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Carroll Shelby, 1923-2012

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, May 12, 2012

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Carroll Shelby and Ford GT Mark IV at LeMans 1967
Carroll Shelby with the race-winning Ford GT Mark IV, LeMans, France, 1967

Carroll Shelby, the race car driver. Carroll Shelby, the race car designer. Carroll Shelby, the sports car manufacturer. Carroll Shelby, the chili connoisseur. And more. Cobra 289, Cobra 427, Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ford GT40, Ford GT Mark IV, GT350, GT500, GT500KR, Dodge Viper, Viper GTS Coupe, Shelby GT, Shelby GR-1, Shelby 1000, and the list goes on. It’s Carroll Shelby in a pictorial history—and some thoughts by Doug Stokes on the passing of Mr. Shelby. Carroll Shelby , January 11, 1923 – May 10, 2012 I had written the story about the recent Cobra reunion at Pomona (see ) with something of a heavy heart. The word about Mister Shelby had been “not good” for a few months prior, he was never scheduled to be at the gathering, and nothing that was said at the event in public or private that would work for me to change that sad diagnosis. Next come the words that don’t fit well in my head: Carroll Shelby died.

Carroll Shelby at the Riverside Times Grand Prix, 1962
Carroll Shelby talks to Bill Krause at the Riverside Times Grand Prix, 1962

Trying to go any further, I realize that virtually anything that I write about Carroll Shelby and his automotive adventures would sound like some sort of hyperbole, some sort of continuation of the myth-making. So I won’t be telling any “Shelby Stories” here, those you’ll be reading until reading ceases to be used. The legends are legion and the truth is just as unbelievable. My personal truth is that I believe that Shelby had mystical powers to read the future. How else would he have the intestinal fortitude to do what he did if he wasn’t cock-sure of what he was to become. How else would he have had the sort of clear vision that anyone else would seem to be bordering on insanity. How else could he have had the self-contained self-confidence to hitch a flimsy English teapot of a car to a star and then leap on behind for the ride? I just talked to a dear friend (same age as me, 70) who also grew up in Southern California and who remembers the Texan quite well. We both were shocked and saddened by his death, but we both agreed how very lucky we were to have watched him race and to have been able to interact with him for all these years on a personal basis.

Carroll Shelby and 3 Cobras in 1963
Shelby with the 3 Cobra roadsters that would win the 1963 USRRC Manufacturer\'s Championship

Shelby was as real as they come, genuine, courtly, smart, and honestly appreciative of people. He was also a person who knew how to handle a persona better than just about anyone I’ve ever known. He type-cast himself early-on and never strayed far from his chosen character. Even in his younger days he was “Ol Shel” to many of us … the father figure that we would have all loved to have. You’ll be hearing some unbelievable tales about Carroll Shelby shortly. Believe them … Doug Stokes

Carroll Shelby and the 1964 289 Cobra
Carroll Shelby poses with the 1964 production Cobra and Cobra race car

Key moments in the history of Carroll Shelby 1952: Shelby enters first race at the wheel of a Ford-powered hot rod 1956 and 1957: Carroll Shelby is named Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine 1959: Shelby wins the 24 Hours of LeMans piloting an Aston Martin 1962: Shelby tests his first Ford-powered AC 260 Roadster – the car that became the Shelby Cobra. 1962: Shelby-American begins operations in Venice, Calif. Cobra production begins 1964: Ford asks Shelby to develop a high-performance Mustang derivative 1965: Shelby GT350 is introduced 1965: Ford hires Shelby-American to oversee GT40 program 1965: Hertz begins buying GT350H versions for its “rent-a-racer” program 1966: Ford GT40 Mark II wins Le Mans. First 1967 Shelby GT500s delivered 1967: Ford and Shelby-American win Le Mans, again. 1968 Shelby Mustang convertibles debut 1968: 1969 model year production begins 1969: Shelby Mustang production ends 1970: Ford and Shelby end their long-term racing agreement 1970: Carroll Shelby co-founds the International Chili Championship in Terlingua, Texas 1983: Dodge Shelby Charger becomes the first of several cars that Shelby designs for Dodge. 1991: The first Dodge Viper reaches production. Carroll Shelby was heavily involved in the design 1992: Shelby's Dodge Viper R10 production begins 1996: The Dodge Viper GTS Coupe reaches production 1999: 249 Shelby Series 1 sports cars produced - the only Shelby built from the ground up 2001: Carroll Shelby is invited by Ford to consult on GT40 Concept 2002: Ford green-lights production of Ford GT 2003: Ford invites Shelby to collaborate on a concept car that pays homage to original Shelby Cobra 2004: Ford Shelby Cobra Concept premiered at the NAIAS 2004: Ford asks Shelby to consult on a follow-up concept. 2004: Ford unveils Shelby GR-1 Concept 2006: Shelby GTH debuts at New York Auto Show 2007: GT500 name debuts 2008: First 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR rolls off the line on Carroll Shelby’s 85th birthday. 2008: Shelby fields factory race team for the first time since 1969 2011: Debut of 662-horsepower, 631-lb.-ft. 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 2012: Debut of 950-horsepower Ford Shelby 1000 To read Doug’s report “The Ford-Shelby-Cobra 50-Year Reunion”, click here.

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