Carroll Shelby, 1923-2012
By Gary P Jackson
In the early 1960s the Ford Motor Company came up with a new 260 cubic inch V-8 engine. Carroll Shelby put one of those small block Ford engines in a British built A.C. sports car, and a legend was born.
Few men have had more impact on the automotive world than Carroll Shelby. What started out with a $25,000 stake from Ford’s Lee Iaccoca to build a prototype, turned into an automotive powerhouse.
Shelby’s Cobra is no doubt one of the most copied automotive designs in history. There are around a dozen companies that reproduce the iconic roadster, either turn key, or in kit form. The original Shelby built cars fetch millions of dollars at collector car auctions.
Shelby with his 1964 production Cobra and a Cobra race car.
A racer, Shelby fielded teams for Ford, and literally won the world.
Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company and great-grandson of Henry Ford, considered Shelby to be a dear friend.
“Today, we have lost a legend in Ford Motor Company’s history, and my family and I have lost a dear friend,” Ford said. “Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognized 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.”
Shelby most recently collaborated with the company on the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang, the most powerful production V8 in the world. Working with SVT engineers at Sebring and the Arizona Proving Grounds, at times he drove for more than eight hours …. at the ripe old age of 88. He was having so much fun, he didn’t want to stop.
Shelby was drag racer at heart and was a late bloomer when at nearly 30 years, entered his first car race, a quarter-mile drag meet in 1952. The hot rod he drove to the finish line that day was powered by a Ford V8.
The NHRA’s Tom Compton said drag racing has lost a legend with the passing of Shelby.
“The automotive industry has lost a pioneer and the motorsports world a legend with the passing of Carroll Shelby. He and our founder Wally Parks were very good friends and Carroll frequently attended events at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California. On behalf of everyone at NHRA, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”
Autoweek has an extensive bio of Shelby as well as some great photos.
Shelby was more than just an automotive icon though. Having been born with a heart defect, he would later receive a new heart. It was while he was in the hospital that he saw so many young kids who suffered heart problems. Shelby started the Carroll Shelby Foundation in order to help pay for much needed treatment for children.
Last year helping Ford celebrate 110 years of racing, Shelby sat down for this video:
Shelby is survived by his wife, Cleo Shelby; his sister Anne Shelby Ellison, daughter Sharon Lavine and sons Michael and Patrick Shelby, as well as six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He was 89 years old. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed.