Carroll Shelby 1923-2012
Photo courtesy of the Ford Motor Company.
Today, the Cobra has been silenced.
Carroll Shelby was a legend amongst those who found another 50 or so horsepower underneath the hood. He knew his way around a sports car as he did behind the wheel of one in battle on the track.
Shelby leaves behind a legacy of powerful machinery dating beyond the 50-year mark – the AC Cobra included. The core of the Cobra is Ford's massive 427 cubic-inch V8 that was dropped in a very light British-made roadster. Shelby brought Mustangs into his shop and developed some of the most astounding cars ever made. These extra special ponies were simply a cut above even the fastest factory Mustang in the showroom.
Why should we remember Shelby? Frankly, no one has ever done it like him. Some do – in their own way. But, Shelby brought a trove of knowledge and understanding what a car can and cannot do with a massive amount of performance. This came from his time as a race driver in the late 1950s, participating in Formula One and sports car racing circuits. His health got the better of him in October 1959 and he decided to concentrate on building and modifying cars.
While the Cobra created a buzz among global sports car enthusiasts, Shelby went to work on the Mustang and Ford’s entry into the endurance racing circuit – the GT40.
In the 1980s, Lee Iacocca remained friends with his old tuner friend. As Chairman of Chrysler, Iacocca brought in Shelby to tune up some of its small front-wheel drive models. It began on the Omni/Horizon chassis with the Dodge Charger coupe spawning the turbocharged Shelby Charger. It did not take long for Shelby to graft the Omni GLH, Chrysler's answer to the global hot hatch trend. To add to the mystique of this hatch, Shelby bought the last 500 of the GLH to create the GLHS – good for 175 horsepower from a specially tuned 2.2litre turbocharged engine.
Shelby is known for consulting on series production vehicles. The original Dodge Viper was envision with the help of Shelby working with the Chrysler team involved in creating in what is seen as the modern version of the AC Cobra. He even lent his name to various projects involving Ford and GM. The last of them was the rebirth of the Shelby GT-H in 2006 re-creating the fastest rental car in the world for Hertz out of the retro-designed Mustang. His name continues to grace the most powerful products in the Ford lineup – the Mustang Shelby GT500.
There are probably many stories to conjure up about this Texan – a maestro of performance automobiles. However, Shelby offered up this coda for us all: "I don't care if anybody remembers me. But we've built some hot rods I don't think people are going to forget."
Sorry, Mr, Shelby, but we'll remember you, the AC Cobra, the Mustang Cobras and your fantastic Chryslers of the 1980s and 1990s. We will remember you Texas-size personality and heart – an your humor. You made my own automotive life full by your creations. Long may you run! Rest in peace.