The people behind the Mustang & Shelby Books
© Wallace Wyss, Wolfgang Kohrn - Dec., 27 2006


Wallace Wyss is a native of Detroit. His family name sounds german because his father was born in Alchenstorf, Switzerland, near Bern. He grew up in Detroit, attended Wayne State University where he earned a BA in journalism and then went into advertising. During the mid-Sixties he was creating muscle car ads for Chevrolet, for cars like the Nova SS and Camaro Z/28. He then moved to California in 1969 to work for CAR LIFE magazine and later for Motor Trend.

In 1973 he began free lance writing and in 1977 wrote Shelby's Wildlife: The Cobras and the Mustangs. He currently contributes to the magazine Car and Driver, and is getting ready to publish Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT with Al Axelrod and Brian Winer as co-authors.

Want to know more personal things about "Wally" Wyss? 
Here is what he really thinks. 

What is your most famous car movie and why?

My favourite car movie is Le Mans because they went to such trouble to film it,and managed to capture the excitement of endurance racing. On the other hand, the acting was wooden, and the plot hackneyed. I like the part where McQueen goes out to the empty track later and remembers the accident.

What do you think could motivate kids of today to get away from the streets or make better use of them? 

I have no experience with motivating kids personally because I don't have any but I think if they can get into small programs run by the schools --satellite programs where they work with their hands and then given incentives (scholarships) if they have talent that would be a start to giving them pride and self-worth.

Do you think restoration schools would be a good idea?

Yes, restoratiion is a billion dollar a year business all over the world and I think restoratiion of old cars ought to be part of the traning program of training new mechanics, which it is at places like Ferrari's tech school where they reconstructed an early Ferrari. Mercedes of course has a famous restoration shop so undoubtedly some trainees are restoring the old cars there. I even think schools should be involved in vintage racing, doing work on some race cars that are later entered in vintage racing.

How would you try to maintain performance and the thrill of muscle cars, if you'd be a Ford manager of today?

I think Ford is on a roll with the Shelby Mustang and should resurrect every aspect of the program, including having the Cobra Caravan roll again with a Ford GT, Shelby (06 model) GT500, Concept Cobra roadster and GR-1 coupe. It should visit dealerships nationwide to hold the door open for the return of the Ford-built two seater Cobra. Maybe they could even include the Mustang I and Mustang II show cars which still exist to show the continuity of the marqueover 40 plus years.

What would you do with the Mustang, if you could have a word on the design and engine of the 2010 Mustang.

I think the Mustang presently is too heavy, and whatever they do for the
next generation, they have to take about 400 lbs. out of it. As far as body design, I would take more design cues from the '65-'66 models.

What do you personally think of the previous Continuation series and
modern derivations of Shelby cars (Unique Performance, WCC etc.)

The quality of some of the clones I have seen is fantastic--billet carved adjustable arms and so forth, but I am worried that Shelby is spreading his name too widely and not all of the sub-contractors may stick to making quality items carrying his name. In fact I believe he already sued one of the subcontractors for not fulfulling their promises in this regard.

Do you work close with the SAAC in your research?

I have had no contact with SAAC HQ for over 30 years but occasionally talk with their members. For the book on SHELBY: The Man The Cars The Legend, the book was pretty general and the idea of the book was to make my own conclusions on why Ford did this and that based on being an observer of Ford for over 40 years so didn't need them to confirm my conclusions with them, which they may or may not agree with. For instance I believe the Boss 302 came right up and stole away the Shelby Mustang's entire raison d'etre but Ford didn't care if they were ruining the Shelby Mustang's market.

How much time do you spent typically with a book?

Believe it or not I wrote the 76,000 word rough draft of SHELBY The Man. The Cars. The Legend.  .. in only ten days because my theory is to rough out a text first and then spend the rest of the time checking the details. I spent another year checking out facts and new facts were still flowing in to the publisher even after the book went to press--so I guess I will have to put them in the second edition.

What's in your garage today?

No collector cars--though in the past I have been through Mercedes 300SLs, Porsche, Bentley, etc. I was even a car buyer of exotic cars, buying everything from Bizzarrinis to Lamborghinis.The car I miss most is my 1971 Karmann Ghia cabriolet because it was the most fun for the least amount of maintenance.

If you'd be Jay Leno, which cars would you have then in your garage instead (and why for each car)?

I have not been to Leno's garage out at Burbank Airport but from what I have heard of his collection I have similar tastes. I like the way he buys crazy one off cars too like the one powered by a Sherman tank engine, or the motorcycle powered by a jet engine. I think I would have more flamboyant French cars like Delage or Delahaye because I like the baroque styling and maybe I would have a mid-engined Ferrari like a 250P or P3/4. And I would have a sedanca de ville Phantom V to pick up guests in because the Phantomm V and Phantom VIs were cars that took teams of men months to build and that kind of craftsmanship is not available anymore at any price.

If you'd be Carroll Shelby, what would you do next?

I would try to get my replica Cobra production under control--that is to say, not take any more orders for cars beyond 12 months because when I go to Cobra club websites, that is the chief complaint, how long people have to wait, the typical wait being over two years. The replica Cobra business is full of entrepreneurs of dubious reputation and now that Shelby is on Ford's payroll, and a Ford spokesman, it would seem that he would want to insure himself against any problems accruing from his replica sales tarnishing his reputation, so I would pull back on promises a bit and achieve more in the prompt delivery department.

Also I would send a Cobra Caravan identical to the original one to the European vintage events like Goodwood,and the German Oldtimer event and include as many old drivers who are still able to race participate, like Dan Gurney, Sir John Whitmore and John Morton. I envision it as a kind of a Shelby-American victory tour--42 years later....


Wallace A.Wyss, Brian Winer and Al Axelrod have written a new book entitled 

SHELBY. The Man. The Cars. The Legend.
Format: Softbound, vertical, 208 pages

Wallace Wyss is also shortly publishing Ford GT40 and the new Ford GT, specializes in Ford, having previously written The Super Fords, Shelby's Wildlife: the Cobras and the Mustangs, and DeTomaso: the Man and the Machines.

Q: Tell us about your new book SHELBY: The Man. The Cars. The Legend. Is it a race-by-race history?

A: No, the Cobras' racing history, both roadsters and coupes, is covered in brief, and the GT40 program as well but it's all kept general, because there are plenty of coffee table-like books that go into each car's serial number-wise and recount what happened to each car at each race. In this book I am focusing on the big picture--why Ford sponsored Shelby, why Ford thought winning at LeMans was so crucial, etc.

Q: So by "big picture" you mean no nuts-and-bolts?

WW: Oh, there's nuts and bolts but I figure that with the advent of the internet, you don't need to go into what the cfm was of the '65 Shelby GT-350 carburetor because anyone who wants to know a technical fact can go to a search engine and find that in five seconds. I spent my time trying to find out why Ford did this or Olds did that in respect to Shelby, which gives the reader a broader view than just discussing the hardware.

Q: What made you think of this approach?

WW: Well, there’s this author I know, Eric Davison, who I worked with in Detroit on the Oldsmobile ad account more than thirty years ago. Much later on, he moved to Los Angeles and I worked as a copywriter for the agency he was with out here. After his retirement, when he told me he was working on his book "Snake Bit," discussing the Shelby Series 1 project which he had been involved with. I kept asking him "Why don't you broaden it out to cover all of Shelby's business history?" but he replied "I worked on the Series 1 and that's what I know" so he stuck to that and came out with a damn fine book that really nails it. But that episode is only a fraction of Shelby’s entire business history so I figured "If Eric didn't do the general business history, I'll go ahead and do it myself."

Q: Did you have any other inspiration?

WW: Well, it's hard to believe but a picture of Ralph Lauren in his 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa was another inspiration. That's because ol' Ralph, founder of Polo brand clothes, was pictured toodling along in his $5 million Ferrari wearing a leather jacket, like an old flying jacket, and a billed baseball cap and I thought "That's cool--dirving a car so fast and powerful and valuable but dressed like he's going out to walk his dog. I know Cobra people who look like that--driving powerful Cobras but dressed casually, unlike Ferrari owners who are always trying to impress you with their clothes and expensive watches and so forth." So I partly did the book to try to capture that spirit of the Cobra owners and spend a few paragraphs trying to describe the feeling that comes from driving around in a Cobra.

Q. What about other books already on the market?

WW: There are many new books on Cobra and Shelby but I also noticed that none of them discuss Shelby's driving career. One is being written by an old-time racer now but it's still a long ways off and I don't think that book will segue from Shelby's driving career into his business life like my book does. I like to feel that Shelby's hard charging style as a race driver was reflected in his hard charging style as a busienssman so it was a natural approach to me to take a couple of chapters to educate the newcomers to the fact that Shelby was one of America's most promising sports car drivers in his early career--at a time when driving was still damn dangerous. And the remarkable fact is that when Phil Hill was already a professional driver, Shelby was still a chicken farmer. The fact he came out of nowhere and won LeMans only five years after he first began making money as a driver is really worth talking about.

Q: Did you talk to many Shelby employees?

WW: Off and on. In fact, you could say this is a story I've been working continuously for forty years, ever since a pert young lady named Pat Merone pulled up next to me in a 427 Cobra back in '66 or so and asked directions to Cobo Hall in Detroit. So, in the intervening 40 years I've talked to many former employees, starting with Shelby at Cobo Hall back in the Sixties but, while researching this one, I went back to visit a selected few, including Phil Remington who still works at Dan Gurney’s shop though he's in his 80s. Also forty years ago when I researched the first book, Al Gore hadn't yet invented the internet so I couldn't reach people I was trying to find. Now in a few minutes, I can contact former race car designers and racers throughout the world to clarify different small points like why the suspension was unsatisfactory on the Len Terry-designed King Cobra.

Q. Being a Mustang club,  we have to much content is there on the Mustang?

A. Quite a bit, I have a chapter on the Shelbys. In that chapter I go into how Shelby was asked by Iacocca to build the Shelby Mustang and it is interesting to me how reluctant he was at first.and then later on I have another whole chapter on Trans-Am racing. Then of course, the last chapter talks about Shelby's re-hiring as a spear carrier by Ford to sell the '07 Shelby Mustang.

Carroll Shelby with two of his 1968 cars, now being treasures as of today.

Q. Did you learn anything in your research you didn't know before?

A. I always learn! I didn't realize until I read Dave Friedman's book on Remembering the Shelby Years how much Holman & Moody, the stock car race car builders, were always trying to rip off a piece of Shelby's business, and I think if Shelby hadn't accepted the assignment to do the Shelby Mustang it would have been a Holman & Moody Mustang produced instead. Also I think few Americans are aware that the first Mustangs ever built were sent to Alan Mann for preparation as rally cars so the Mustangs were already racing when Americans were being sold the car as a "secretary's special."

Q: And do you go into the later business ventures?

A: Yes, this book goes well beyond Shelby-American. It recounts Shelby's Tiger involvement, his working with Iacocca on the front wheel drive Dodges and the Viper, then the Olds-powered Series 1, and ends with the new deal with Ford.

From the 1966 Ford GT40 ..... (pictured here one of Fords road cars. Ford made 50 identidcal  ones for FIA homologation) the 2005 Ford GT. Both were built to fire up the disspirited troops at Ford. It did create a classic that will not be beat by another American production car for decades to come.

Q: Aren’t you taking a chance by covering non-Ford related Shelbys, in that it Shelby’s fans seem to orientated toward Ford?

WW: Not really, it’s pretty clear by the subtitle that this particular book is about Shelby the entrepreneur , and not confined to just his association with Ford-powered products. I follow him in his journey from one automaker to another, for better or for worse.

Q.: How do you come down on the Cobra replicas?

WW: I have a whole chapter on that non-stop knock-down drag-out battle that has continued for something like 30 years. I tell how initially Shelby was opposed to all replicas of his cars but then recount how it was that he gradually came around to entering the replica field himself.

Q: What about artwork?

WW: There is artwork in the form of black and white photos This is primarily a words book, as opposed to what I call a “coffee table” tome like Randy Leffingwell's beautiful (and heavy) book , also entitled “Shelby”(published by MBI) which I would characterize as primarily a “pictures-with-words” book. In fact my book has 76,000 words and a mere 16 pages of pictures. Most of them I took myself at various events over the last 40 years.

Q: Who do you see as your market?

WW: Well, my thought is that, with over 10,000 people scheduled to buy the new GT500 Shelby Mustang and who knows how many buying the '07 Shelby GT Mustang and even those buying the GT/CS Mustang, there's going to be a whole lot of newbies entering the Shelby world in 2007 and not all of them have been involved in the marque for 40 years like myself, so many will be clueless about such terms as "FIA cars" or "USRRC cars" or "cut-back fenders." At the beginning stages of a newcomer’s interest in the man and his cars, I figured they want to know basics, like "Why did Shelby become involved with Dodge?” and so forth.
With the newcomer to the marquee in view, we kept the cost down by going
softbound and pricing it at $19.95, so it’s the ideal bargain book for Shelby fans to give to their buddies to get them up to speed on Shelby so they can later dive into the subject deeper and buy the single marquee books that list all those nitty gritty details of each Shelby model.

Q: Did you have any help from Shelby or Ford?

WW: Of course many authors go straight to the subject’s PR firm and say “What can you give me?” and I did that at first but stopped asking when it looked like they expected me to submit the work for approval. But I didn’t want to have a PR man looking over my shoulder and saying ‘Oh, don’t put that in,’ because it’s my feeling is that no real historian would go for that. If he does, he might as well be a PR man. Ford PR I enjoy an ongoing relationship with but they never saw more than a handful of pages and those only on the ’07 Shelby models. They did loan me a Ford GT to drive and that was useful in understanding that car.

Other Interviews with Wallace
- Artwork (2009)
- Book Review

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