Carroll Shelby and Edsel Ford II at the 2011 SEMA Show

“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. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.” said Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors of Ford Motor Company and great-grandson of Henry Ford.

Way back when we used to game for the fun of gaming, when using cheat codes wasn’t uncool, ‘how do you turn this on‘ was a much loved phrase when playing Microsoft’s Age of Empires II. That was the cheat code that spawned the massively violent AC Cobra in the game. I remember my brother and I using this code often to spawn hordes of these cars just to listen to the looped snippet of the roar of the car. I’m not really sure if that was even the actual roar of a V8, but it sure did make my childhood that much better.

Carroll Shelby at the wheel of a new Cobra production car in 19631962 Shelby Cobra

Carroll Shelby at the wheel of a new Cobra production car in 1963, 1962 Shelby Cobra

Shelby’s first Ford derivatives were the legendary Cobras and Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s. In 1962, Shelby used a Ford powered engine in his second ever race. This car was the first mockup for the Cobra, an AC Ace 260 Roadster powered by the Ford V8 that would soon become the Shelby Cobra. Shelby-American begins operations in Venice, California.The Cobra production begins. 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. The Cobra had a one-ton weight advantage over the Corvette.

Carroll Shelby with the 3 Cobra roadsters that would win the 1963 USRRC Manufacturer's Championship in 1963Carroll Shelby poses with his new 1964 production Cobra and his new Cobra race car.

Carroll Shelby with the 3 Cobra roadsters that would win the 1963 USRRC Manufacturer's Championship in 1963, Posing with his new 1964 production Cobra and his new Cobra race car

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.

1965 Shelby Mustang GT3501966 Shelby GT350H

1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, 1966 Shelby GT350H

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 integrated spoiler.

Carroll Shelby at the 1966 24 Hours of LeMansCarroll Shelby (center far right) confers with Ken Miles (black helmet) & Denis Holme (white helmet) during a routine pit stop

In January 1965 Ford hired Shelby to lend his expertise to the GT40 campaign. Ford had already participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans the previous year, but none of the three cars that started finished. Shelby swapped the engine for the more reliable 7-liter stock car engine in what would come to be known as the Ford 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. In 1967 Ford and Shelby-American win Le Mans, again in the GT40 Mark IV.

Caroll Shelby with the race winning Ford Mark IV in 1967

Caroll Shelby with the race winning Ford Mark IV in 1967

In 1967 the new GT500, was unveiled with a big-block V8 making 355 horsepower. More than 2,000 of those 428-cubic-inch Mustangs were delivered that first model year. In 1968 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, due to slowing sales, the final Shelby Mustangs built for 1969 were updated to 1970 spec and sold. This was also the year when Shelby and Ford ended their racing agreement.

While on a West Coast testing trip, Neil Hannemann shows one of the first Ford GT prototypes to Carroll Shelby - one of his racing heroes and mentors.

While on a West Coast testing trip, Neil Hannemann shows one of the first Ford GT prototypes to Carroll Shelby - one of his racing heroes and mentors.

The years spent at Chrysler

1987 Shelby ChargerShelby GLHS 1987

When Lee Iacocca, known for engineering the Mustang moved to Chrysler, Carrol Shelby went with him. He started with a Dodge Charger 2.2 to bring to the market the 1982 Dodge Shelby Charger. An aggressive front fascia with lip spoiler, lower body-side sills, large 15-inch aluminum wheels with wide Goodyear Eagle GT tires, heavy-duty shocks, sport springs, one-piece rear-quarter window, color-keyed bucket seats with Carroll Shelby’s famed “CS” logo, center floor console and repositioned brake and accelerator pedals for heel-toe shifting. Under the hood, the 2.2-liter engine featured a higher compression ratio, wider cam, free-flow exhaust system and an optimized engine controller good for 13 more horsepower (107 compared to 94) and 10 more lb-ft of torque (127 compared to 117). Finishing off this special model was Carroll Shelby’s race colors: silver exterior paint with blue accent decals or blue exterior paint with silver accent decals.

For the 1985 model year, the Dodge Shelby Turbo Charger featured more athletic exterior styling, multi-port fuel injection, low-restriction performance exhaust and the availability of a 2.2-liter turbocharged engine with 7.5 psi of boost. The Dodge Charger 2.2 also received more power as its 2.2-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder was boosted to 110 horsepower.

The last year of the hatchback-based Dodge Charger was the 1987 model year. Similar to the five-door Dodge Omni GLHS models (Goes Like Hell, Some-more); Carroll Shelby purchased the last 1,000 Dodge Turbo Chargers and converted them into Dodge Shelby Charger GLHS models. These final front-wheel-drive models delivered 175 horsepower, 175 lb-ft of torque and performed 0-to-60 mph runs in less than 7 seconds.

Back with Ford

After nearly three decades, Ford and Shelby came together in March 2001 when Ford invited Shelby on board to consult on a new GT40 Concept. In March 2002 Ford green-lighted production of the Ford GT. In April 2003 Shelby collaborated on a concept car that would pay homage to the original Shelby Cobra. The car was unveiled at the 2004 NAIAS at Detroit.

William Clay Ford Jr. (R) and J Mays, VP, Design and Chief Creative Officer (L) applaud Carroll Shelby (C) following the introduction of the Ford Shelby Cobra Concept January 4, 2004 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan

Ford worked Shelby again in 2004 to give us the modern Ford Shelby GR-1 Concept at Pebble Beach.

Shelby GR-1 Concept

Shelby GR-1 Concept

In 2008, Carroll Shelby’s 85th birthday was marked by the first 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR to roll off the production line. The King of the Road was good for 540 horsepower and was limited to 1000 units. 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, Arizona for $350,000.

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 Racing Years

Carroll Shelby was a designer, engineer and before all that, a racing driver. He 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.

Carroll Shelby may have started late, but in just two years into his driving career, Aston Martin racing manager John Wyer recruited him to co-drive a DB3 at Sebring. Within months, as Ford puts it, ‘the chicken farmer from Texas was bumping elbows and trading paint’ with the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Paul Frère. Driving an Aston Martin DBR1 with Roy Salvadori, he won Europe’s prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959.

Shelby won 16 American and international speed records in a specially smoothed and supercharged Austin Healey 100S and competed in the 1958 and 1959 seasons of Formula One, behind the wheel of a Maserati 250F and then an Aston Martin DBR4-250 reports TopGear.

An ailing heart that troubled Shelby since he was seven put and end to an otherwise stunning racing career. At this point in his life, began the relationship with Ford.

The Future

Likewise, Shelby isn’t planning on doing any more licensing of his name to any manufacturer other than Ford in his lifetime. “I hope to die with Ford,” he said to TopGear. “I am not looking anywhere else.”


The legends went as he wished. What happens to the marque that is Shelby? Shelby American Inc. headquartered in Las Vegas continues to produce the 289 and 427 Cobras and also manufactures around 500 Shelby Mustangs a year. You can also have your Mustang customized by Shelby, do consider the 800bhp Super Snake option for the Shelby GT500! Shelby will work on the engine, bodywork and the chassis to give your car the treatment worthy of the badge ‘Shelby’.

You and I owe this legend much of what we’ve come to love about cars, a list that would include but not be limited to throaty earth shattering bellows from exhausts of muscle cars, striped lines of blue on white and other combinations that make the cars intention clearer than clear and the ‘Cobra’ badge, a symbol that stands tall over most others in the automotive world simply for the awe it inspires in every enthusiast. RIP Carroll Shelby.