The next day my wife and I made the trip over to the San Fernando Valley and the Saturday-morning gathering at Autobooks in Burbank. The reaction of fickle kids on a Friday-night bender was one thing, but I reasoned that real car enthusiasts would be much harder to impress. Not at all. The minute we pulled into the parking lot, the guy with the Mercedes-Benz Gullwing suddenly found himself alone. I'd totally underestimated the strength of Shelby currency and was immediately bombarded with questions. "Have you worked out how to switch off the traction control?" one guy inquired. If I were going to fiddle with the mechanics at all, I'd want to disconnect the odometer, because the first seventy-five miles--a distance easily covered just finding a post office to send a card home--are included in the daily rental rate, but it's thirty-nine cents for each additional mile.
Everyone assumed that, even though the GT-H is badged as some sort of badass hot rod, it had been detuned for public consumption so that any renter would yearn to get under the hood and unleash the beast's full potential. Ah, the smell of snake oil. So strong is the Shelby legend that the return checklist features not only the usual possible damage spots, but agents also are required to check that the chassis plate and the dash panel bearing the man's autograph are still on the car.
Everyone we encountered loved the GT-H, from the valet at Trader Vic's where it was immediately parked in the VIP spot to "Supergirl," who was entertaining tourists outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Driver of a 1968 Mustang notchback, she teasingly observed that the back seat was much bigger in her Mustang. On a day trip to San Diego, we met an old-timer who had rented one of the original GT350Hs and who was both enthralled and delighted that a new one exists. Most tourists, though, just stared and made comments like "beautiful car, man."
Yes, the GT-H was expensive, but imagine a rental car that introduces you to an entirely new circle of friends, actually makes you smile every time you hit the gas pedal, gives you instant credibility among gearheads, and is a car you are reluctant to give back. Some aspects of the Shelby are flawed, such as the amateur paint job on the rear edge of the hood. But is the Shelby as cool a rental car today as its predecessor? Most of the current crop of apparently personality-free Formula 1 drivers wouldn't touch it, so, yes, it's very cool. I got a kick out of it, and so would Pete Aron.