During his lifetime, Carroll Shelby accomplished more than most men could in two lifetimes. He was a test pilot in the Army Air Corps during the second World War, he was a Formula One racing driver, and would later go on to found Shelby American in 1962. Even people who do not know much about Carroll Shelby the man know him for his creations: the Shelby Cobra, the Shelby Mustang, and of course, for his work with Ford on the Le Mans-winning GT40.
These cars have taken on a mystical aura over the decades, with originals skyrocketing in value and plenty of replica and tribute cars rushing in to fill demand in the market. Shelby’s dedication to building high performance cars has earned the brand enormous respect and prestige among enthusiasts and collectors.
But I’m willing to bet that even the most die-hard Carroll Shelby fan has probably not heard of the Shelby Lonestar before. I will admit that I hadn’t heard of it until I was standing in front of the car earlier this year in Arizona.
I am a Carroll Shelby fan, having toured the factory in Las Vegas and having attended the largest gathering of GT40s in half a century at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. But the story of the Shelby Lonestar was one I had not heard before, and it’s worth sharing.
Towards the end of his contract with Ford, Shelby American began working on the next evolution of the Shelby Cobra, a car that was referred to internally as the “Cobra Mk III.” Shelby hired British designer Len Bailey, who had designed the GT40 Mk III and GT40 Mirage.
It is no coincidence that the car resembles a GT40, using a similar tube chassis design with riveted aluminum body work. The mid-engine, two-seater is powered by a Ford 289 V8 engine producing 320 horsepower and paired with a 5-speed ZF gearbox. The Halibrand wheels and Smiths gauges round out the car’s provenance as a born racer. Shelby had intended to call the car a Cobra, but the name belonged to Ford. Shelby opted to call the car Lonestar, an homage to his home state of Texas.
This particular car was featured on the cover of Shelby’s parts catalog, on a poster, and was featured on the cover of Autoweek magazine in December of 1967. One version of the story says that U.S. safety regulations halted the car’s production; another says that Ford declined to finance production of the car. In any case, the idea of a Mark III Cobra was abandoned after this one and only prototype was built.
The car sat in storage until October 1968, when it was advertised for sale in Autoweek magazine for the sum of $15,000 (equivalent to $110,000 in 2019). It did not sell, and changed hands a few more times before being purchased by Michael and Christa Shoen in 1975.
The Shoens sought the expert help of Cobra restoration expert Geoff Howard of Danbury, CT for help with the restoration – which ended up taking nearly a decade. The completed car is 95% original, aside from a missing front bumper which had to be painstakingly re-created. The Shelby Lonestar made its debut at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2018 to great acclaim.
I saw the car at a few shows in February 2019, now in its new home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. This is easily the rarest car to bear the Shelby name and although it doesn’t have the racing pedigree of the GT40, this one-off is the kind of rare treat enthusiasts fawn over. It sounds as though the car has finally found the loving home and the appreciation it deserves, and will hopefully bring the owner and Shelby fans lots of joy for years to come.