SRT Shoutbacks: the early days of Shelby.
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Following the Shelby commemorative chat at the grand opening of the Viper Cafe, we took questions from Facebook regarding the early days of the Shelby-Chrysler partnership.
Brian began his career at Shelby Automobiles as their engineering manager. Later, Brian was appointed vice-president of engineering at the company. Eventually, he joined Chrysler Group and is now involved with Challenger projects at SRT.
Michael writes: When Carroll came up with an idea that, at the time, seemed way over the top -- ridiculous horsepower numbers or crazy engine configurations -- did Chrysler engineers just let him do whatever he wanted and roll with it, or was there some sort of approval process on the corporate level?
Brian: Back in 1986, Chrysler had made a firm commitment to move to front-drive architecture. With that kind of a vehicle family, obviously the big V8s were in the backseat. Chrysler's long been known for performance: Mopar; the Ramchargers; all their racing efforts. So, Lee Iacocca called on his buddy Carroll Shelby and said, maybe you, through Shelby Automobiles Inc., can market, design, develop, engineer and manufacture Dodge-based performance vehicles in support of what we're lacking.
Carroll, as a consultant, was given the opportunity to develop performance versions of then-current Chrysler products at the Chrysler Shelby California Development Center in Whittier, California. Essentially, the Chrysler Shelby Development Center was kind of a skunkworks operation for Chrysler. They owned the facility and staffed it with engineers.
We did turbocharged, intercooled versions of the Omni, Shadow, Charger and Lancer. We actually put the V8 in the Dakota before Chrysler did. We did a lot of one-offs, too. Chrysler contracted Lotus engineering to develop an all-wheel-drive system for the G-body Daytona, using a 240-horsepower 2.2-liter multi-valve turbocharged four-cylinder engine they were also developing. It ran like it was on rails.
Rob writes: I'll just be blunt with my question: Without Shelby's influence on the early Chrysler FWD turbo cars, would there have even been an SRT-4, or would there have been a PVO/SRT team at all?
Brian: The Viper team and Prowler team approach probably did more to enable the creation of SVE, PVO and SRT. Certainly, Carroll's influence on the Viper team, and performance cars in general, were a lot of the same concepts and philosophies that went into SVE, PVO and SRT. The guy that I worked with out in California went out there to head up the Chrysler Shelby Development Center. He came back to Chrysler and ended up directing Team Viper. Later, he and I put together the proposals to create SVE and PVO. So, it all kind of weaves its way together: low-volume, low-investment, high-performance vehicles. Create demand, not supply. Those are all the same kinds of things we're doing here at SRT.
Azrai writes: Is the new Viper running a rear mounted transaxle? Is it a Tremec?
Paul: It is a Tremec, but it's a normal transmission — not a rear-mounted transaxle.
Photos appear courtesy MaryBeth Kickzenski of the Shelby Dodge Automobile Club.