CARROLL Shelby is crazy.
Leash the lawyers. No need for litigation here.
Anyone who's driven the 1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z knows that Shelby is wonderfully, marvelously insane.
Talk about whoosh! A fully-loaded, under-$20,000 performance car that runs circles around some pricey BMW and Porsche models. Greatest ego-buster on wheels.
It figures. The Shelby Z springs from Shelby the Man -- a tough-talkin', hard-drivin', chili-cookin' car designer who's concocted some of the hottest rides in America for the common soul. Remember Ford's Shelby Cobra and Mustang?
Ol' Shel ain't with Ford anymore. He bolted the place shortly after Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca in 1978 for conduct unbecoming a lifetime subordinate.
We all know what happened to Lee "I Am Chairman of Chrysler Corporation America" Iacocca. He became famous largely because he brought people like Shelby to Chrysler with him. And Shelby's now a design and engineering consultant to Chrysler's Dodge Division, which brings us back to the Daytona Shelby Z.
What we have here is a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder econocar with the heart of a '60s street racer. Real nutty stuff in the dawning Age of Propriety. But what the heck? The way things are going today, it sometimes helps to go bananas.
Complaints: Niggling. Door-lock trim on right door came unstuck. Repaired with Duro glue. Not-so-niggling. Three-point seat belt system is cumbersome and defeats the purpose of having "automatic" belts. It's sometimes hard to attach the shoulder harnesses to the door-mounted receptors; and it's all too easy to forget to buckle the lap belts after the shoulder harnesses are in place. This system needs to be rethought. Also, why not make this car an honest two-seater? The rear seats are a joke, as in far too many sporty cars.
Praise: A-plus for the Shelby Z's engineering. Chrysler's 2.2-liter turbo engine has been around for a while, but Shelby's people have given it born-again zest. The most obvious change is an intercooler that reduces the temperature of air rushing from the turbo into the engine, allowing more air into the cylinders for a better air-fuel mix. The result is a 30-percent increase in boost over Chrysler's first turbo 2.2.
Chrysler engineers say that the Shelby engine, aided by other refinements, can produce 174 horsepower at 4,800 rpm. I'll take their word for it. The super swoopy, arrest-me-red test car was a magnet for badges.
Head-turning-quotient: Police folk weren't the only people paying attention. The car got civilian waves and raves. It also drew some rank-and-file animosity. Some people seemed to assume that I had to be a bad egg to be behind the wheel of this machine. Polite entreaties for permission to enter traffic brought several upturned noses and fingers.
Ride, acceleration, handling: Relatively hard ride but not sports-car harsh. Acceleration terrific. Very precise steering in this front-wheel-drive car, which also brakes with discipline. Oh yeah -- Shelby abandoned Chrysler's notchy five-speed manual gearbox in favor of the smoother, German-designed Getrag system installed in the test model. Many thanks, Shelby.
Sound system: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with six speakers and graphic equalizer. Okay.
Mileage: about 20 to the gallon (14-gallon tank, 280-mile range), mostly highway, driver only, air conditioner operating full-time.
Price: $17,060, including $3,897 in options and $414 destination charge. Base price is $12,749. (Dealer invoice on base model is $11,319.12.)
Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.