1987 Shelby Lancer Buying Guide

Built by Carroll Shelby in his Whittier, CA facility, these muscle cars were true American GTs. What are they like to own now?

How much to pay

• Project £1000-2000 • Good £4000-7000 • Concours £12,000-16,000 •

Overview

Practicality ★★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★★
Investment ★★
Desirability ★★★

Having brought the hot-hatch concept to the US with the Omni GLHS and Charger GLH, Carroll Shelby turned his attention to building an American GT. His target was to embarrass the Mercedes 190E 2.6-16.

In place of the 16v head, Shelby turned to turbocharging and intercooling to extract 175bhp and 175lb ft of torque from the venerable Chrysler 2.2-litre engine. By comparison, the US version of the Mercedes produced 167bhp. The 1987-only Shelby Lancer would do 0-60mph in 7.7 seconds; the US version of the Mercedes was probably slower and the European version was 7.5. At the time, the only US saloon that was faster was the Buick GNX – and it had rear drum brakes.

Stiffer suspension, larger sway bars and four-wheel disc brakes checked all the boxes. Stripped cars were shipped to the Shelby facility in Whittier, CA, where Shelby and the boys installed their unique suspension components and built up the engines with turbos and intercoolers. The radiators were modified to make room for the intercooler, and the engine compartments were hand wired.

Each car came with a long list of Shelby-unique parts, including those all-round discs. Name another American saloon with such a braking set-up in 1987… With computer upgrades you could buy from the Shelby factory, these cars made 225bhp. Combine this with off-the-shelf Mopar +20 fuel injectors, roller rockers and camshaft kits, and you were looking at 300bhp. The brand thought of these machines as the beginning of a family of Shelby cars, from hot hatches to GTs.

Your AutoClassics inspection checklist

Engine

The bottom end of the Dodge-sourced 2.2 is bullet proof, and can be run to 200,000 miles and beyond with no issues. The top ends are inexpensive, and almost every unit has been upgraded from the original slider cam to the later roller cam. For less than $150 you can switch to roller cam and lifters, so gaining significant horsepower.

Most of these cars have been upgraded to later Shelby computers, which run 17lb of boost. This can lead to head-gasket issues, especially in models that aren’t driven on a regular basis. Replacing head gaskets is easy, and high-quality aftermarket parts are available that will stand up to the extra boost. Running up to 20psi is quite common, and +20 injectors are available from Mopar to match the boost increase. Power in the 250bhp to 300bhp range is easy to attain with Mopar parts.

Be wary with cars that sit; a quick compression test will tell you all you need to know. Overhead cambelts are easy to change, and need to be replaced every 50,000 miles. Don’t run old cambelts. Alternators are common to all Mopars of the era, with the Bosch-sourced units seeming to last longer.

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Gearbox

The Shelby Lancer had a unique gearbox; it’s an A555 modified by Shelby with Getrag gears. As strong as the gears are, the front bearing tends to need replacement every 75,000 miles. Many owners have upgraded to the later A568 trans, which has a significantly beefed-up main shaft. The upgrade requires welding in the A568 shifter, but this is a plus.

The holy grail of the Shelby transaxles is the rare Quaife limited-slip differential. These LSDs transform the car, as being able to pull with both wheels makes 200bhp-plus manageable and eliminates torque steer. Quaife still manufactures these units, but they are very expensive.

Suspension and brakes

Shelby Lancers had unique struts and shocks installed at the Shelby factory. These are no longer available, but most of Shelby owners prefer Konis. In addition to switching to Konis, almost all Shelby Lancers have been upgraded to polyurethane bushings. The OEM bushings were a bit soft, so poly versions significantly improve the feedback.

As already mentioned, in an effort to match the Mercedes Shelby Lancers were one of the first American saloons with four-wheel disc brakes. Carroll had to source the rear stoppers and parking assembly himself, and the calipers now fall into the ‘unobtanium’ category. The rotors and pads were used on late Dodges, but rebuilding the existing calipers is your only option. Braking performance was excellent in its day, but only adequate by today’s standards.

Bodywork

This generation of Lancers were galvanised, and held up well. Many cars were undercoated and/or Ziebarted, and survived in excellent condition. That said, rust around the window frame is common and very hard to repair. East Coast cars will also have rust in the floorpan, but this is a lot worse in the older Mopars that were not galvanised.

Interior

Interiors are definitely 1980s, with square gauges and a lot of plastic, yet the quality is better than that of most US cars of the era. The Shelby Lancers had their own seat material, which also covered the door panels. The material is high quality and will last if taken care of, but no replacement fabric is available. Automatics had leather interiors, which looked magnificent, although the three-speed automatic model was a poor mate to the turbocharged four. There are rumours of a few five-speeds with leather interiors, but these were more than likely converted.

One interesting interior appointment was the Pioneer DEX-77 CD player. In an effort to create a more European-style luxury car, a CD was integrated into the Shelby Lancer along with dual-power amps, an equaliser and ten speakers. The system was the first CD player in an American car, and although it was give high marks it was not very reliable. There are no replacement parts, and most units were removed when they failed.

History

  • 400 five-speeds and 400 automatics built.
  • Very few of the automatics have survived.

AutoClassics says…

The Shelby Lancer was very inexpensive to run, while many of the parts are common to other Dodges of the era. Shelby-unique brakes, interior materials and computers are unavailable except through the TurboDodge forum and eBay. Shelby Dodge enthusiasts have come up with high-performance alternatives for the parts you can’t buy.

Your best bet? Go with the Shelby computer and +20 injectors, and create a 250bhp engine. These cars are a blast to drive; there’s nothing quite like 1980s’ turbo lag. When the boost kicks in, these machines go! Handling is much better then for most vehicles of the era – and the Shelby Lancer undeniably achieved Carroll’s goal of giving Mercedes a run for its money.

Specifications

Shelby Lancer
  Power 175bhp
  Top speed 150mph
  0-60mph 7.6sec
  Economy 22mpg

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