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