I lasted two blocks before I nailed the throttle from a stoplight. To be honest, the car didn't feel that fast. There was no breaking of traction. I was not thrust back into the firm black seats, and the traffic behind didn't instantly turn into specks in my mirrors. But the car did let out one of the most intoxicating, guttural growls that any fool drunk on gasoline can experience in a modern production car. My cynical quip to the clerk that, surely, in this day and age, the Shelby could be nothing more than a paint job and an exhaust system appeared to be right on the money. I soon had visions of Ol' Shel and his team sitting around at their Las Vegas compound tuning the note of the Mustang: "Add a dash more glass pack to the muffler, Frank . . . "
As we drove away from the Shelby's ancestral neighborhood (the original GT350Hs were built in a North American Aviation hangar at 6501 West Imperial Highway, right next to the airport) and onto northboundI-405, the car's stiff springing soon became apparent, because the nose started bobbing up and down like a nodding Chihuahua over the freeway's undulating surface. Since it has a strut brace between the shock towers, the Shelby feels as taut as a drum, an asset that L.A.'s roads immediately turned into a liability. Storm drains and speed bumps also had an appetite for the car's front air dam, so I had to be extra cautious on the city's secondary streets if I didn't want to lose my damage deposit. By the time we reached Hollywood, I'd worked out that at about 80 mph the car starts to flatten out, probably not an acceptable excuse for your average overzealous highway patrolman.
It was eleven o'clock on Friday evening, and Sunset Boulevard was buzzing. The traffic was barely moving, but the Shelby started scoring big points. Unbeknownst to me, the car had been available from Hertz for only two days prior to my arrival, and there were only thirteen of them at LAX. For many onlookers, then, my car represented their first sighting. The reaction to the black car in the dead of night was overwhelming. High-school jocks whooped from their parents' BMW 5-series. Limo drivers nodded with approval. Even the Mischa, Lindsay, and Paris wannabes let out unreserved "oh my gawds." It wasn't just the broad gold stripes that turned heads. Black reduces the awkwardness of the Mustang's rear quarter-panels, giving the whole shape a more svelte, understated profile. Then there's the aggressive stance, aided and abetted by the large aluminum wheels; the oversize hood, which appears to be bulging due to the enormity of what lies beneath; and the aforementioned air dam. Throw in the snarling V-8 sound track, and the Shelby has just as much, if not more, presence than any number of Day-Glo, turbocharged, bewinged, Tokyo-drifting rockets. Just before I reached my destination, I drew up to a light alongside two Latino guys in a late-1980s Mustang. The driver blipped the throttle and looked for a reaction. Obligingly, I put the car in neutral and gave them a reply, and they broke into broad grins.