Carroll Shelby, 1923-2012
It’s darn near impossible to overemphasize the impact that Carroll Shelby has had on the automotive world as we know it today. Born in 1923, Shelby took part in his very first race, a quarter-mile drag, in 1952. Later that year, he’d go on to win his first road race in an MG-TC. By 1956, Shelby had garnered enough race wins to earn the title “Driver of the Year” from Sports Illustrated. He would win that award again in 1957.
Carroll Shelby was nothing if not a keen businessman. In early 1957, Shelby opened his first car dealership in Dallas, Texas. Bolstered by his success behind the wheel – Carroll won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1969, driving an Aston Martin – Shelby went on to build the iconic Cobra using a chassis built by AC Cars in England and powered by a Ford V8 engine. Officially homologated in 1962, the Cobra Roadster won its first race in January of 1963.
Driven by legendary drivers like Phil Hill, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, the Shelby Cobra and its aerodynamic Daytona Coupe sibling won the Sports Car Club of America’s A-production title and the United States Road Racing Championship in ’63. The following year brought with it the big-block 427 Cobra, and the machine went on to deal serious blows to Ferrari, the dominant sports car manufacturer of the time.
Shelby began his long-running relationship with the Ford factory in 1965, as the Shelby GT350 hit both the street and the race track. That year, Shelby secured the FIA World Championship of GT cars. In 1966, a Shelby-backed Ford team finished in first, second and third place at Le Mans; this was the first time an American team claimed victory in the historic race, but it would not be the last – Shelby’s team would go on to win Le Mans again in 1967. The Ford GT40 ended up in first place four straight years from 1966-1969.
The Shelby GT350 claimed the Trans Am racing title in 1967, and in that year, the very last 427 Shelby Cobra was built. In 1970, Ford ended its partnership with Shelby, and the man would remain mostly quiet in the automotive industry until the 1980s, when Lee Iacocca approached Carroll about building high-performance versions of Dodge products. The Omni and Charger would Go Like Hell for several years, embarrassing V8-powered Mustangs and Camaros along the way.
Carroll Shelby received a heart transplant in 1990 and would go on to reintroduce Cobra 427 S/C continuation cars and 4000-series cars throughout the 1990s. Shelby was also involved heavily with both the Dodge Viper and Ford GT programs. No wonder why Carroll Shelby was inducted into the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.
Today, the name Shelby may be most often tied to the latest and greatest GT500 models from Ford, but it’s clear that the man has impacted the performance world for decades. While he may no longer be alive, there can be little doubt that Carroll Shelby’s influence will be felt by enthusiasts for as long as cars move us from one place to another.
We’ve collected a couple of videos that we thought were a fitting tribute to Shelby’s unending legacy. Join us in watching them by scrolling down below.