TERLINGUA, Texas. – Back in 2008, Shelby American held a product launch party for its Terlingua Mustang in the ghost town of Terlingua, Texas. Despite its remote location, it seemed a fairly logical place to reveal a special car that would wear its name. But after the launch event was over, a group of enthusiasts who had attended decided that this Terlingua party should continue on as an annual event. So in 2009, the Terlingua Preservation Society (TPS) was born.
TPS is a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining the history, legend and folklore of Carroll Shelby’s fabled Terlingua Racing Team. For nearly a decade now, TPS has returned to Terlingua each fall to unite Shelby people, Mustang people and in general all Ford performance enthusiasts during an extended-weekend gathering for some spirited driving and fellowship. While attendees will tell you it’s a great time to revel in Shelby history, reunite with old friends and make some new ones, there’s no hiding the car-party atmosphere here.
The 2018 edition was no exception, with participants coming to central Texas from as far away as the Netherlands, Canada, Alaska, Florida and California. Before the faithful arrived for the Thursday-through-Sunday event, some of the regulars gathered ahead of time to do some early catching up with friends as well as some sightseeing in and around the scenic Big Bend area.
The Thursday kickoff began with an official Welcome at LaJitas Resort, where some of the participants took advantage of a morning cruise into Big Bend National Park for spectacular views, a lunch at a mountain-top lodge, and a leisurely return drive back to event registration. Others stayed at the resort to relax at poolside or perhaps clean the multitude of bugs from their cars.
The evening activities included dinner on the scenic porch of the resort, followed by a Texas hold-em tournament, with a silent charity auction also taking place. It was clear to see that all of the card players tried their very best to win the much-coveted bottle of Shelby’s Ambrusco Tequila. All proceeds for the auction benefited several local organizations, including the Terlingua Fire and EMS, The Acti-Vets, Terlingua Common Schools, the Women’s Crisis Center and the Terlingua Food Bank, as well as supporting several scholarship programs.
Friday’s schedule began early with an autocross course set up in LaJitas RV Park. At the Maverick Ranch, the Brewster County Sheriff arrives and stops traffic on the road to allow for some spirited but short distance straight-line runs for those who need a little speed fix to get through the day. A good number of participants took advantage of the day’s car wash service, put on by Terlingua Schools and the Fire Department, who joined forces to help raise a little money for the kid’s activities fund.
A themed dinner highlighted Friday evening’s festivities. The official/unofficial Terlingua Attire Committee decided on the theme, which this year’s theme was yellow attire, celebrating the color for the Terlingua Mustang. It was a fun departure from some of the previous themes, such as Black Tie and Western Wear. All agreed that Saleen’s new Transportations Coordinator, Sam Trout, looked stunning in his yellow Romper. This dinner is always excellent, and everyone looks forward to the live auction at the end, which is the highlight of the evening. It is through this auction that a large portion of the TPS funds are raised each year, thanks to the generosity of participants, the kindness of Ford Motor Company and the contributions of Shelby American and other major sponsors.
Master of ceremonies was none other than Saleen’s own Sean Cook of SMC Events fame, who always keeps the bidding and the friendly rivalries going. There’s never a dull moment during the auction, as much laughter and good-natured kidding are a large part of the fun. Whether bidding on a Ford Performance Driving School certificate, a Jack Daniels Barrel, or not just one but this year two golf carts – one wrapped in vintage Jerry Titus Terlingua Racing Livery and the other wrapped in son’s Rick Titus Championship Saleen Mustang Livery – everyone is a winner.
After auction ends, the crowd departs -- some to “The Thirsty Goat” town pub, so-named for Clay Henry, Mayor of Terlingua, who is a beer-drinking goat, while others gather poolside at the resort or on the porches outside of the rooms. In either case, participants engage in an evening of memorable car talk – to reminisce or start new additions to the fable of Terlingua.
The crackle of exhaust kicks things off on Saturday with a gathering at the Maverick Ranch for the much-anticipated scenic cruise and fabled speed run. A brief driver’s meeting is held before the caravan is assembled to travel the breathtaking road that runs along the Rio Grande, with a view of Mexico to the left and the picturesque sights of The United States to the right. The group winds its way into the town of Presidio, where a stop is made for those needing a fuel top-off, then it’s back onto the road to Alpine for lunch and a car show at The Stable.
There, Dave Durant’s hospitality is appreciated by everyone. After smiles and great food is shared during lunch, things turn quite serious during a briefing on the speed run. Remarks are prefaced with the statement. “What we are about to do is dangerous!” Once again, cars are topped off with fuel, and this time lug nuts torqued, tires checked, and pressures adjusted for the journey to a place called “Trash Can Hill.” Once all arrive, the group pulls off the side of the road onto the shoulder. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Brewster County Sheriff close approximately 10 miles of road in both directions. Those not wishing to participate in the speed run are given the option of driving ahead to the American Legion hall, where the entire group will meet up after the runs are completed.
The fast cars go first -- Ford GTs, race-prepared Shelbys and Cobras, highly modified Mustangs, plus Boss Mustangs, GT350s, 350R’s and Saleens all head out to line up for their speed runs. This year, due to rough road conditions, the top high-speed runs were only in the 180’s, while the 200 mph mark had been seen in previous years. Sitting on the start line ready to go is an adrenaline rush like no other; peering down the hill, listening to the rumble of your exhaust and waiting for the “thumbs up” to go is an amazing experience. The first high-speed run section is approximately four miles long, with flags placed ahead of the dog leg to let you know when you need to get off the throttle and slow down. You are clocked from the line and again at the termination point, with the best numbers bringing bragging rights.
My own experience felt surreal: Watching the carbon-fiber hood dance, listening to the roar of the engine on takeoff and hearing my navigator/wife shout out speed increments, all while she scans the road for rouge havelinas, donkeys, debris or other possible hazards. Just as suddenly as I had left the start line, I saw the end flags, slowed down, pulled off to the side of the road and removed my helmet. After thanking the DPS officers, we headed over the Legion hall for the beverages and snacks that were waiting for us. Outside, we checked out all the fine rides in the parking lot, and chatted with this outstanding group of men and women who clearly much enjoyed the cars and the company this group provides year after year.
All too quickly it was time to saddle-up and get back to Lajitas for a couple of hours of pool therapy. Then came a Terlingua tradition, the Chili Supper, along with some cold adult beverages. Finally, all head over to the Thirsty Goat for a reception with drinks and snacks provided by Amy Boylan, instigator of Shelby’s first 2008 Terlingua Event, now with Saleen and still loving fast Mustangs and the enthusiasts who drive them. We also got to meet Mike Rey, the well-known Mustang club guru who has recently joined the Saleen team.
Saturday night for some meant goodbye and early departures; for others Sunday brought a leisurely morning before packing and heading out to the TPS Corral to board trucks for the trek up to David and Reine Elkowitz’s beautiful home for a parting BBQ and even more stories.
It all happens so fast that it’s almost like a dream. You visit the same places and drive the same roads that a Texas chicken farmer-turned racer-then car builder once frequented. When you visit his home on the ranch, which now houses a restaurant, you can only imagine the automotive shenanigans that transpired there some five decades ago. The 2008 Terlingua event reunited a portion of the team that lit the flame and brought together a new generation of enthusiast who won’t let it die out. Carroll Shelby himself may be gone, but the legend still lives large even in an old ghost town in Texas.
FORD PERFORAMNCE PHOTOS / COURTESY JOHN ALBANI / TERLINGUA PRESERVATION SOCIETY