Shelby’s Gone. Any More Like Him?

Shelby with a Ford GT40

Shelby and the Ford GT40

Caroll Shelby (1923-2012), whom tgriffith wrote about today, was one of the last true Car Guys. There just won’t be any more like him.

Here’s why. Shelby’s career began with sports-car racing, and there he made his greatest mark. He could never have created the Cobra or the muscle cars that followed had he not raced for Aston Martin, Maserati, and finally won Le Mans as driver, constructor and team manager—the only person ever to do that.

That was the great era of sports-car racing—the late ‘50s-early ‘60s—when the sport had a very big following and a bunch of grand individualists. Pete Lyons offers this tidbit in his tribute to Shelby:

“Old Man Ferrari offered me a job and I said, ‘Well, Mr. Ferrari, I have a family, three children, what kinda money?’ He says, ‘Oh, it’s an honor to drive for Ferrari.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I can’t afford the honor.’ And I had a deal with John Wyer, anyway, and I had another deal with Maserati. I had a choice of four or five different offers. So I turned Ferrari down.”

Carroll Shelby in an AC Ace

Shelby in the AC Ace

Shelby also drove briefly in Formula 1 before heart problems forced him to quit. Then he started building cars. An old friend of mine had an AC Ace, the car that became the Cobra. It was a pretty typical British sports car of that era, around 1961. I also briefly drove a Cobra, one of the later 427 cars, and that was a whole new ballgame.

Shelby got a new heart, got into all kinds of businesses and crazy ventures, fought bitterly with Ford when they let him go, fought with a lot of people, was kind of a con man, certainly a super salesman. People loved him because of his style as much as his accomplishments.

Like our commenter Randy (on tgriffith’s post), I don’t have much respect for his attempts to muscle up some really inferior cars. The Shelby Mustang has gone on so long that it’s become (to some of us) a joke.

But when he won both Daytona and Le Mans in 1965 with the GT40, that hit home with a lot of people as a magnificent accomplishment. And it was.

There won’t be any more Shelbys, because the car biz isn’t relying on racing anymore. It relies on developing self-driving cars (Google’s Prius just got a driver’s license in Nevada), artificial environments full of infotainment tech, and even artificial sounds.

The new Focus ST has a bunch of synthesized/amplified engine and exhaust noises to make it sound like a performance car. I wonder what Carroll would say about that.

Do you think sports cars (at least those that most people can afford) will ever become exciting again to a wide audience?

—jgoods

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  1. tgriffith
    | #1

    Well said, jgoods. I think you’re right. The guys like Shelby are gone. Love or hate what he did with cars, he did it with passion and skill and created something I don’t think we’ll ever see again.

  2. Randy
    | #2

    You know, might just be time for us, as a civilization, to move forward and stop worshiping cars and start using them for what they are supposed to be– something to get us from point a to point b. It was fun while it lasted, but we should remember some real words of wisdom…. “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” I think in many cases, the lack of interest in cars of the younger generation is a very good thing.

  3. Robbie
    | #3

    Randy :
    You know, might just be time for us, as a civilization, to move forward and stop worshiping cars and start using them for what they are supposed to be– something to get us from point a to point b. It was fun while it lasted, but we should remember some real words of wisdom…. “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” I think in many cases, the lack of interest in cars of the younger generation is a very good thing.

    Sir I get decent gas milage and my car is very clean on emiss matter of fact all three of my cars are in excellent running condition and they are performance enhanced Street Rods that always gather attention where ever they go. I will bet that if you asked ten people at the mall in my age group of 55- 60 about cars they would not have any interest in them either kind of like the younger generation of today and always. Automobiles are interesting to some people who like Shelby stood out in the crowd and I bet he influenced the building of 25000 +/- cars in his lifetime yet the Automakers of the day produce more than that everyday. What I am saying is that do not group me in your group with “YOUR” words of wisdom because not everyone thinks the same as you. I need to drive a auto for basic transportation and to enjoy as I see fit, but I worship the Lord our God who art in heaven not the car I drive.

  1. | #1
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