Profile: Carroll Hall Shelby
Carroll Hall Shelby is an East Texan, born on
January 11, 1923 in Leesburg, Texas to Eloise Lawrence and Warren Shelby,
the latter a rural mail carrier. Shelby’s first taste of speed was when he
would ride on the running board of his dad’s Whippet during mail deliveries,
yelling “faster Dad.” The family moved to Dallas, where Carroll graduated
from high school and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He had developed an
interest in flying in high school and served the entire World War II period
in Texas, both as a flight instructor to bomber pilots and test pilot, the
latter involving testing planes that had been repaired.
During the war Carroll got married and welcomed the first of his three
children. Though he did not go to college, during the war they had a special
program to make officers of non-commissioned personnel and he finished the
war with the rank of Second Lieutenant. After the war, Carroll tried a
variety of businesses including running a fleet of dump trucks, working in
the oil fields and raising chickens. He made a profit at first but then over
80,000 of his chickens died of Newcastle's disease. While trying to figure
out what to do next to put bread on the table, Carroll got involved in car
racing. It was just a hobby then because sports car racing didn’t pay in
America where it was regarded strictly as an amateur sport.
It was early in his racing career when Shelby
accidentally developed a memorable image --- he was in a hurry to get to a
race from the farm and didn’t have time to change to his racing suit so he
wore his farmer’s bib overalls in the race and ended up garnering more
publicity than the race winner! Later on, when he started his own car
company, those overalls figured in the early publicity.
He was named "Sports Car Driver of the Year" by Sports Illustrated magazine
in both 1956 and 1957 and one time was featured on the cover. But even
before that, he had been angling to get to Europe because the fact was that
American sports car racing didn’t pay. He wasn’t alone in his ambitions,
because also in Europe from California were his pals, Phil Hill , Dan Gurney
and Ritchie Ginther plus Masten Gregory of St. Louis -- all determined to
get “factory rides” where they would be factory "pilotos" for the factory
making the cars. Hill and Ginther landed spots on the Ferrari team, and Dan
Gurney landed a spot on the Porsche team. Shelby went British, impressing
the head of Aston Martin racing enough to be asked to join the Aston Martin
team. It was while with John Wyer's factory Aston Martin Team that Shelby
scored his biggest success as a driver -- he and British co-driver Roy
Salvadori won the 24-hours of Le Mans in 1959.
Carroll returned to the U.S. in 1960 and was still racing , though it
was becoming harder to disguise a heart ailment that had been with him as a
child. Finally it caught up with him and during one race in the year 1960,
he pulled into the pits, took off his helmet, hung up his gloves and retired
on the spot.
Shelby had been angling to build his own production sports car, and
there were some failed attempts , such as the time he had three Corvettes
rebodied in Italy. He also failed in an attempt to talk Sir Donald Healey
into letting him build Austin-Healeys powered by small block Chevrolet V8s.
Shelby had raced Max Balchowsky's "Ol' Yeller" race car, a pieced together
contraption powered by an old Buick engine, and managed to outrun Ferraris,
so he was convinced that the secret to success for him would be to mate a
lightweight sports car with a powerful race-tuned American V8.
In 1962, during lunch with an editor of Sports Car Graphic, Shelby heard the
news that AC Cars Ltd., in England was discontinuing a sports car called the
Ace-Bristol because they couldn’t get any more Bristol in-line six cylinder
engines. Shelby put that knowledge together with the fact that Ford was
about to produce a lightweight 221-cu. in. V8. He put the two together (with
a 260 cu. in. V8) and created the immortal Cobra. Ford threw in their
support both for manufacturing the cars and for a racing team, and by 1965,
the Cobra factory team won the FIA Manufacturers Grand Touring World
Championship in 1965, the only American car company to ever do so.
During the middle of the Cobra program, Shelby got involved with Ford’s
GT40 racing team and helped Ford secure back to back victories at LeMans in
’66 and ’67. Those victories greatly buoyed the reputation of Ford in
Shelby was a busy man while at Ford. Back in
’65 Ford had asked him to create a more exciting Mustang (the car had made
its debut being marketed as a "secretary's car") and the Shelby GT-350
Mustang was the result. Shelby rented a hanger near LAX airport and for
several years cranked out Shelby Mustangs, most of which are worth over
$100,000 today. In mid-67, production was shifted over to a Michigan
sub-contractor. The original batch of Shelby's ended with the 1970 model
Shelby then retired from the car business and went to Africa to fulfil a
childhood dream of having a game hunting preserve. When he came back to
America, he found his old boss at Ford, Lee Iacocca, had taken over the helm
at Chrysler Corporation, and needed someone, a swashbuckler of sorts, to
bolster the performance image of Chrysler products; and who better than the
'Ole Pirate from Princeton Drive in Venice, CA than Carroll Shelby? The
first efforts were limited to mere stripes and decals on a Dodge but his
operation grew into a "Skunk Works" factory in Whittier, California, where
Shelby's buccaneers transformed Dodge Omnis, Chargers, Lancers, Shadows and
Dakota pickups into pavement rippers from 1986 to 1989. The one Dodge car
that he was involved with that was close to the Cobra in both concept and
performance was the Viper. Shelby even drove it himself as the pace car
driver at the Indianapolis 500, even though he had recently been the
recipient of a heart transplant.
Shelby left Chrysler and once again was involved with ranching, this time in
Texas, but then got into the replica Cobra business, a business which
thrives today, at his factory in Las Vegas.
He also signed back on at Ford in 2002, just as they were preparing to bring
back a retro version of the GT40. The new car, called the Ford GT was sold
as an ’05 and ’06 model and became an instant success (4038 were sold). One
difference between the original GT40 and the new one is that this time Ford
didn't back a racing program. It was strictly competition in the showroom,
with the new Ford GT a direct rival to Ferrari's 360 Modena.
As part and parcel of the deal with Ford, Shelby also began designing new
Shelby Mustangs, the first of which was introduced in 2005. Shelby's new
Shelby Mustangs helped blunt the comeback of both Chevrolet's Camaro and
Today Shelby is 86 years old and still involved in a number of businesses,
from selling racing tires, to being a Ford spokesman. After his two heart
transplants, he vowed to help children with heart problems, and created a
foundation for children with heart problems and more recently began helping
a community college near his birthplace develop a program for training auto
He is still a car collector and has managed, through thick and thin, to
hang on to the first Cobra he ever built, a car which he says he has turned
down $5 million for....
AUTHOR: Wallace A. Wyss
Time Line for Carroll Shelby
Jan. 11, 1923: Carroll Hall Shelby is born in
Leesburg, Texas, to Warren Hall Shelby, a rural mail
carrier, and Eloise Lawrence Shelby.
Shelby begins training at
Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio. On training
missions, Carroll corresponds with his fiancee by dropping
love letters placed in his flying boots onto her farm.
1949: Carroll goes into the chicken raising
business. His first batch of broilers nets a $5,000
profit, but he goes bankrupt when his second group of
chickens die of Limberneck disease.
January 1952: Carroll drives in his first race,
a quarter-mile drag meet, behind the wheel of a hot rod
fitted with a flathead Ford V-8.
May 1952: At Norman, Okla., Carroll drives in
his first road race behind the wheel of an MG-TC, taking
first place in competition with other MGs. The same day,
against hotter competition from Jaguar XK 120s, he wins
November 1954: Carroll Shelby enters the Carrera
Pan Americana Mexico and T-bones a large rock and flips
his Austin-Healey four times. Indians find him and offer
him strong drinks to ease the pain of his broken bones,
cuts, contusions and a shattered elbow.
Shelby continues to race with his
arm in a specially made fiberglass cast and his hand taped
to the steering wheel.
1956: Sports Illustrated names Shelby sports car
driver of the year.
Carroll Shelby Sports Cars opens in
March 1957: Sports Illustrated again names
Shelby “Driver Of The Year.”
Carroll and Ray Salvadori co-drive an
Aston Martin DBR1/300 and win the 24 Hours of LeMans.
Dec. 3-4, 1960: Shelby competes in his last
race, the third annual Los Angeles Times-Mirror Grand Prix
for sports cars and finishes fifth.
1961: He opens Shelby School of High Performance
The name Cobra comes to Shelby in
Shelby-American begins operations at
a shop in Venice, Calif. Shelby creates the original Cobra
January 1963: Dave MacDonald and Ken Miles sign
to drive Cobras for Shelby-American and place first and
second at Riverside, beating the Corvette Stingrays.
The Cobras and Shelby-American win
Europe’s biggest race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
August 1964: Ford asks Carroll Shelby to develop
a high-performance Mustang fastback for street and track.
The first ’65 Shelby Mustang
GT350 race cars and street cars are built.
With Shelby handling the racing
program, Ford’s GT-40 wins its first race at Daytona.
The brand-new ’66 GT350 Shelby
fastbacks go on sale.
Click here for more detail on the 1965/66 models.
June 1966: Henry Ford II watches proudly as a
trio of GT-40 Mark IIs cross the finish line at Le Mans,
The last 427 Cobra Roadster is
August 1969: Shelby begins marketing his famous
October 1969: At Riverside, in the Trans-Am,
Shelby fields his last Ford team race car.
Shelby Automotive Racing Company
Ford ends its long-term racing
agreement with Shelby.
Shelby contracts with Chrysler to
create performance cars based on Dodge products.
1987: Shelby envisions and begins prototype work
on a Dodge sports car that later becomes the “Viper.”
Shelby sues Ford for using GT350 for
its ’84 Anniversary Mustang.
1989: Shelby builds the first Viper chassis
June 1990: Shelby receives the heart of a
38-year-old gambler from Las Vegas in a long-awaited
May 1991: Less than a year after his transplant,
Shelby paces the Indy 500 in a Dodge Viper.
Shelby starts the Carroll Shelby
Children’s Foundation that funds heart transplants for
Oct. 1, 1992: Shelby is elected to the
Automotive Hall of Fame in Detroit.
Dec. 30, 1992: Shelby helps introduce the Viper
concept coupe at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
July 2002: Ford hires Shelby to join “Dream
Team” of designers for new Ford GT super car.
Feb 2004: Ford shows new Shelby Cobra supercar
concept at North American International Auto Show.
Aug 2004: Ford shows new Shelby GT-R
concept car at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
Thursday 12 Aug 04