Carroll Shelby – the Passing of an American Icon


May 22, 2012 | 12:58 AM

Carroll Shelby – the Passing of an American Icon

Carroll Shelby – the Passing of an American Icon

While a tremendous amount of activity has been occurring in the world, we recently lost a pioneer and patriot to the American automobile industry when Carroll Shelby passed away on May 10, 2012 at 89 years of age.

Shelby embodied so many of the great items of success we have fostered here in America. He was a patriot to his nation in WWII as a “Flying Sergeant” and he followed his passion for speed and was a very successful race car driver for over 10 years. When health prevented his continued driving behind the wheel in racing, Shelby did not sit around and whine – he became a manufacture of high performance cars. Following one’s dream is all about being American.

These were not just any race cars, but the now-legendary Cobra’s. While we may view auto racing as a genuine American sport, the truth is that auto racing was very much the pride of Europe. Carroll Shelby changed that. He set his sights on beating the worlds best (at the time – Ferrari). Shelby teamed up with Ford to provide motors for the British AC body that would become the Cobra. The Cobra was created to de-throne Ferrari and begin to make a name for American racing. Shelby and his team won the FIA Championship in 1965. The next year his GT40 would capture the 24 hours of Le Mans.

To date – Carroll Shelby is the only man to have won the 24 hours of Le Mans as a driver, team owner, and manufacturer….

The Cobra Daytona Coupe that brought home the world championship to US shores sold for over 7 million dollars US in 2011.

Shelby was changing racing and his partnership at Ford brought changes there as well. Ford increased participation in racing in the early 60’s and began to live the notion of “Win on Sunday and sell on Monday”. Ford benefitted from Shelby’s Cobra and GT40 development in its motors for NASCAR and the drag strip. It was during the 60’s that racing – Sebring, drag strips, and NASCAR, began to become the American sports they are today. Carroll Shelby’s influence cannot be overstated.

As the relationship with Ford blossomed, Shelby created the Shelby Cobra Mustangs. The GT350 and GT500 were limited production, beefed up Mustangs with the Shelby flavor of performance. While Ford did not start the muscle car era, they made a dent in it with the Shelby Mustangs.

While the American demographic scene fueled the horsepower wars of the 60’s, putting a 400 plus horsepower beast in the hands of teenagers has problems. With rising insurance costs and the more government regulations , Shelby saw the immediate future in performance cars that met his standards coming to a close. His US operations were scaled back and Shelby sought performance outside the US.

When Lee Iacocca pledged to rebuild Chrysler in 1980, he had a long road ahead of him. Iacocca had been the contact to provide Shelby with the Ford motors for the Cobras and Iacocca needed help. in 1982, Iacocca called upon Shelby to breathe some performance into a woefully plain line of Chrysler products. So, Shelby created the Shelby Charger and the Omni GLH  (goes like hell). Now, having driven these pocket rockets back in the 80’s out of sheer curiosity, these cars screamed! These cars were part of a line up that non only helped Chrysler out of the red and repay their first government loan, but actually put Chrysler back in the profit game.

Shelby would have several great projects and cars over the years, but 2005 marked a reunion with Ford. The Shelby Mustang line was retooled for the modern era of safety, efficiency, and performance. This new line of Mustangs once again placed Ford in a superb light for benefitting from Shelby’s creative performance desires.

When Carroll Shelby died this spring, he was fresh off the re-introduction of the Shelby Mustange GT350. This beast could produce over 600hp, exceed 180 mph, and set track standards against such competitors as Porsche, Corvette, and Lamborghini. He was considering a 1000 hp Shelby Mustang for this year.

Whether he was serving his country as a pilot, bringing America prestige on the European race circuit, influencing vehicle performance the world over, or lending his creative talent to Chrysler to help create jobs; Carroll Shelby was an American patriot and icon.