Forty years ago, you could walk into certain Hertz locations and rent a beast of a car. Legend has it they were often returned on Mondays with welding scars where roll cages were attached and removed after a weekend rental. If you missed out on the original, here’s your chance to at least imagine what it must of been like. I rented this one, number 135, from the Tampa International Airport Hertz location. What’s the MINI connection? I think of this car as the un-MINI: a heavy brute of a rear-wheel car, but a hoot to drive. So here’s a review from an average MINI driver. Subtle, it isn’t — power-dome hood, tie-down pins, twin exhaust, black and gold color scheme — if you are trying to maintain a low profile, this isn’t the car for you.
Turn the key and note a pleasant exhaust note. Blip the throttle, and set loose the dogs of war: power on demand at any speed. Power tamed perhaps by (lawyer-mandated) traction control you cannot turn off and an automatic transmission keen to shift too early under less than full throttle. It is still a rocket and a smooth one at that. As you glance in the rear view mirror trying to figure out why everyone else is still crossing the intersection, you’re approaching triple digits. Large brakes bring you securely to earth and the suspension is tuned just enough that you might stay on the road while you try to stop grinning like a fool.
The driving position is good, especially for a Mustang. The seats are comfortable and adjustable enough that you’ll likely find the sweet-spot. Interior design is well, Mustang-ish. I’ve never been a fan of the twin cockpit design and this interior offers nothing special. View to the rear is good (and you’ll spend a lot of time scanning the rear if you know what I mean). The view to the front and sides is a bit restricted due to the high hip design of the car and low roof line. The power-dome makes the view forward even more difficult. This is problematic at low speeds while negotiating cramped parking lots. Somehow I don’t think most drivers of this car are taking it to the mall, but it’s hard to tell where the car is as you negotiate your way out of the parking lot at the airport. On the open road, you’re scanning so far ahead you won’t care anyway.
Instrument layout is logical and easy to read. I liked the infinitely adjustable color option for the instrument lights. The fit and finish is typical Ford parts bin — not good, but perhaps good enough. I’m not a fan of the T-handle shifter which I suppose is an ode to Hurst. The emergency brake just seems to be in the wrong place, possibly to make room for the two huge cup-holders in the center console. Shelby door sill plates and a sticker on the dash remind you you’re driving a Shelby. But if you need them to remind you you’re driving a Shelby, you must be deaf and stuck in Park. The trunk opening is Mustang-small, but the volume of the trunk is surprisingly large, so bring soft-sided luggage.
The back seats are comfortable enough, but with even an average height driver, there is no legroom. It’s so cramped back there, that I think the MINI actually has more room. You don’t rent this car because you want to take four adults on a road trip down I-95. This car is about going fast. And with that goal, it’s a huge success.
Look under the hood and you see some of the Shelby touches. The photo shows the cold air intake and strut brace as the two most obvious touches. If you look closely where the arrow is pointed, you’ll notice some wire and a couple of lead seals which would indicate that you had opened a valve cover. I found that odd until I turned the car back in at the airport. Normally when you return a rental car, they look over the car with you to see if there was any damage. With this car, they pop the hood and look for the run-fast bits. The first thing they check is if the lump is there at all. Evidently, someone must have tried to do an engine swap, thinking Hertz wouldn’t notice.
The car isn’t what I’d call beautiful, but the black and gold color scheme actually works well for what the car is all about. It isn’t going to go unnoticed, however. We parked in a lot with a Ferrari 360 Modena and the most chrome infested H2 Hummer I’ve ever seen (what do you call 24 inch wheels?) The car that got the most attention of the passers-by? The Shelby. I’m not sure if that speaks more about this car or where we were in Florida. Regardless, you’ll make an impression in this car.
The bottom line: Would I want this car for my daily commute as I creep along the Beltway? No chance. Would I like to take it to the track? Where can I sign up? Driving a MINI is all about cornering speed. This beast is about straight-line speed. And more speed. The standard daily rental rate for this car is about $148/day. Search the web for BreezeNet and you can get it for about $123. Considering a Ford Focus in Tampa is about $70/day, this car was certainly worth an extra $53, but I wouldn’t rent one for a week if it were going to sit in a Disneyworld parking lot all day. Is there one single reason why you should rent one? Yes. Because you can. And in 40 years you can make your own urban myths about the Shelbys you used to rent.