometer) and the fourth pod was empty but would house the optional clock when ordered.

The more breathable “Comfortweave” upholstery was available in place of the standard vinyl upholstery. The Torinos came with color-coordinated carpets, additional interior trim and exterior enhancements (including fancy crests on the rear, side-roof areas). The Torino GTs came standard with bucket seats, center console, courtesy lamps on inside door panels, special badging and exterior trim and hub caps. The Torino GTs are quite rare in today’s market, as only 98,000 coupes and fastbacks were produced and only 5,300 convertibles for 1968.  This is due to several factors, including low production numbers, deterioration problems of sheet metal and chassis components and abnormally low resale values. The factors caused many units to end up in junkyards.

Few changes to the 1969 Fairlane/Torino were evident, but quite a few performance upgrades were made. Subtle changes were made to the grille area and the taillights were more squared looking. Two new Cobra specific models, a 2-door hardtop and a 2-door SportsRoof, were added to the lineup in 1969.  The Torino Talladega was added to specifically reach the NASCAR market and participate in races. It afforded Ford a total of 26 victories during the 1969 Grand National season and a total of 750 (including prototypes) of these were produced.

Ford’s Torino (which is Italian for Turin, a city in Italy) name was chosen because Turin has been compared to Detroit, MI, in respect to being an automobile manufacturing Mecca.

Find a classic Ford Torino that you love!

Vehicle Profile: Shelby GT500: Mustang at Full Gallop

shelbygt500

The Shelby GT500 more than lives up to its name.

Let’s start with its first name: Shelby. As in Carroll Shelby. As in bib overall-wearing, chili-cooking, Le Mans race-winning, Ford GT40 team-managing, Shelby Cobra-creating, Corvette-beating, Ferrari-beating, Viper-inspiring, Ford GT- godfathering, heart transplant-receiving, Barrett-Jackson auction feeding frenzy-causing Carroll Shelby himself.

Though the Shelby GT500 is built in a Ford Motor Company assembly plant and is not tweaked in Shelby’s own shop, Shelby was involved in the vehicle’s design and development and this pony deserves the Shelby name that’s branded across its rear flanks. Even Ford engineers will tell you that the reason this pony puts its power to the pavement is because of Shelby’s personal involvement in the project. In fact, the only place on the car where it says “Ford” is on the faux 1960s-style gas cap mounted between the rear tail lamps.

Middle name: GT. As in Ford Mustang GT, which is the donor chassis for this car. Though like Shelby himself, this chassis has undergone a heart transplant, which in the case of the car meant inserting a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 engine where the normally aspirated 4.6-liter V8 would have gone.

And now for the 500. As in five hundred horsepower! That’s right. This Shelbyized and supercharged version of the Mustang GT pumps out 200 more horsepower than the standard breed of this pony car platform.

And that’s not all. The Shelby GT500 also is equipped with 14-inch Brembo brakes – basically the same setup as the 200-mph Ford GT supercar – as well as track-tuned suspension pieces, some altered steering gear, traction control, a special front fascia, larger radiator, intercooler, front “splitter” and larger rear wing, white Le Mans stripes, 18-inch wheels with asymmetric tires – the rears put more rubber on the road so those 500 horses can be used more effectively.

There are changes to the interior, too, most notably — at least for driving enthusiasts — the swap of the locations of the speedometer and tachometer, so you can hold the wheel with your left hand and shift with your right and still see the tach.

Audio enthusiasts also will be delighted because the car comes with a 500-watt “Shaker” system with six-CD player and MP3 jack.

Oh, yes, the Shelby GT500 also comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. If you can’t drive a stick, you can’t drive this car. And this definitely is a car that enthusiasts will want to drive.

Although I have to admit, just driving it around town and cruising down the highway, I wondered if the car really did have 500 horsepower to offer. Why, I averaged 17 miles per gallon overall and was getting 21 on the highway.

Trust me, this car really does make 500 horsepower, and you feel it when you downshift to pass, or when you come off the line like a lightning bolt.

Work on the Shelby GT500 was done by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (many of the same people who had just finished crafting the Ford GT supercar), with Shelby participating in the design and engineering tweaks. Much of the on-track testing was done on the road course and drag strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Shelby’s shops are located.

Shelby himself took part in regular test drives and debriefs.

Shelby, of course, was responsible for the famed GT350 and GT500 Mustangs of the 1960s. The Shelby GT500 celebrates the 40th anniversary of those cars and marks his reunion with Ford, a reunion that also results in the Shelby GT and Shelby GT-H and soon will result in the beginning of production of the Shelby GT500KR, the King of the Road version of the GT500.

The Shelby GT, GT-H and KR all are or will be modified within Shelby’s own facility, and all are or will be available in limited numbers. On the other hand, the Shelby GT500 is produced in the same factory that builds all new Mustangs, and thus some 10,000 copies are available for the 2007 model year, with around 9000 planned for 2008 and another 9000 for 2009.

The car can be as docile to drive as a base Mustang V6, or as delightful as you’d expect a 500-horsepower pony car to be.

One thing I really liked about the car was that on those occasions when you’re simply cruising around town, you never have to worry about the stupid first-to-fourth transmission lockout that comes with another manually shifted American icon, the Chevrolet Corvette.

Another thing about the car that I appreciated was its seats, nicely bolstered for ripping around an autocross course but also very comfortable for long periods of freeway driving.

The rear seatback is split so either side or both can be folded down to expand the cargo floor. But even with the seat in its upright and locked position, the trunk has plenty of room for a couple of suitcases. Sure, no adult is ever going to want to sit in that back seat, but it’s there if you have children, pets or simply need a place to put a briefcase or gym bag.

Base price on the Shelby GT500 is in the low $40,000-range. Even with the unconscionable markup dealers are getting, this 500-horsepower pony represents a real bargain compared to the more than $69K it takes to get a 505-hp Corvette Z06 or the more than 80 grand it costs for a 510-hp Dodge Viper.

And did I mention that it lives up to its first, middle and last names?