He kept building them until the very end.
He kept building them until the very end. As someone born into a world when the automobile was still relatively in its early stages, Carroll Shelby changed that world all for the better. And now sadly, Mr. Shelby has moved on to that eternal highway, passing away on Thursday at his home in Dallas, Texas at the age of 89. While it's without question his passing is an extremely sad occasion, we must take some time together to look back on a long life that was well spent.
Born in Texas in 1923, he served as pilot and instructor in World War II and after the conflict ended he worked on a chicken farm. His first race was in 1952 and he never again left the automotive arena. Later that year he won his first race and by 1956 he won the prestigious 'Driver of the Year' award from 'Sports Illustrated' magazine. He won it again the following year as well. In 1959, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. But it was in 1962 that his name and reputation became cemented forever in a whole new breed of sports car. Because health issues forced him to change gears, going from race car driver to car builder (and a brilliant businessman), he found his true calling.
After cutting a deal with the British sports car maker AC Cars, he used their chassis and body to create what became his original masterpiece, the Shelby Cobra. By stuffing a mighty Ford V8 under the hood, the car became an instant legend, raced by such names as Phil Hill and A.J. Foyt. Shelby's official relationship with Ford began in 1965 with the introduction of the also legendary Shelby GT350. Sold as both a road and race car, the GT350 won Trans Am title in 1967. In 1970, Shelby's partnership with Ford ended, but even then he didn't consider throwing in the towel.
Fortunately, his friend and former Ford President Lee Iacocca approached him in the early 1980s when Iacocca was heading up Chrysler. This new relationship spawned such models as the Omni and Charger GLH ('Go Like Hell'). Shelby also contributed his knowledge to the development of the original Dodge Viper. In later years, Shelby resumed his partnership with Ford and today we're still privileged to have Mustangs bearing his name and the Cobra logo. Over the years, Shelby had numerous health issues; he had a heart transplant in 1990 and in 1996 received a new kidney courtesy of his son.
Carroll Shelby's vision for high-powered sports cars is still very much alive, along with his business, Shelby American, Inc. headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although the man himself is now gone, his spirit will never run out of gas. In fact, you can hear that spirit anytime you'd like. All you need to do is get behind the wheel or be in the presence of one of his many wonderful sports car creations.