The Incredible Legacy of Carroll Shelby

1967 Shelby Cobra

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.

1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350

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?


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  1. Randy what era did you grow up in? I guess it is against the law to be a success and build ones own name. Carroll Shelby’s name is his as much as his acomplishments are also his and there are many. Randy have you ever rode in either a 1965 Shelby GT 350 or 1967 Shelby GT 500 KR? I have and they are unreal in their outstanding performance. The Omni and the Lancer were dud’s but the Cobra, Shelby GT 350, GT 500 KR, GT 500, GT 40, and all the new Shelby’s are still a force to be reconed with in all applications that they are applied too. R.I.P. ye old chicken farmer and God if you will send another to replace him….@ Randy

  2. Sorry to see Carroll depart. As with most eulogies, you hit the high points and avoid the lows. I think Shelby’s biggest negative was that he was willing to slap his name on just about anything, and his legacy with Chrysler and Ford left behind dozens of dull, insipid loud muffler and stripes “performance” cars like the Omni GLH and Shelby Lancer, and many, many dud versions of Shelby Mustangs as well as really good ones. Even though the A/C was someone elses’ car, I think the original series of Cobras one of the high points in 1960’s front engine/rear drive 2 seaters, which really did a lot to drive GM to improve the suspension and handling of their Corvette. Shelby also remains one of the most prolific of after market/factory label builders with many thousands of Mustang GT’s and Cobras around.

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