Carroll Shelby, Ford Family member for More Than Half a
Carroll Shelby, Automotive Legend Dies
DEARBORN, Mich., May 11, 2012– Carroll Shelby was a member of the Ford
family for the better part of 60 years, producing stunning performance
vehicles from concepts to production models.
He once said his energy and passion for performance products were always
strongest when he was working with Ford.
Shelby most recently collaborated with the company on the 2013 Ford Shelby
GT500 Mustang, the most powerful production V8 in the world. Working with
SVT engineers at Sebring and the Arizona Proving Grounds, at times he
drove for more than eight hours – at the ripe old age of 88. He was having
so much fun, he didn’t want to stop.
The legend begins
Carroll Shelby was nearly 30 years old before he entered his first car
race – a quarter-mile drag meet in 1952. The hot rod he drove to the
finish line that day was powered by a Ford V8.
Shelby’s first Ford derivatives were the legendary Cobras and Shelby
Mustangs of the 1960s. He was heavily involved in the design and
engineering of the Ford Shelby Cobra Concept car unveiled in 2004, and was
a key member of the dream team that built the 2005 Ford GT.
Carroll Shelby may have gotten a late start, but he was a winner from the
beginning. Just two years into his driving career, Aston Martin racing
manager John Wyer recruited him to co-drive a DB3 at Sebring. Within
months, the chicken farmer from Texas was bumping elbows and trading paint
with the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Paul Frčre. Driving an
Aston Martin DBR1 with Roy Salvadori, he won Europe’s prestigious 24 Hours
of Le Mans in 1959.
Early in 1962 Shelby drove his second Ford-powered race car. It was the
first mockup for the Cobra, Shelby’s now-legendary marriage of a
lightweight British roadster body with a small-block Ford V8. By January
1963 he had homologated the car under the FIA’s GT Group III class, and
that month a Cobra won its first race, beating a field of Corvette
Stingrays at Riverside in California.
In January 1965 Ford hired Shelby to lend his expertise to the GT40
campaign. Three cars had run the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, but none
finished. Shelby began installing the more reliable 7-liter stock car
engine in what would come to be known as the GT40 Mark II. It proved
considerably faster than the Mark I, and in just two seasons became a
strong contender.In 1966 the GT40 began a domination of endurance car
racing that would last for four years.
While Ford and Shelby took on Ferrari at Le Mans, at home they fought
Corvette. The first effort was the legendary Shelby Cobra, a Ford-powered,
Shelby-engineered derivative of the AC Ace. The car had a one-ton weight
advantage over the Corvette.
In August 1964 Ford had asked Carroll Shelby to develop a street-legal,
high-performance Mustang to compete against Corvette in SCCA B-production
road racing. By September, California-based Shelby-American had completed
the first Mustang GT350.
The 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 was a fastback production model with a
functional scoop in its fiberglass hood and 306 horsepower from its
289-cubic-inch V8 – an increase of 35 horsepower over the stock engine.
Suspension upgrades included a larger front stabilizer bar, Koni shocks
and rear traction bars, along with race-ready features. It sold for
$4,000, and was instantly recognizable by its Wimbledon White paint and
blue GT350 side stripes.
For 1966 the GT350 came in white, red, black, green and blue, and Hertz
purchased nearly 1,000 special GT350H weekend “rent-a-racers.” In 1967
Shelby Mustangs sported unique fiberglass bodywork that extended the front
end with an aggressive dual scoop and finished the trunk lid with an
But most important in 1967 was the new GT500, a big-block with 355
horsepower. More than 2,000 of those 428-cubic-inch Mustangs were
delivered that first model year.
1968 was when the name “Cobra” was first officially used on a Shelby
Mustang, and that year a convertible bodystyle became available as well.
Although the Shelby Cobra GT350 was essentially unchanged, later GT500s
were powered by the new Cobra Jet 428 engine and thus became GT500KR – for
King of the Road.
For 1969, the penultimate year of the Shelby Mustang, engine choices
included the optional 351 Ram Air, and the bodywork incorporated a total
of nine scoops – five on the hood, one at the front of each fender and one
on each quarter panel. In 1970, with sales slowing, the final Shelby
Mustangs built for 1969 were updated to 1970 spec and sold. The famed run
had come to an end.
It would be more than 30 years before Ford and Shelby worked together
again, and in March 2001 they reunited, with Shelby coming on board to
consult on a new GT40 Concept. In March 2002 Ford green-lighted production
of the Ford GT. Then, in April 2003 Shelby collaborated on a concept car
that would pay homage to the original Shelby Cobra. The car stole the show
the following year at NAIAS.
Ford stoked the passions of enthusiasts again in 2004 with the unveiling
of the modern Ford Shelby GR-1 Concept at Pebble Beach. J Mays, Ford group
vice president for Design, said Shelby’s input was reflected in the car’s
In 2008, Carroll Shelby’s 85th birthday was marked by the first 2008 Ford
Shelby GT500KR to roll off the production line. An exclusive run of only
1,000 units, this King of the Road was a 540-horsepower muscle car.
Shelby, who was actively involved in developing it, said, “I’m always
looking to up the ante when it comes to performance, and bringing back the
King of the Road Mustang is just what we need.”
Carroll Shelby’s last collaboration with Ford was on the 2013 Ford Shelby
GT500, which produces 662 horsepower and 631 lb.-ft. of torque, making it
the most powerful production V8 engine in the world. In January, Shelby’s
one-of-one racetrack durability car was auctioned at Barrett-Jackson in
Scottsdale, Ariz., for $350,000.
Key moments in the history of Carroll Shelby and Ford Motor Company:
1952: Shelby enters first race at the wheel of a Ford-powered hot rod
1962: Shelby tests his first Ford-powered AC 260 Roadster – the car that
would become the Shelby Cobra. Shelby-American begins
operations in Venice, Calif. Cobra production begins
1964: Ford asks Shelby to develop a high-performance Mustang derivative.
First Shelby prototypes are built
1965: Shelby GT350 is introduced. Ford hires Shelby-American to oversee
GT40 program. Hertz begins buying GT350H versions for its
1966: Ford GT40 Mark II wins Le Mans. First 1967 Shelby GT500s delivered
1967: Ford and Shelby-American win Le Mans, again. 1968 Shelby Mustang
1968: 1969 model year production begins
1969: Shelby Mustang production ends
1970: Ford and Shelby end their long-term racing agreement
2001: Carroll Shelby is invited by Ford to consult on GT40 Concept
2002: Ford green-lights production of Ford GT
2003: Ford invites Shelby to collaborate on a concept car that pays homage
to original Shelby Cobra
2004: Ford Shelby Cobra Concept steals the show at NAIAS. Ford asks Shelby
to consult on a follow-up concept. Shelby announces it
will build limited-edition Shelby Ford Expedition. Ford unveils Shelby
2006: Shelby GTH debuts at New York Auto Show
2007: GT500 name debuts
2008: First 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR rolls off the line on Carroll
Shelby’s 85th birthday. Partnering with Ford Racing, Shelby fields
factory race team for the first time since 1969
2011: Debut of 662-horsepower, 631-lb.-ft. 2013 Ford Shelby GT500, the
most powerful production V8 engine in the world
2012: 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 sells at Barrett-Jackson for $350,000