The words Carroll Shelby and front-wheel drive seem about as compatible as, say, a date between Nancy Pelosi and Rush Limbaugh, but the mid-1980s were a strange, transitional time in America’s history of performance. It saw European cars like the Volkswagen GTI making surprisingly strong inroads with performance-minded customers who were hungry for any sort of driving fun. What most of those cars lacked in sheer horsepower was made up for with lively, engaging driving experiences.
Carroll Shelby applied that philosophy to the Omni/Charger platform to create the 1983.5 Shelby Charger and Omni GLH (GLH stood for Goes Like Hell). The Shelby Charger was normally aspirated, but the Omni GLH had a 146-horsepower, turbocharged version of Chrysler’s ubiquitous 2.2-liter four–with the Charger receiving the turbo engine in 1985.The Shelby/Dodge experiment culminated with the unexpectedly brilliant 1987 Shelby Charger GLH-S.
An Omni GLH-S (Goes Like Hell S’more) was introduced in 1986; it packed an intercooled version of the turbo 2.2, with pull-ahead parts from the forthcoming Turbo II engine. It generated 12 pounds of boost and was rated at 175 horsepower, turning an already quick compact car into a four-cylinder street terror. The same engine powered the 1987 Charger GLH-S.
Shelby’s company purchased the last 1,000 Chargers produced by Chrysler to turn them into the GLH-S models, each identically outfitted in basic black with silver graphics. There was a specific front air dam, and a hood that carried a heat vent and offset blister. Inside, Shelby-logo embroidery was added to the front and rear seats, and a serialized plaque was added to the right-hand corner of the dashboard.
With even the plainest of plain-Jane family cars these days offering 300 horsepower, you’d think the GLH-S’s 175 horses wouldn’t be exciting. You’d be very wrong. The Charger GLH-S weighs only about 2,500 pounds, so the power-to-weight ratio is about 14.3 to 1. That’s not too far removed from a new Mustang GT, and it enabled the car to run to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds and through the quarter-mile in the high 14s. A same-year Camaro IROC 350 ran high-6 seconds to 60, and 15-second quarter miles!
There’s considerable turbo lag, but a satisfying and very fun feeling of acceleration when the boost kicks in. The car just plain picks up and goes. It’s also a reasonably smooth engine that is tractable at both high and low speeds. Unfortunately, the rest of the performance features aren’t quite as engaging: The manual transmission is notchy, and the shift feel is rubbery. The minimalist gauges are laughably small, and the steering wheel looks like something from a go-kart.
On the road, the GLH-S is quite pleasant to drive. Its 15-inch wheels (which look larger on the comparatively small car) and chunky tires deliver commendable grip, with cornering quite good for an early front-driver. All production models came with air conditioning, a sunroof, and other amenities that are appreciated on long drives. And that brings us to one of the best reasons we can think of to invest in one of these quintessential pocket rockets: Cheap thrills. Buy-in prices are low, but with only 1,000 built, they’re extremely rare sights on the road or at a car show. So, you’ve got a conversation piece that’s an easy driver, and one whose value won’t be affected by adding mileage during the summer.
Many of the cars have been modified with later turbo engine parts, so be wary of buying someone else’s hot rod. Also, there are basically no resto parts for the GLH-S, so many enthusiasts resort to cannibalizing wrecked or worn-out donors. The 27,000-mile, all-original example in our photos is a great example of what to look for–it’s clean, unmodified, and runs perfect. If you never thought you could afford an honest-to-goodness Shelby, this is it.
Special thanks to Brian Thomson for allowing us to photograph the low-mileage example in our story.
Number Built– 1,000 Construction– Unitized body and chassis Engine– 135-cubic-inch, OHC, turbocharged four-cylinder Power/Torque– 135-cubic-inch turbo four, 175 horsepower, 175 lb-ft torque Transmission– Chrysler A525 five-speed manual Suspension front– Independent, with MacPherson struts, coil springs, and stabilizer bar Suspension rear– Semi-independent beam axle with trailing arms, shocks, coil springs, and stabilizer bar Brakes– Front disc/rear drum Length/width/height– 174.4/66.1/50.2 inches Wheelbase– 96.5 inches Weight– 2,500 lbs. (approx.) 0-60/quarter mile– 6.7 seconds, 14.7 seconds at 94 mph (Hot Rod, April 1986) (Omni GLHS with identical powertrain) Top speed– 134 (manufacturer’s claim) MPG– 17 - 25 est.
STRONG POINTS Surprisingly quick and competent performance car The Shelby aura, with 1-of-1,000 rarity Powertrain has proven quite bulletproof over the years Very affordable
WEAK POINTS Shelby magic can’t mask Omni DNA Considerable turbo lag Will never have the cache or value of a Shelby Mustang Restoration parts for the Shelby-specific components are essentially non-existent
PARTS PRICES Remanufactured alternator $44.79* Brake disc/drum and pads $29.89 (front rotor), $26.99 (rear drum); $21.79 (front pads), $24.79 (rear shoes)* Front suspension strut assembly $41.79 each* Clutch kit $118.99* *Based on information from Rockauto.com
WHAT TO PAY 1987 Dodge Shelby Charger GLH-S MSRP – $12,995 Low – $4,575 Average – $8,275 High – $16,325 *Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Classic Cars and Parts magazines are sold.
INSURANCE COST Insurance cost is $172/year for a 1987 Dodge Shelby Charger GLH-S. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving. *Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
WHEN TO BUY Prices for Shelby’s front-drive Mopars have remained relatively unchanged for years. They’re beloved by their owners, but haven’t caught on with the broader collector market. That’s not likely to change in the near future, so there’s not much worry of missing the ground-floor buy before prices shoot up. Take your time to find the best-kept, most original example and that will prove to be the best value.