The Shelby Mustang is a high-performance version of the celebrated Ford Mustang, built by Shelby American and founder Carroll Shelby. The venture began in 1962 exclusively to build specialty parts and modified cars for the well-off. The company was based in Santa Fe Springs, California (1962) and Venice, California (1962–1967). Located at 1042 Princeton Drive in what’s today considered Marina del Rey, but back then, known as Venice. The ultimate muscle car manufactured near the world’s most legendary muscle beach. Coincidence?
The 1965 and 1966 GT350 bodies were delivered from Ford’s San Jose assembly plant painted Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue rocker stripes. Yep, everyone and their 80-year-old grandma can picture it.
During Shelby’s years in Venice, the Cobra won the 1965 World Sportscar Championship, beating Ferrari and becoming the first American constructor to do it.
A lifelong car-lover, auto designer, racer and entrepreneur, Shelby started as an amateur, like most of us do. His first race was in a friend’s MG TC and a borrowed Cad-Allards. Years later he claimed the combo of the small English Allard and American V-8 power inspired his creation of the AC Cobra.
Through his racing accolades, he was invited to drive for the Aston Martin and Maserati factory teams in the mid-to-late ’50s. This led to the 1958 12 Hours of Sebring in an Aston Martin DBR1/300 and a supercharged Austin-Healey 100S where he set 16 U.S. and international speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
In a special Ferrari 375 GP roadster, he drove in the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race to a victory and a record run of 10:21.8 seconds.
In 1956 and 1957, it was no surprise when Shelby was named Sports Illustrated’s driver of the year.
In the next few years, he participated in Formula One and eight World Championship races and several non-championship races
But the highlight of his race driving career was in 1959, when he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans co-driving an Aston Martin DBR1. During the race he was intrigued by the performance of an English GT car built by AC Cars, known as the Ace. The AC Ace became the basis for the AC Cobra three years later.
That was the same year he retired from driving, citing health reasons. He opened a high-performance driving school as well as the Shelby-American company, still spoken of with reverence almost 60 years later.
He imported the AC Cobra (known as the Shelby Cobra), a popular British Sports racing car manufactured by AC Motors of England, which had been fitted with a Ford V8 in place of its standard AC six, Ford Zephyr or 2-liter Bristol engine, at Shelby’s request.
Ford hired Shelby in the mid-60s to boost the performance of the Mustang, but by the 1970s he switched gears turning to other endeavors. Although he parted ways with Ford, he remained influential with the company for many years, and helped develop performance cars with divisions of the two other Big 3 American companies, Dodge, and later with Oldsmobile on a lightweight, high-powered car.
As the years passed, Shelby started and stopped a series of projects building Cobras with “leftover” parts and frames. In the 1960s, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile required racing entrants to produce at least 100 cars to go through the approval process in order to comply with racing rules and regulations. Shelby miscount and skipped a large block of VIN IDs, creating the illusion the company had imported large numbers of cars. Decades later in the 1990s, Carroll claimed he found the “leftover” frames, and began selling cars which were supposedly “completed.”
After it was discovered the cars were built from scratch, they were re-termed “continuation” Cobras. These cars continue to be built to this day, known as the current CSX4000 series of Cobras.
Shelby was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992, the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1992, the Diecast Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2013.
Shelby is more than a car buff. His entrepreneurial spirit drove him to sell a chili fixings kit, several packets of spices in a miniature brown paper bag (now sold in a box). On the side of the bag is a story shared by Shelby about cooking chili during his racing days. A self-admitted chili fanatic, he was a founder of the Terlingua International Chili Championship in Terlingua, Texas.
In 1967, he marketed a men’s grooming product called the “Carroll Shelby’s Pit-Stop… a Real Man’s Deodorant.” And later developed the Donzi Shelby 22 GT, a 22-foot speedboat based on Donzi’s classic line of boats in collaboration with Carroll Shelby.
In 2008 Shelby was rightly awarded the 2008 Automotive Executive of the Year Award.
He later established the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation to pay the bills of children with heart disease whose families couldn’t afford treatment. Shelby himself received a heart transplant in 1990, and a kidney transplant in 1996. He died in 2012 at the age of 89 after decades of suffering from a serious heart ailment.
A big-budget film depicting the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari at Le Mans is in the works at Twentieth Century Fox. The movie stars Christian Bale. Carroll Shelby will be played by Matt Damon. Shooting is expected to begin this summer and is set for 2019 release.
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