The racing world lost a legend Thursday night in Dallas as Carroll Shelby passed away after a lengthy illness at the age of 89. Shelby was best known for his design work on such high-performance autos as the Shelby Cobra, Mustang GT350/GT500, Ford GT and Dodge Viper.
Shelby was an accomplished racer in the 50s, driving for Aston Martin, Maserati and Cad-Allard. In 1959, he teamed with Roy Salvadori to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in an Aston Martin DBR1/300. He was named Sports Illustrated’s racer of the year in 1956 and 1957 and drove in Formula One during the 1958 and 1959 seasons for Maserati and Aston Martin.
After retiring from racing in 1959, he founded the Shelby-American company which would later produce the famous Shelby Cobra. In the early 60s, Shelby partnered with AC Motors of England to outfit one of their AC Ace roadsters with a larger V8 engine. Chevrolet was first approached to provide the engines, but would decline to prevent competition with the Corvette. After trying several different engines, 1965 saw Ford provide Shelby with a long-stroke, small-bore 428 cubic inch V8s that the Cobras are most well-known for today.
In the early 80s, at the behest of Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, Shelby would design the Shelby Charger and Omni GLH for Dodge. In the early 90s, he would work with Bob Lutz, Tom Gale and Francois Castaing to develop the Dodge Viper. His racing and engineering experience helped make the Viper as light and as powerful as possible.
In the late 90s, Shelby would venture out on his own, this time partnering with Oldsmobile to produce the Shelby Series 1 roadster. It was the only Shelby-branded car that he completely designed from the ground up. It made extensive use of lightweight materials, including an aluminum frame, aluminum honeycomb floor boards and carbon fiber body panels. Power came from the 4.0L “Aurora” engine from Oldsmobile and was offered in naturally aspirated and supercharged versions. The car was only produced in 1999 with a total of 249 being completed. Federal crash regulations and poor backing from the failing Oldsmobile brand contributed to the car’s failure.
In the early 2000s, Shelby would return to Ford as a consultant on the new Ford GT project and the GT500. His name would also headline the new Shelby GT500 and will live on with the new Shelby GT350 that debuts in 2012 and the GT1000 option which will consist of two packages; a 950hp “street” version and a track version that produces an amazing 1100hp.
Shelby was also a well-known chili enthusiast. He founded the Terlingua International Chili Championship in Terlingua, Texas and marketed a popular chili mix that included a short story about his chili cooking during race days and depicted a large black hat for which he was well-known for.