Racer, entrepreneur Shelby dies at 89
When heart problems forced Shelby out of racing in 1960, he focused on design and manufacturing.
Carroll Shelby, larger-than-life racer, automaker, marketer and entrepreneur whose name is synonymous with speed, died Thursday, May 10, at 89.
An East Texan car dealer and chicken rancher who started racing part-time, Shelby reached his race-car driving pinnacle in Europe as part of a team that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. But after a heart condition forced his racing retirement in 1960, he turned his attention full-time to race car design and auto manufacturing.
Shelby had cut his teeth in manufacturing with fellow Texans Jim and Dick Hall by making a handful of "Scaglietti Corvettes" from the General Motors roadster. In the 1960s he approached GM about buying Chevy small-block V-8 engines to mate with British AC Ace chassis. GM turned him down.
So in 1962, Shelby cut a deal with Lee Iacocca at Ford Motor Co. to get the engines and cash to build what Shelby renamed the AC Cobra, a light and powerful road racer that took European and American tracks by storm.
At Ford's request, Shelby took on another team of factory-built Ford GTs. In 1965, Shelby won the FIA sports car championship. In 1966, the GTs won the overall Le Mans championship and a class win in the Cobra Daytona Coupe, making Shelby the only man to win Le Mans as a driver, team owner and manufacturer.
Shelby turned out Shelby 289 and 427 Cobras, and a series of Ford Mustang-based Shelbys for Ford.
In 1982, Shelby again joined Iacocca, then head of Chrysler, and turned out a series of high-powered K-car derivatives.
Despite multiple heart surgeries and later, heart and kidney transplants, Shelby never lost his entrepreneurial spirit, with dozens of licensing and hands-on ventures. Most were muscle car ventures and speed equipment, but he also had his own line of chili fixings.
Shelby American Inc. in Las Vegas continues to build "continuation" Shelby Cobra vehicles.
Shelby received the 2011 Keith Crain/Automotive News Lifetime Achievement Award at the Washington Auto Show.
Keith Crain, Automotive News editor-in-chief, said at the time: "If ever there was an icon in our industry, Carroll Shelby is it. He has been the driving force behind putting power and performance in great American cars and thereby representing our industry throughout the world, both on the race track and the highway."
In a statement, Edsel B. Ford II, said: "Today, we have lost a legend in Ford Motor Company's history, and my family and I have lost a dear friend. Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognized names in performance car history, and he's been successful at everything he's done.
"Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene or building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him. He was a great innovator whose legend at Ford never will be forgotten."
Besides cars, Shelby also had interests in ranching, real estate development, hotels and food production.
He is survived by his three children, Patrick, Michael and Sharon; his sister, Anne Shelby Ellison; six grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and his wife, Cleo. Funeral plans were not finalized. The family requests donations to the Carroll Shelby Foundation in lieu of flowers.
You can reach Jesse Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org.