Jerod Shelby never imagined himself rubbing elbows with sheiks and pro athletes, or being chatted up by Jay Leno, or having a catsuit-clad female celebrity leaning on his driver's-side door. What the longtime Tri-Cities resident did imagine himself doing, though, was building a really fast car.
Shelby, 43, is the founder of SSC North America, manufacturer of the Ultimate Aero, a high-performance supercar that beat out a Bugatti for the Guinness World Records title of Fastest Production Car when it clocked an average top speed of 256.14 mph in 2007. (Bugatti regained the title in 2010 with its Veyron 16.4 Super Sport.)
- Chassis: Carbon fiber
- Engine: Twin-turbo V-8
- Horsepower: 1,350; the world's highest with legal emissions standards
- Wheels: The first one-piece carbon-fiber wheel
- Maximum speed: 275 mph
Shelby is now gearing up for production of the follow-up to that car: the 1,350-horsepower Tuatara, a futuristic-looking machine with a luxury interior, priced at $1.3 million. SSC in January broke ground on its new world headquarters, a 36,000-square-foot facility in West Richland that will open to the public this summer.
"I told people I was going to design an American-made supercar to compete with Ferrari and Lamborghini, and people laughed and said I didn't have a shot," says Shelby, a mechanical engineer who had previously co-founded a medical device company. "So I knew I needed to just do it, and then it would get noticed."
And get noticed it did. Shelby began getting orders from executives, athletes and royalty. The Ultimate Aero was featured in a Pepsi Max ad with reality-TV star Kim Kardashian as the car's hood candy, and then on the Discovery Channel show "Extreme Rides."
Shelby's industriousness also caught the attention of well-known car enthusiast Leno, who interviewed Shelby for his web series, "Jay Leno's Garage." Shelby sold 15 of the $770,000 cars from 2007 through 2010.
He plans to open three dealerships in China, five in the Middle East and one in India. But despite opportunities to move his manufacturing operation to Seattle or abroad, Shelby decided to stay in the town where he grew up. He says West Richland stepped up with grants, inspired by the town in which Ferrari started: Modena, Italy, is now a major tourist site.
Even the jet-like design of the Tuatara is a nod to Boeing and to Shelby's home-state pride. "What's nice in Washington state is that it feels really good to know that we're exporting products to the Middle East and China instead of importing them," Shelby says.
Not that he doesn't have his fair share of worldly adventures. Shelby tells stories of visits to Middle Eastern palaces with caged white tigers and gorillas. One particular sheik, he says, shut down a major four-lane highway in the middle of the day so he could test-race an Ultimate Aero.
The sheik bought the car on the spot, and Shelby says he was paid the next day in cash handed to him in a Louis Vuitton duffle bag. "It's not very comforting walking around the Middle East for three days with all that money in a bag trying to figure out how to deposit it," he says.
The new headquarters, which brings all of the production aspects under one roof, is expected to open in August. It will feature a museum, a large showroom and a glass catwalk where visitors can watch the Tuatara being made.
Shelby has already received at least 17 preorders for the supercar. "People are buying it, and it hasn't even gone into production yet," he says. "That tells us we're making progress."