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Shelby CSX: The Sundance and Shadow's Full Potential

There were three different Shelby CSXs (Carroll Shelby Experimentals). This is their story.

1987 - the first Shelby CSX (Carroll Shelby Experimental)

1987 Shelby CSX

Shelby Automobiles’ 1986 GLHS, rough riding but extremely fast for the time, was hitting a chord with car enthusiasts even as Chrysler prepared its replacements for the stalwart Aries and Reliant, the Shadow and Sundance. Chrysler wanted to give the new cars a good launch — and dispell some of the “granny” reputation of the Reliant and Aries — so they arranged for Shelby to create a high-performance version, similar to the GLHS, but easier to drive (if not as fast). They also built on the CSX’s success with a four-door euro-luxury car, the slow-selling Shelby Lancer.


Shelby wanted to use the powerful Turbo II engine in his new project, but Chrysler wouldn’t produce the cars with those engines installed. Shelby decided that converting the Turbo I was cheaper than swapping the engines; so he installed the more powerful, intercooled Chrysler Turbo II intake, turbo, throttle body, intercooler, fuel injectors, and the associated parts onto the Turbo I block. The standard transaxle was used, and the computer was programmed to limit torque so it would last. [The Chrysler-built Turbo II had internal engine parts changed to handle the increased power.]

In the end, Shelby was able to claim 175 horsepower “with greater torque and better throttle response over the entire power band,” 0-60 in 7.1 seconds, with a full 0.85 g of cornering force — all quite good numbers for 1987.

1987 dodge 2.2 engine from csx

The compression ratio was set at 8.1:1; boost pressure could reach 12 psi. Peak horsepower was 175 at 5,300 rpm, with torque at 175 lb-ft from 2,200 to 4,800 rpm. The quarter mile came in 15.1 seconds. As in all of the CSX’s three years, they had Shelby-emblazoned valve covers.

The chassis had special front and rear sway bars, low-pressure Monroe Formula GP shocks and struts with coilover springs, 15x6 Shelby wheels, Goodyear 205x50R15 tires, four-wheel disc brakes, Goodyear VR/50 Gatorbacks, special body trim, and black and silver paint with blue trim; the brake proportioning valve and master cylinder were also modified, and the pedals provided heel/toe driving capability.

shelby csx rear csx steering wheel/dashboard

The interior was basically stock Chrysler, but with a Shelby leather steering wheel and boost gauge; a cassette player was standard. Each of the 750 cars had a numbered plaque on the dash. There were no options. Shelby’s brochure claimed that the car was SCCA race-ready.

shelby csx brochure

The prototype CSX were four door cars. These were the first off the Chrysler production line and the only mules available to Shelby Automobiles. Parts altered by Shelby were warranted by Shelby; other parts were warranted by Chrysler. In both cases, the warranty was for one year or 12,000 miles, whichever came first.

1988 Thrifty CSX-T

One year after the CSX launch, one thousand 1988 CSX-Ts were built for Thrifty Car Rental. They kept the stock Turbo I engine for durability. The differences from the previous year were 15x6.5 Shelby wheels, and the colors were mainly white with blue and silver trim. (Jon wrote that the CSX-T had white wheel inserts, not black). [High Performance Mopar, the predecessor of Mopar Action, took one out to the streetlight races, and outran V8 and V6 muscle cars with the CSX-T.]

750 Shelby CSXs were also made for 1988, similar to the 1987 cars.

1989 - New innovative Shelby CSX with intercooled turbo, Getrag

1989 shelby car

The 1989 CSX was quite a departure, with more aggressive styling, the A555 Getrag transaxle, and a more powerful engine. This gives the 1989 model the strongest drivetrain and engine bottom-end of any of the Shelby FWDs. The engines were modified by Chrylser with a Variable Nozzle Turbo (the outfit was generally referred to as the Turbo IV), which eliminated the turbo-lag and upped the torque by over 25 ft lbs, while boost remained the same.

A defect in early-production turbochargers gave this engine a poor reputation for reliability, but the technology was advanced for its time, and has since come into common use, particularly on diesels.

csx interiorThis was the first car ever built with a plastic wheel, called the Fiberide; the 15x6.5 wheel was much lighter than its aluminum counterparts. They were a gleaming gold color, and almost look like a hub cap. Tires were standard Goodyear 195x60R15 with optional 225x50r15 Gatorbacks.

The car had an aggressive front air dam, rear wing, and side skirts, for a ground-hugging appearance. The rest of the chassis was basically like the previous models. The interior featured some unique items such as interior cloth with “Shelby” emblazoned everywhere. The other optional item were the firmer Recaro seats. The only color was Exotic Red. 500 were built, with 2 cars used to build the 1990 CSX prototypes.

Mike Cuttita wrote:

1989 csxThe 1989 CSX-VNT was again based on the Shadow ES, but with a list of changes that was the most comprehensive to date. ... Based on Formula 1 technology, the Garrett turbo used moving vanes to manage the amount and speed of exhaust gasses passing through the turbine, causing it to act like a small turbo that spools up to boost quickly at low engine rpm, thereby reducing turbo lag. At higher engine speeds, the vanes opened to allow more volume to pass (at a lower airspeed), changing it into a bigger turbo—and eliminating the need for a wastegate because the boost level could be controlled by computer management of the VNT vanes.

While rated at the same 175 hp as the standard Turbo II, the torque was now up to 205 lbs.-ft and the power curve was broader and flatter, making it easier to drive.

1990: the Shelby CSX that never came

The 1990 was to be the long awaited 16 valve car. It would have been a 2.5 liter engine, and blue with silver Fiberides. It wasn't to be.

Performance modifications for the Shelby CSX

  • Install a high-flow catalytic converter and 2.5 pipe all the way back to a high-flow muffler. Some suggest that the VNT will overboost if the restrictive exhaust is removed, so exercise caution.
  • Put on a 52mm throttle body, and match the intake to it.
  • Install a new oil pan from Ed Peters with the windage tray.
  • Larger valves and match intake and exhaust ports to manifolds. The T2 engine had ports in the intake manifold that were bigger than the one in the head, and the exhaust ports in the head were bigger than the ones in the manifold.
  • If you are really looking for big hp gains, then the Super 60 kit is the way to go, and the CSX-VNT is the only Shelby built car suitable for it. This kit gives you a new computer, new turbo, ported/big valve head, 52mm throttle body, new intercooler, and some misc parts. It must be used on a T2 engine, and needs a Getrag A555 transaxle. The CSX-VNT has both of these. A 1990 Daytona VNT would not be suitable, because it uses the common block engine with CAST crankshaft.

The CSX versus the CSX-T

(From Brian T. Minnebo)

1988 CSX CSX-T (Thrifty version)
Number made 750 1,000
Wheels Centurion (Silver) Shelby LeMans 6.5 wide, black highlights
Engine 2.2 Turbo I modified to Turbo II specs, torque reduced for transmission life Stock 2.2 Turbo I
Interior Light/dark grey Dark grey only
Color Black White
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