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Making Fast, Cool Cars: Three Radically Different Approaches

We compare John DeLorean, Carroll Shelby and Elon Musk!

Henry Ford put America on wheels, but America could barely outrun the neighbor's beagle-- the top speed on a Model T was 40 miles an hour! To millions of Americans who like speed and quirky car doors, Elon Musk, John DeLorean and Carroll Shelby are car-making legends.

Next time you're in Vegas, Uber on over to the Shelby Museum. They give free tours of the 40,000 sq. ft. Shelby facility, which is just south of Mandalay Bay hidden between I-15 and the world-famous Vegas strip. It is on the floor of that facility the Shelby team takes ordinary Ford Mustangs and turns them into frightening chariots of fire and horsepower.

Several sweet Cobras, Mustangs, racecars and trucks are on display-- even a Chrysler GLHS-- from Shelby's days at that Detroit behemoth. ("GLH" was a model of Chrysler. The initials stood for "Goes Like Hell." Shelby went one better and created the "Goes Like Hell Some More!")

On a recent May day, we took that tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. Midway through, it struck me that it takes very large ball bearings to think you're going to be the one who figures out how to make a great car and sell enough of them to satisfy the customer, make a profit and stick around.

How hard is it? Popular Mechanics has an article named "10 Greatest Failed U.S. Auto Companies!" That's just the ten greatest! With full knowledge of the failures and hardships of the Studebakers and Hudsons and Packards these guys had an itch to make a car. Their car. And, to varying degrees/kinds of success, they did it!

Musk is-- DeLorean and Shelby were-- nutty, but the kind of nutty that America loves. And their groovy cars star in movies, have gorgeous lines, go fast and turn heads. And almost everybody loves these cars.

Not everybody. One of the stories told by the Shelby Museum tour guide is that Bill Cosby-- flush with fame and fortune by virtue of his starring role in NBC's "I Spy"-- drove a Shelby Cobra GT (capable of 200 MPH) verrrry briefly before giving it back, saying, in certain terms, that it scared the living [daylights] of him.

Which of these three is the greatest, in my opinion? It is represented by the garish chart below, containing hand-selected factoids about all three. I gave a greenlight to the best response of the three. Red to the least of the three. Yellow's down the middle. My conclusion? Carroll Shelby is the biggest car-making badass that walked this earth. Your mileage may vary.