by John Morton
In 1962, John Morton was a student of Peter Brock’s at the race driving school that Carroll Shelby established at Riverside International Raceway—the Carroll Shelby School of High Performance Driving. During the school, one of the cars that Morton used was the original Shelby Cobra, CSX 2000. Morton also managed to parlay an introduction to Shelby into a job at Shelby American—as a janitor.
In 1964, Morton was on the Shelby American team as a driver, being granted an FIA international competition license on the strength of a hand-written note from Ken Miles to the ACCUS-FIA representative at the Sebring 12-hour event.
In 1965, he was laid off from Shelby American.
All this is to say that it is often easy to forget just how brief a time the Shelby American organization was on the scene, barely a handful of seasons during which it produced the Cobra and the Mustang-based GT 350, along with developing the Daytona Coupe, turning the Ford GT into a winning race car, and campaigning the Mustang during the early years Trans-Am series, before fading from the scene.
John Morton was at the center of one of the better—certainly one of the best-written—books on automotive competition to appear during the Seventies, Sylvia Wilkinson’s The Stainless Steel Carrot: An Auto Racing Odyssey (Houghton Mifflin, 1973). Morton’s book can be said to be the “rest of the story,” covering Morton’s life, racing career, his time with Shelby American, and then his joining Pete—now Peter—Brock in 1967.
While reading, and then reviewing, racing driver autobiographies and biographies, more often than not they are, in my experience, an incentive to find something less painful to do, such as, say, open-heart surgery without anesthesia or having one’s hands broken with a pole cue. But Morton’s book is a very pleasant surprise. It provides not only an interesting story regarding his struggles to become a racing driver, it also provides a window into the Zeitgeist of an era now long gone.
Although at times it is really more a tale of “Inside John Morton,” Inside Shelby American nicely sketches the world in which Morton existed a half century ago: worker at Shelby American, fledgling race car driver, and spectator with a ringside seat for viewing the world of American automobile racing during those years. Morton does this quite well and manages to even add those interesting tidbits that makes it worth the investment in time to read such a book. It is nice to have one’s fears fail to materialize.
Plus, it makes you think that having lunch with John Morton would probably be both time well spent and rather enjoyable to boot.
Copyright 2014, Don Capps (speedreaders.info).
King’s obsession with the Ford Mustang followed an auto show she attended with her father when she was barely nine. She would then make a vow to be a designer – an undertaking that led her to study transportation design at the Art Center College of Design in California. Upon graduation, she joined the Ford Motor Company in 1983. “I loved to play with toy cars when I was a child. It was like an insult to give me a doll,” The Chicago Tribune quoted King as saying in a January 30, 1994 publication.
That year, the 1994 Ford Mustang, with its striking two-tone, twin-arched dashboard-console and the doors that grow gracefully out of it like boughs from a tree, is largely the product of King’s designing eye, the outlet reported. She was 35 then.
King who spent nearly 25 years with the car making company also contributed to the design of the 1990 Ford Probe and 2000 Ford Thunderbird, among other vehicles. Also, she patented a 15-inch wheel cover of the 1989 Thunderbird, a biography of her said.
At the time, King etched her name in Ford’s history as its first African American female designer, there were about 1,100 designers worldwide, with possibly 300 in the United States, less than 10 percent of whom are women.
“We’ve got plenty of guys who always wanted to design cars and started drawing as little kids. But most women don’t realize that this is an option, a distinct possibility for them,” said Ron Hill, then chairman of transportation design at the Art Center College for Design in Pasadena, Calif.
King, a Detroit resident, and Wayne State University graduate, retired from Ford in 2008. She now works as a freelance artist and author.
Mike has always been a tinkerer and has tried to customize and modify anything he can get his hands on since he was a kid growing up in Compton, CA. Mike even claims he used to carry around a briefcase complete with plush lining, secret compartments, and a working stereo system.
While Dave is a staunch purist and automotive conservationist, Mike sees every car, jalopy or Jaguar, rustbucket or Rolls Royce, as hunks of metal that can be bent and shaped to create something truly unique. Mike isn’t as concerned with preserving history as he is with making new ones.
The renowned car customization specialist Mad Mike, a.k.a. the “Man with the Plan”, is widely known from the hit television show Pimp My Ride. Mad Mike has been a whiz in the automotive electronics industry for over 25 years. He is recognized worldwide as the best of the best when it comes to customizing and tricking out automobiles. There’s no job too small, too big or crazy
for him to complete.
Before Mike was known as a genius within the car electronics industry, he was a dedicated American Solider as a Radar Operator and Technician during Operation Desert Storm. His education and hands-on experiences with electronics in the Air Force catapulted his exposure in the auto industry. Most notably, Mike can be seen weekly on MTV’s Pimp My Ride. Viewed in
the U.S. and 100 other countries, Pimp My Ride is somewhat of the “ugly duckling turns to a beautiful swan adventure”.
In addition to Pimp My Ride, Mad Mike has made appearances on several television and radio shows ranging from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, TRL, G4Techtv, Jimmy Kimmel Show, X-Games, Car Warriors, Gimme the Gigg II amongst specialty car shows such as DUB Show, LA Auto Show, NASCAR and Extreme AutoFest. When Mad Mike is not maneuvering wires and electrical parts, he is managing his many automotive enterprises, and proudly volunteering his time to several community organizations such as: Disabled American Vets, Keep America Clean, Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Sports for Exceptional Athletes , and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He currently resides in Southern California and is employed full time at Galpin Auto Sports.
Randy Haapala is a man on a mission, with energy and enthusiasm to spare. Born in Detroit, Randy is a driven man. He drag raced and was offered the driving job in ’64 by the Ramcharger team. An injury changed his life and his direction and in 2003 he began to amass a sizeable collection of Hot Rod and Drag racing memorabilia. Randy also owns the Body Palace Auto Body Repair & Refinishing in Huntington Beach, raises money for American Servicemen and women through the P&R Foundation, and puts on two car shows. The first is the Lake Elsinore Main Street Rod Run in May, followed by the Temecula Fall Car Show & Old Town Cruise in October.
In his spare time he restores old cars, creates a monster museum dedicated to hot rodding and drag racing, and supports his wife in her creation of uniquely recreated dolls. Randy is simply a man who doesn’t understand the word can’t. He works closely with his good friend, Jim Kipp, to buy and accumulate an outstanding collection of car racing memorabilia. He has become friends with many of the NHRA drag racers and frequents the charitable fund raising auctions that help to sustain important auxiliaries. While he enjoys collecting, he also sees the need to help worthy groups and assist them in meeting their goals.
Randy’s Garage, or museum, is packed with memorabilia. Neat and cluttered are not words we would associate together, but Randy’s three garages are crammed full with treasures. When he runs out of room, he just adds another garage alongside the other garages. On display was a green ’37 Ford Humpback, a black and orange ’61 Nomad Station wagon, a ’56 GMC Panel Delivery truck with air bags, a metallic blue ’32 Plymouth convertible coupe, one of only 7 registered in the country, and a ’56 Chevy convertible Bel Air. This is a working shop as well as a museum. There were lathes, grinders, 40 ton ironworker Scotchman punch, roller, shears, saws, mills, hoists, spray booth, welders and much more. This is the place where he rebuilds his hot rods. Randy owns 8 Funny Car bodies and 3 Top Fuel Dragster bodies. Not the ones cut in half, but full bodies. Randy says that it isn’t easy to get full bodies as the racers would prefer to cut the bodies in half and sell them that way due to the legal liabilities incurred if the buyer should use them to race. Randy knows just about everybody in drag racing. He showed us his impressive display of firesuits and helmets from a large selection of racers in NHRA. He recounted the history of the suits and helmets and car bodies and what made them so sought after.
He then took us to see some very special die cast drag cars including very hard to find prototypes which he would not specify. Randy has made promises to racers not to resell or dispose of certain collectibles, and true to his word he wouldn’t name names. Not only does he have over 600 die cast cars but he has gotten all of them autographed. He deals directly with John Force and Robert Hight. Force keeps saying that he wants to see the museum, and if it rivals his own museum in Yorba Linda. No one will ever beat John Force for the sheer depth and quality of his collection, but Haapala is making a strong effort to put together drag racing memorabilia that comes very, very close. Randy also has shirts, hats, signs, gas pumps and globes and a great deal of other outstanding hot rod and drag racing collectibles on display.
His car was optioned with a race engine and race suspension. The hardtop was another option. For years the Cobra was driven regularly, but it’s mostly for show now. It has “pretty close to 133,000 miles” now, he said.
Today he wears the shirt only when showing the car and only washes the collar by hand when it gets dirty.
A couple of other history-making points for car and driver:
• The only original and privately owned Cobra to be on display for the opening of the Shelby American Museum at the Las Vegas Speedway (1994);
• First Cobra to be driven on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by an African-American;
• One of only two African Americans to own a Cobra from new. The other still belongs to jazz musician Herbie Hancock. (source: independent.co.uk)
The car has racked up 441 trophies and Williams says he has the largest collection of signed Carroll Shelby memorabilia. “Before he [Shelby] died, it was valued at $125,000,” he said, “now it’s priceless.”
And so is Williams’ Cobra. He has been offered $1.5 million for his car but has no plans to sell.
This year marks half a century since Shelby American first fitted a Ford V8 to the AC Ace, spawning one of the century’s most iconic sports cars. From humble beginnings, the two-seat bruiser’s perfect pairing of lightweight, British-built chassis and tarmac-pounding, American muscle has prompted so many replicas it’s rare to find a real one. Rarer still are the genuine cars still owned by the original buyer.
Single-owner Cobras attract substantial offers, but few of their owners are willing to give them up. Including 73-year-old Hank Williams of Fontana, California. The former jazz musician and racing driver first collected the keys to CSX2227, a lightly modified 289 cubic-inch MkII, in 1965. It was the start of a partnership that has made this one of the biggest trophy winners in the world, triumphing in 419 races, shows and rallies. And it’s never been fully restored. “I wouldn’t sell it. Not as now,” he explains. But he’s had his fair share of wannabes. “I had an offer last year from a man in Harlem who had been trying to buy it for 10 years. He made an offer of a million and a half dollars for the car. He calls me every two years; I’ve never met the man.”
It’s not only the single owner that makes this unusual. Hank is listed as one of only two African Americans to own a Cobra from new. The other still belongs to jazz musician Herbie Hancock, who bought it at a dealership in New York out of his first music-industry pay cheque.
That long-term relationship has attracted some noteworthy fans. A list which includes Carroll Shelby himself, a fellow original Cobra owner, whose autograph appears on the glovebox door of CSX2227. He’s so fond of this car that Hank was invited to bring it along to open the National Hot Rod Association museum in Las Vegas in 1998.
For Shelby, it’s a moment in his history. When this car left the factory, Shelby American was far from a household name. Built at the facility in Venice, California, it has the added historic appeal of being worked on by the founder of the now-iconic company. Performance cars have always been a part of Hank’s fibre. He was born in Louisiana, and it was the local California Raceway that brought him to Fontana, where he’s lived ever since. In 1964 he was an aspiring racer rapidly reaching the limits of his Austin Healey MkIII 3000 and looking to upgrade. It was at a local race meeting that he first saw a Cobra in action, and within a year he was handing over $6,390.23 ($45,000 in today’s money) for his own at a local Ford dealer.
But the relationship got off to a rocky start. The car, on loan from another dealership, was being used to tempt prospective Mustang buyers into the showroom. Unaware of what he was selling, the salesman struck a deal with Hank and signed the paperwork. But when Hank returned the next day to collect the car, it had been hidden under a canvas in the workshop. From there it was moved to a dealership in Pomona, 20 miles away. When he got there, he was directed back to the dealership in Crenshaw. The salesman had, apparently, been fired.
Convinced the episode was was racially motivated, Hank remembers threatening to sue the dealership before the car turned up again two weeks after he’d bought it. But that first drive made it all worthwhile. “I drove the car to Pomona, and it was such a great pleasure it seemed like I was in heaven,” he muses. “The sound of the car, and those solid lifters rapping and all, I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Even then, the diminutive Cobras provided plenty of opportunities to show up mainstream American muscle cars. Ford supplied engines to Shelby because they wanted a car that could beat the Corvette, and Hank says “wiping out ‘Vettes'” was a regular perk of Cobra ownership.
But they didn’t only perform well on the road, and Hank’s car soon became a regular at Sports Car Club of America events, collecting 35 trophies in a 10-year racing career. Among these was a plaque commemorating his drive around Indianapolis Speedway, the first time any African American had done so. So good was Shelby’s factory setup that Hank raced the car in almost original spec, adding only a handful of tuning parts which he bought direct from Shelby and fitted himself. The deafening race exhaust, roll cage and smaller windscreen have since been retired, but by keeping almost all the original parts Hank has accumulated some immensely valuable spares. Not least among these is a well-worn hammer stored in the boot and branded Thor. Used to fit the knock-on wheel centres, it’s part of a full, original tool kit and something he feels very protective about.
He explains: “People would kill for those tools because they’re rare. Extremely rare. Someone came over from Michigan, close to 3,000 miles, to photograph these tools because he was going to try and copy them.” Even the genuine hard top (Hank bought his to keep his future wife warm) is an elusive part. When Hank was invited to the launch of the 4000 series Cobras in 1989 Carroll Shelby was so impressed that he still had the hard top, he told Hank to leave it on for the event. It’s not been removed since.
The personalised number plate was bought as the Cobra became a popular kit car; it’s a way to let enthusiasts know his is the real deal and to stop people asking what it is, Hank says. CSX2227 retired from daily use in the early 1970s, but it’s far from being just a show car. Hank still drives, or trailers, it to events all over America, often collecting awards for the furthest distance travelled. After nearly five decades, Hank’s partnership with the Cobra has outlasted plenty of marriages – and it’s still going strong. The match is as much of a perfect pairing as the original concept.