Carroll Shelby: Chicken farmer.
Carroll Shelby: Chili entrepreneur.
Carroll Shelby: Race driver.
Carroll Shelby: Car designer.
Word spread quickly when the automotive world lost an icon late last week. Of course, car people knew Carroll Shelby as the legend behind the Shelby Cobra and, later, the Shelby Mustang. The one-time chicken farmer had more than a half-dozen successful careers during his long life, though, including racing-team owner, automobile manufacturer, automotive consultant, safari-tour operator, storyteller, chili entrepreneur and philanthropist.
But, of course, it’s the cars that made him a legend.
Shelby first made his name behind the wheel of a car in the 1950s, when he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, among dozens of other races. After his racing career ended in 1960 due to heart problems, the real magic began.
Shelby turned to automotive design. Determined to make the fastest, sexiest sports car ever seen on the roads, he put a Ford V8 engine into a British AC roadster, called it the Shelby Cobra, and invented the modern muscle car. How good was that little experiment? The Cobra is, in my humble opinion, one of the top 10 cars ever built.
The car led to Shelby’s contract with Ford to design a Mustang that could go head-to-head with the Corvette. From that came the 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 and over 45 years of the Shelby/Mustang marriage. Shelby even had a hand in the Ford GT40. It wasn’t an exclusive relationship with Ford, though, as Shelby was also later hired by Chrysler to design a little car known as the Dodge Viper. That’s one impressive legacy for a guy who started his career raising chickens.
Carroll Shelby was a visionary and had the kind of heavy influence rarely seen in the auto industry today. We’ll give him one last salute by asking you:
Which Shelby-inspired car would you most want to own: an original Shelby Cobra, a Shelby Mustang, a Ford GT40 or a Dodge Viper?