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
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.
to know more personal things about "Wally" Wyss?
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,
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
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
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
If you'd be Jay Leno,
which cars would you have then in your garage
(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
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
Man. The Cars. The Legend.
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
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
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
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 ask...how
much content is there on the
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
Carroll Shelby with two of his 1968 cars, now being treasures as of
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
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
From the 1966 Ford GT40 ..... (pictured here one of
Fords road cars. Ford made 50 identidcal ones for FIA homologation)
..to 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
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
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
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