My Car Quest

August 5, 2020

Documentary Review: Shelby American

Review by Wallace Wyss –

Title: Shelby American

Director: Adam Carolla and Nate Adams

Producer: Nate Adams

Production Company: Chassy Media

Length: 2 Hours

There’s plenty of dramas made about real life events. Like Midway. I saw that the same week I saw Ford v Ferrari. Both had a lot of creative license employed. That means the dramatists had the right to move chronological events around, combine characters, yadda yadda.

Carroll Shelby

Carroll Shelby’s early career as a driver was highlighted in Texas Monthly.

As much as I enjoyed Ford v Ferrari I left the theatre feeling newcomers to the Shelby story of Ford at Le Mans will be left lacking as to what happened.

This new documentary, Shelby American, goes a log way toward clearing up the chronology. The documentary came about after Carolla and Nate Adams released their 2016 doc “The 24 Hour War,” their telling of the Le Mans showdown between the GT40 and Ferraris.

They had to cut that down to a reasonable length of time and while working on it, thought, damn “we have so much on Shelby we got to do another one just on him.”

And this time they worked with the Shelby family, which opened their photo albums. So this doc is a tribute to not only Shelby but to the dozens of men (eventually growing to over 250) that built the cars that won Ford victory at Le Mans. Guys like Phil Remington, Charlie Agapiou, both mechanics, and Pete Brock, the young designer who did the Daytona, finally get their due on screen.

And for the first time in my 50 years of following the Ford vs. Ferrari history (and doing several books on it) I hear from some of the Ferrari people including Piero Ferrari, John Surtees, and Mauro Forghieri, a vital part of the history often overlooked with the hubbub around the race. And there’s even a clip of Enzo himself.
One thing that hit me from the film that I hadn’t heard before is that Shelby’s heart ailment, described as Angina, was inherited. That his father had died at age 46, so Shelby, starting out building cars in his ’40s, knew he had a death sentence and wanted to hurry up and get his dream car built.

Carroll Shelby

It is worth seeing this documentary just to see early Shelby pictures from his own family’s scrapbook.

Shelby American – the beginning

This one starts out at the beginning, with pictures of Shelby as a lad, raised in a dirt poor small town by a rural mail carrier and his housewife mother. This documentary then goes into how Shelby got into sports car racing, showing a go-kart he built as a boy, and then the MG-TC he won his first race in.

There’s good footage at Le Mans when he won for Aston Martin in 1959. The most amazing thing about this documentary is how many different cars they show him piloting, such as the Austin Healey he smashed in the Carrera Panamericana. The feature film only showed Shelby driving the Aston but this documentary shows how he worked his way up the sports car ladder.

They don’t hold back from revealing that Shelby was a bit of a fast talker. The documentary has enough quotes from people who knew Shelby at the time to see several sides of him, as a slick salesman, and as a sort of fast and loose character the funniest quote from Gurney who said he “wasn’t overly burdened by honesty,” but overall he emerges as a capable leader, capable of leading the ragtag group from a small Venice, CA shop to victory at Le Mans eventually for Ford.

The doc really harps on the early years, when the first shop was in Venice, when there were great mechanics like Phil Remington, and Charlie Agapiou. These mechanics were so dedicated they would work 7 days a week at times.

Pete Brock the young designer who did the Daytona coupe, also tells his story within the whole story.

Doing the documentary resulted in getting two members of Shelby’s family, including grandson Aaron Shelby, to co-produce and it was they who opened up the family photo albums and provided lots of glimpses of Shelby’s early business life.

Ford GT40 in '65

Ford GT40 in ’65

Even though this Shelby bio is separated from The 24 Hour War, they still had a bit of squeezing to do after the ’66 Ford victory at Le Mans, so the whole life of Shelby after that victory is a bit rushed, devoting say five minutes to Shelby’s crossover to Chrysler where he helped on the Viper, and another couple of minutes on his failed Series I Shelby, his only attempt at a modern car built by his own firm.

Overall the documentary has some of the same flavor of the drama Ford v Ferrari in that it’s Shelby and his crew against the corporate giant with the money. And there’s even some mention of the ’67 Le Mans where Ford hired other teams besides Shelby to run GT40s, so there was competition within the Ford ranks.

The story has a happy ending in a way that Shelby, who left Ford in 1970, eventually came back decades later, as a consultant on the ’05-’06 Ford GT.

Overall I recommend this documentary as a capable telling of a great American success story. During that era (and I visited Shelby American in ’65) Ford bent over backwards to make it seem like Shelby American was doing it all on its own. He wasn’t but this documentary shows how he did start out on his own and got the ball rolling. It’s akin the the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford building that first car, and at one point racing a rival automaker. This documentary is good inspiration for entrepreneurs worldwide–how an uneducated failed chicken farmer could follow his dream and lead a great American company to funding his dream.

I think it supplies enough correct chronology to recommend that each DVD of Ford v Ferrari should come with this documentary.

The documentary is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and is also available to stream on Carolla’s Chassy Media website.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE CRITIC: Wallace Wyss author of three books on Shelby, and two more on the Ford GTs is now a fine artist, currently painting oil portraits of great sports cars. For a list of art available or to talk commissions, write mendoart7@gmail.com.

 
 
 
 

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Summary
Documentary Review: Shelby American
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Documentary Review: Shelby American
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A review of Shelby American, the documentary by Adam Carolla and Nate Adams.
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Comments

  1. All of the Corolla’s documentaries I’ve seen are excellent. This one does such a good job at telling the Shelby story, so many interesting tidbits that even the die hard Shelby fans will walk away surprised.

  2. Dave Dolter says

    I thought the documentary was excellent and intend to see the movie this weekend. I too was surprised by the different Marques he raced on his way up the ladder… good review!

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