Few in the auto industry have their name on a vehicle. Carroll Shelby has been synonymous with racing and with the Ford Mustang for well over forty years. On Thursday, Carroll Shelby died at the age of 89. He had a full life, one that impacted the both the racing world and the auto industry.
Shelby began his racing career in 1952. He was quick to win several races and was named Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1956 and 1957. As he became more successful in the racing world, he began to expand into the business world. He opened his first car dealership in 1957 in Texas. After winning the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1959, Shelby began working to create a new race car with Ford. Using Ford’s small block V8, Shelby designed the Cobra Roadster. The car would hit the race track in late 1962 with its first win coming in January 1963. The Cobra was driven by a number of drivers including Phil Hill, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney.
Shelby released the 427 Cobra with Ferrari as its target. It was successful in the 1964 season. Shelby’s relationship with Ford extended in 1965 with creation of the Shelby GT350, a modified Ford Mustang. The car went on to win the Trans Am Championship in 1967. Also in 1967, Shelby built the final 427 Cobra. The Cobra had won a number of races and championships. Shelby helped Ford develop the successful Ford GT40 as a followup to the Cobra. Today, original Shelby Cobras sell for well over $10 million.
Ford ended its relationship with Shelby in 1970, but he continued to tune cars…for Dodge. In the early 1990s, Shelby helped Dodge with the original Viper after having a heart transplant in 1990. Shelby renewed his relationship with Ford in the 2000s with the return of the Ford GT, but it was the return of the Shelby GT500 Mustang in 2007 that excited auto enthusiasts. In 2011, the Shelby GT350 was also recreated by Ford and Shelby. Both cars have been very popular with Mustang enthusiasts and car collectors alike.
Carroll Shelby has had a tremendous impact on the auto industry. His racing career, his business sense, and his ability to tune cars has gained him international recognition. The Shelby name is sure to live on with the GT500 and GT350 Mustangs that bare his name. The auto industry lost a true icon, a man who will truly be missed.
Listen to Carroll Shelby tell his life story in his own words (from 2011):
A great documentary about Shelby’s racing career with interviews and historic footage: