This is me driving one of 100 Shelby Can Am race cars ever produced in the world, with my friend Mark Lauth, CEO of Fantastic Racing in South Africa two weeks ago. Carroll Shelby decided that he wanted to design, produce and manufacture a special racing series tied to SCCA, and while the cars were given generally high praise all around, the fact that only 100 were ever produced significantly limited their ability to scale (or to get exposure and media attention) for the race class and series. That said, the car — produced in the 1989 to 1990 timeframe — is fantastic to drive, with tons of mechanical grip and downforce thanks to upgrades from Mark Lauth and the newly designed and updated body kit. The car literally drives better on a faster pace, while pushing the envelop around corners, than slower and more gingerly.
Unlike GT cars, there is no need to bury your foot in the brake pedal once you get to the braking zone before a corner. You simply ease off the acceleration, allowing the car to settle a bit, and then point it towards the corner apex, accelerating slowly but steadily right through corner exit. Basically, become one with the car, and then trust the car. Just proves that some automotive designs are timeless. An amazing experience, this car.
The original car came with a Dodge engine, but the newly updated versions run with a Nissan 3.5 Liter, 6 cylinder race prepped engine. I was not at all crazy about the original H pattern, 4 gear manual gear box (clunky and less than smooth when trying to shift up and down quickly at track speeds) that I first drove with, but once I drove Mark Lauth’s beautiful Shelby Can-Am with a proper set up, that same gear box was actually Heaven in my hands. I would love to experience this same car with the silky smooth sequential gear box that I drove with earlier in the day in the Reynard Formula 4 car.
When the car was introduced in South Africa the Dodge engine was replaced by a Nissan Z350 engine. The engine capacity increased to 3500cc and the horsepower increased to 300 hp. The bodywork designed by Peter Brock in 1989 was replaced in 2008 giving it a more modern Le Mans Prototype look. The new body was designed and built in South Africa. It is made out of fibreglass. My friend Mark is now establishing an entire race series featuring the Shelby Can Am cars throughout South Africa, and it is increasingly very popular there.
For race car and motorsports history enthusiasts, I have provided several useful links throughout this post which give you all the history you might want to know about this wonder of a driving machine. For those who would prefer to experience the drive second hand, you can watch the videos posted on my Bryant Group Motorsports YouTube Channel here. I ultimately got my lap time at Zwartkops Raceway down to 1:07 for this 1.5 mile technical road coarse track.
Please subscribe when you are there if you want to keep up with my driving experiences as I travel around the country and the world. You can check out all the photos from my time with Fantastic Racing here.
I will post individual experience pieces next up, featuring me and each of these amazing cars. Stay tuned.