Ford v. Ferrari might be the biggest car movie out right now, but there’s an even better one currently playing on Netflix — and it’s non-fiction. Shelby American is the latest release by Chassy Media, the production company of Adam Carolla and Nate Adams, who brought you Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman covering the Datsun-centric career of the renowned actor. While Shelby American focuses mainly on the creator of the Cobra, we think there is still plenty of content of interest to JNC readers.
“Most people know Carroll Shelby for the Cobra,” Adams told us, “But he was also a great driver, team manager, and race car builder.” Indeed, the film follows his life’s incredible trajectory from Texas chicken farmer to team lead in Ford’s battle against Ferrari to capture the 24 Hours of Le Mans championship. In fact, a previous Chassy Media’s release, The 24 Hour War, formed the basis for the Matt Damon-Christian Bale racing flick. “We got to know Shelby’s sons and grandsons, who gave us access to some of the incredibly rare and never-before-seen photos and documents in Shelby American,” Adams said.
The best part of Shelby American chronicles Shelby’s life as a small-volume car builder in California’s post-war hot rod years. Here, JNC readers will find some familiar faces interviewed for the film, including BRE founder Peter Brock, Datsun driver John Morton, Toyota USA race team head Dan Gurney, Honda F1 driver John Surtees, and the Mooneyes shop where the first Cobra was built.
The subject of one of the most extensive interviews is Brock, having worked at Shelby American in its early years as a car designer. There, the young talent used his artistic and engineering skills to bring to life one of the most iconic American race cars of all time, the Shelby Daytona Coupe. The car went on to win its class at Le Mans in 1964 (coming in fourth overall), a tremendous feat for a hardscrabble little race shop.
That accomplishment landed Shelby a contract with Ford to perfect the GT40s that went to battle against Ferrari, something that even the multi-million dollar company couldn’t do on its own. And while the events that formed the basis for Ford v. Ferrari are awe-inspiring, it is the story of the camaraderie and teamwork of Shelby, Brock, Gurney, and others — a gang of gearheads that took on the world’s best — that is filled with the most heart.
Heart is an ongoing theme in the film, as Shelby had ongoing issues with his actual heart. “He had to keep popping nitroglycerin pills as he was racing at Le Mans,” Adams said of Shelby’s stint driving for Aston Martin at the 1959 running. After years of declining health, Shelby finally had a heart transplant in 1990. Then Adams brought up something not mentioned in the film but added to Shelby’s legend status: “Not many people know that he was one of the longest-lived heart transplant recipients in the US.”
The final sections of the film contain the story of how Shelby and Brock became rivals competing for Toyota’s nascent US racing program with the 2000GT. JNCers will know how that played out, as Brock became Nissan USA’s official west coast race team, but any car enthusiast would be well-served to watch Shelby American in its entirety. Shelby American is currently playing on Netflix, or you can order DVD and Blu-Ray versions at the Chassy Media website, which will include extended interviews and additional footage.