Las Vegas Turns Hot-Rod Hotbed for Mustang’s 50th Anniversary

Mustang lovers of the world are uniting to celebrate the legendary car's semicentennial. Here’s why that matters.

Photo by Anthony Mair

Photo by Anthony Mair

There’s a section in the middle of Las Vegas’ Shelby American plant that’s about 25 feet by 30 feet, walled off from the rest of the floor by 7-foot-high pieces of painted white plywood. Inside, something nasty is going on.

No one cops to what’s happening in Shelby’s R&D unit, but you know it’s nasty, because nasty is what Carroll Shelby’s namesake company does. Its signature ride is the 850-horsepower Super Snake: 3,800 pounds of pure, uncut evil. It’ll do 0-60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, swear at your mother, leave cigarette burns in your girlfriend’s good towels and cadge drinks from your favorite bar. It is a car not to be trifled with.

Shelby’s expertise in taking already-insane Mustangs like the 662-horsepower GT500 and then shoving another 200 ponies under the hood is why Las Vegas is mecca for the Mustang Club of America’s 50th birthday celebration April 16-20. (The East Coast end of the celebration will be in Charlotte, North Carolina.) Plenty of people talk about diversification in the Valley. Shelby puts it on wheels and invites the country to a party.

Plus, Mustang—with its Rat Pack-era heyday and a history of continuous change—is almost a metaphor for Las Vegas.

“Mustang started out as a mainstream commuter car, but it evolved into a performance car, a car that people collect—and sometimes race,” says Keith Belair, Shelby’s chief financial officer. “Other cars don’t have quite the historical legs that the Mustang has. You see a guy who has a 500 now, he started out with a Fox body, then he had a V6 and upgraded to a GT500.”

Enthusiasts will roll in from around the country, mostly Southern California, but some from as far away as Norman, Oklahoma. They’ll set up shop at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Henry Ford III and Hal Sperlich, chief architect of the Mustang, will address them during viagra online cheap opening ceremonies. Then it’s on to three days of wallowing in all things Mustang, including a car show, open track times on the speedway’s road course, vendors and videos about the ’Stang. The biggest event, though, is the Shelby Gala at 7 p.m. April 18—right in the middle of Shelby’s annual Mustang Week gathering of owners.

Mustang Club members will get to tour the Heritage Center at the production plant near Interstate 15 and Sunset Road (just north of Town Square). It’s home to Shelby’s original 1962 CSX2000 Cobra, along with more than a dozen other vintage and current rides, from classic ’68s to the modern 1,000-horsepower beasts that Shelby will customize for a reasonable $149,995 surcharge.

As Mustang prepares to release a radically changed 2015 model, Shelby is preparing for a new deluge of customization orders. The process takes place at the Shelby plant, where stock parts are stripped out and replaced with superchargers, cooling kits, brakes and other custom performance toys.

Individual mechanics are assigned to projects as the orders come in. The plant turns out just 400 customized vehicles per year: It’s artisan craftsmanship for a car produced by the company that started automation.

It’s also a reassuring message for the city, a sign that small-scale manufacturing—which just may be the nation’s next big wave—works in Las Vegas. To put a twist on a classic: If you can make it anywhere, you can make it here.

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