I'm going to miss that guy
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
I'm going to miss that guy. I didn't get a chance to see Carroll Shelby as much as I would have liked, but I sure enjoyed our conversations. I'd pick up the phone and hear that distinctive Texas drawl of Carroll's, "Keith, how are ya?"
Carroll, who died May 10, loved to gossip. I'd hear from him every week or two, and he always had some nugget that made me laugh. We'd trade tidbits of this or that -- he simply loved to be on the inside. And he was. That was one of the things that made me enjoy hanging around him. He talked to everybody. I sometimes think that was all he did from dawn to dusk. He was on the phone, gossiping with anyone he could.
But he was such a lovable rogue. Shelby could coax a bird out of a tree.
He could sell an icebox to an Eskimo. He had such an infectious charm.
The folks at the Washington Auto Show have been nice enough to allow me to present a Keith Crain/Automotive News Lifetime Achievement Award to anyone I'd like. Last year, I was proud to present it to Carroll. Now, mind you, by then he'd gotten a room full of awards from everyone. I told him that I wanted to give him this award. He simply said, "Hell, I'll be there." And he was. He had to fight through a snowstorm, but he was there, along with several hundred folks. He was good, he was glib, and, as always, he was charming. The year before Ralph Nader got the award, and this year, Roger Penske. They were in good company.
One thing making this auto business so special is it creates Carroll Shelbys. The auto industry was made for Carroll Shelby, and he was made for it.
He was a natural racer, but he was also a guy with big ideas. He never dreamed small. When Chevrolet would not sell him engines for his Cobra, he went to Lee Iacocca at Ford, and the first Cobras were born with little 260-cubic-inch engines to be replaced with 289s and later 427s. Chevrolet didn't want competition for the Corvette; Corvette designer Zora Arkus-Duntov and General Motors President Ed Cole put the kibosh on letting him have engines. It was the best thing that could have happened for Ford. Iacocca gave him $25,000 and a few small-block Ford engines, and we all know what happened after that.
I'm going to miss that guy. He was everyone's friend and the slickest snake-oil salesman I ever met. He'd chuckle when I said that, just quietly smile and tell me not to tell anyone. That's what made him the charmer he was.
The auto industry was a big enough canvas for his dreams. There were plenty of powerful people, and most of them were more than willing to help no matter what the project was.
It was nice to see Carroll back with Ford. They had a falling out for decades, and they finally patched things up. Carroll belonged with Ford. It is where he had his biggest successes.
When he was given the project to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the GT40 after the car's less-than-spectacular debut, he did it with an unlimited budget. Henry Ford told him to do what was necessary to win, and he did. Carroll used to talk about how people were afraid to put their names on the budget. There wasn't one. Once, near the beginning of the race, a windshield cracked and they chartered a 707 and flew seven windshields to Paris from Detroit. No passengers, no other freight, just seven windshields. It was marvelous, it was scary, and it was Shelby.
I'm going to miss that guy.
There have been many larger-than-life characters in the automobile business, some of them good and some of them not so good. Carroll Shelby was good. He's right at the top after well more than 100 years of the car business.
Shelby wasn't a captain of industry. He was a good old boy from Texas who was everybody's friend, and he raced cars, managed race teams and he built a car -- the Cobra.
He himself had a couple of spare parts replaced, and he lived decades longer than he should have lived.
Shelby packed a couple of lifetimes into his life.
I will miss his phone calls.
I'm going to miss that guy.
You can reach Keith Crain at email@example.com.