Carroll Shelby was involved with other manufacturers in his career – winning the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans in an Aston Martin DBR1 with Roy Salvadori – but it was Ford where his presence was felt for the better part of 60 years, and where his name will forever remain linked.
Carroll Shelby was nearly 30 years old when he raced his first car, a Ford V8-powered hot rod, down a quarter-mile drag strip in 1952.
“Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognised names in performance car history, and he’s been successful at everything he’s done. Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene or building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him. He was a great innovator whose legend at Ford never will be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends,” said Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company and great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company.
Carroll Shelby was born on January 11, 1923 in Leesburg, Texas. He was an Army Air Corps flight instructor during World War II and after leaving the military in 1945 he started a dump truck business before deciding to raise chickens. Despite a successful first flock, his second flock died of disease leaving him broke. A friend of Shelby’s invited him to try his hand as an amateur racer and the rest, now, is history.
Shelby drove his second Ford-powered race car in 1962, the first mock-up of what would become the Cobra – the body of a lightweight British roadster teamed with a Ford small-block V8. By January 1963 Shelby had managed to homologate the car under the FIA’s GT Group III class rules and the Cobra won its first race that same month.
In August 1964 Ford asked Shelby to develop a street-legal, high-performance Mustang to take on the Chevrolet Corvette in SCCA B-production road racing and by September the first Ford Mustang GT350 had been completed. The 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 fastback production model was an instant classic with its fibreglass bonnet scoop and 306hp (228kW) 289-cubic-inch (4.7-litre) V8.
Shelby’s guidance and influence in 1966 saw the start of the Ford GT40’s four-year domination of endurance car racing, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 and beating the likes of Porsche and Ferrari along the way.
1967 saw the venerable GT500 Mustang first make its mark with its 428-cubic-inch (7.0-litre) big-block V8 churning out 355hp (265kW). Ford says more than 2000 of these Mustangs were delivered within that first year. The name ‘Cobra’ was first officially used on a Shelby Mustang in 1968 when the Shelby Cobra GT350 was released and a convertible body style was available for the first time. This would later lead to the GT500KR –the King of the Road. With sales slowing in 1970, Ford decided to update the final 1969 Shelby Mustangs to 1970 spec and sell them on.
1992 saw a popular decision when Shelby was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
More than 30 years passed before Shelby and Ford would worked together again but in March 2001 they reunited for a new supercar project, the new GT40 Concept that would lead to the 2002 Ford GT.
In 2004 Shelby the manufacturer paid homage to not only the Shelby Cobra but also to the man behind it all with the Shelby Cobra Concept (pictured above) shown at the 2004 Detroit motor show. At the same motor show one year later Ford unveiled the Ford Shelby GR-1 Concept.
In 2008 Carroll Shelby turned 85 and Ford marked his birthday by having the first 2008 model year Ford Shelby GT500KR roll off the production line – an exclusive 540hp (402kW) King of the Road muscle car of which only 1000 units were made.
Shelby continued to show his passion and enthusiasm despite his age collaborating with Ford on the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 (pictured below), a car that produces 662hp (494kW) and 855Nm of torque – currently the most powerful production V8 engine in the world.
Away from racing Carroll Shelby created the Carroll Shelby Foundation in 1991, a foundation that provides assistance for children and young people who require acute coronary and kidney care.
Successful to the end when he passed away in Dallas on Thursday, Shelby was one of the America’s longest-living heart transplant recipients after receiving a heart on June 7, 1990. Shelby was also the beneficiary of a kidney in 1996, donated by his son Michael.
Carroll Shelby is survived by his wife Cleo Shelby, his three children Patrick, Michael and Sharon, his sister Anne Shelby Ellison, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was 89.