I miss those phone calls. My cell would ring and it was that unmistakable, I’d-know-it-anywhere-in-the-middle-of-the-night, rich yet raspy Texas voice, announcing that it was “Carroll Hall Shelby, here” – as if it could possibly be anyone else. He’d follow up with “Hey Matt – it’s time for lunch” to which the answer was always, always, “yes it is.”
If the date we’d chosen meant he’d home based that day, it usually meant lunch at the Bel Air Country Club, a really wonderful place even if, as in my case, you could care less about golf. But my favorite place to meet Carroll Shelby for lunch was his Gardena, California office and warehouse. An easy half hour from me, this low lying industrial building sits in the shadow of the Carson, California base camp for the Goodyear blimp, and we would watch it take off and land from his upstairs office. Once in a while, we’d get into the car and head for a little sandwich place nearby, but it usually meant lunch in his office or conference room, casually and nicely prepared by his wonderful front office manager / receptionist Rafaela. A smart, friendly, and fine woman who now runs the Carroll Shelby gift shop store at the same location. Lunch was always the same; a proper homemade ham and cheese sandwich, pickle on the side. Diet Coke. Chips. Perfect.
Shelby’s Gardena property, used to be the main warehouse for his Goodyear Racing Tire distributorship. It’s a big rambling place, many thousands of square feet under roof, and after lunch we’d stroll down to “the garage” to take a look at his personal car collection – most of which – but not all — were Shelby vehicles of one stripe or another, or maybe to see what new monster car he was cooking up. He had a ’27 Rolls-Royce tourer, the last 289 Cobra built, a Sunbeam Tiger, a pretty pristine Chrysler Airflow, a Shelby Series I, a car which he was very proud of. And a massive vintage fire truck, for which he had no use for and was clear he’d never restore or ever drive. Two DeTomaso Panteras always piqued my interest; one was a white GTS model from the late 1970s, which meant an updated interior over my own ’72, and body color-painted wheels and trim. The other Pantera, red I think, ran a Chrysler 340 or 360 V-8, dating from a pre-Viper time when Chrysler was contemplating an ongoing relationship with Allessandro DeTomaso, possibly bringing the Pantera back to America with mid-engined Chrysler power. I love this place.
And then we’d talk. And talk. Then talk some more; mostly about cars, many times about other things.
Much like a kid who was good while at the dentist; he’d always send me home with a small gift of some sort. Sometimes it was a die-cast car model, or a pocket knife (Carroll loved knives, I never knew why. He had rooms and closets full of them, some he’d had for a while, other piles recently delivered via the Home Shopping Network or some such). Since his passing, the property has been cleaned up and fresehened considerably, as it is still home to Shelby Licensing, the Shelby Foundation, and other companies he owned over time. It’s also been renamed Shelby Los Angeles. I don’t care what they call it, it will always be his office and garage to me.
I really miss those phone calls, and those lunches. And I miss Carroll Shelby.