Hidden among industrial buildings off Boulder’s Diagonal Highway is a museum housing hundreds of millions of dollars in irreplaceable racecars.
The 501c3 nonprofit, the Shelby American Collection, rivals the most dazzling automotive museums in the world, from the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, to Cité de l'Automobile in Mulhouse, France, and Petersen Automotive in LA.
The Shelby American Collection is arguably finer, preserving the iconoclast of Shelby racecars; the first American cars not only to compete with European powerhouses like Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Porsche, but to beat them.
Jump back to the early 60s when America was the laughing stock of the global racing community. American-born driver and automotive designer, Carroll Shelby, changed that by combining European handling with American engines. He created the Cobra.
In 1965, Shelby’s Cobra Roadster and Coupe won the World Manufacturers' GT Championship race car series— the most important and prestigious sportscar competition in Europe and North America. The Cobra became the only American vehicle to win, and that remains true to this day.
What made the Cobra so enigmatic was its combination of speed and maneuverability. Even more astounding, the car was created by a group of California hot-rodders on a shoestring budget and attracted the world’s finest drivers.
The Shelby cars that changed automotive design and racing forever are here in the 303, at Shelby American Collection. Moreover, the Shelby American Collection is the finest collection of Shelby racecars in the world.
Established in 1996 with the legend Carroll Shelby himself, the museum was formed by a group of Boulderites with a shared passion for vintage Shelbys. Among them are Bill and Dave Murray from Loveland who raced Cobras semi-professionally in the 80s, Tom and Karen Benjamin, and Larry H. Miller and his family. At the helm is Steve Volk— a tech entrepreneur with an ignitable passion for racing.
“I’ve been involved with cars my whole life,” Volk says, “As soon as I was able, I started collecting — Jaguars, Ferraris— but the Cobra and Ford GT 40 have always been my favorites.”
Among the irreplaceable Shelby cars at the museum is the FIA Roadster— one of five ever built. “It’s totally original, raced in Europe in the 60s, has five first-place FIA wins, and was driven by all the greats,” Volk says.
The FIA Roadster is completely unrestored, down to the tires. “It has the original tires from its last win in 1965. It’s nearly priceless because it's so original.”
The museum also boasts the very first Cobra that Carol built in 1962, plus the Ken Miles GT40 driven at the iconic 1966 Le Mans (watch the 2019 sports-action film Ford V Ferrari for that crazy story), and also the Ford GT40 Mk IV from 1967. A quick Google search will reveal just how iconic these machines are. Of the Mk IV (pronounced ‘Mark Four’), “We have two of the six ever built in our museum, driven by Mario Andretti and Bruce Mclaren,” Volk says.
Over time, these cars have become more like prized artwork. Volk raced them personally for years, reveling in the symphony that is being behind the wheel of a Shelby American. Now they serve as beautiful time capsules. Symbols of change and vision. Simply being in the presence of Shelby American racecars is enough to make your heart race.
Shelby American Collection will announce its COVID-19 reopening on its website shelbyamericancollection.org. Visit the website to enter their annual sweepstakes for a 760 hp 2020 Shelby Mustang.