Carroll Shelby – A Legend Passes
On May 10th 2012, a legend passed away. Carroll Hall Shelby, the WWII pilot turned East Texas chicken farmer turned champion race car driver turned preeminent high performance car builder will likely forever live in the hearts of gearheads all over the world. Mr. Shelby was 89. In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess to having owned a Shelby GT and to the fact that I have been a fan of Mr. Shelby since I was a small boy and my neighbor drove up one day in his new Shelby GT500. I was hooked and the love affair has lasted to this day.
Mr. Shelby was a pioneer. After having won three national driving championships in the United States and the 24 hours of Le mans and being named Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year in 1956 and 1957, Mr. Shelby retired from racing in 1960 due to heart problems.
It was at this time that he turned his attention to car building. He was aware that the AC car company in England was about to lose their supplier of engines for the AC Ace two seat sports car. He was also aware that Ford had developed a new 260 ci V8 engine. Shelby got his hands on an AC Ace and decided that it would handle the 260 ci V8 rather nicely and the Shelby Cobra was born. Later the displacement was bumped to 289 ci and this, the 289 cobra, is the car that set sports car racing on its ear for years to come. Mr. Shelby was also involved with Ford in the development of the Shelby Mustangs everybody is familiar with.
When insurance company surcharges killed muscle cars in the late 70′s, they killed the Cobra along with them. However, in the early 80′s Lee Iacocca took over the struggling Chrysler company and opportunities again opened up for Carroll Shelby. Iacocca and Shelby had a relationship dating back to Iacocca’s days at Ford and he brought Mr. Shelby with him to help remake the struggling automaker. Mr. Shelby responded with cars like the Dodge Omni GLH (GLH stood for “Goes Like Hell”) and eventually the Dodge Viper.
Mr. Shelby designed the layout for the first Chili’s restaurants and helped design the menu as well. His own chili recipe can still be found on the menu to this day. Next time you are there look on the menu for “Terlingua Chili” as this is Carroll’s recipe.
It was in 1991 that Mr. Shelby launched the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation™. The foundation has been actively helping kids in need ever since.
Eventually Shelby returned to making Shelby Mustangs and also introduced the Shelby Cobra continuation series which picked up where the original cars left off including having sequential “CSX” Vehicle Identification Numbers.
Mr. Shelby received a heart transplant in the 80′s as well as a kidney and his health had deteriorated in recent years. He also suffered from macular degeneration. None of these things stopped the man. He joked at the unveiling of the new GT350 a few years ago that he had almost “gone horizontal” referring to a recent bout with the flu. He remained active and engaged right up to the end.
Carroll Shelby was a force of nature, a guy with no quit in him and a real human being who touched many lives. I doubt if we will see another like him in our lifetime.