Complete Guide To Carroll Shelby
Since the beginning of Ford Motor Company in 1903, Henry Ford was always pushing the envelope of what was capable of making cars go faster. His ingenuity that brought Ford got involved in racing as early as the first five years of the company. It establishes Ford as a company that was not only built on innovation and sophistication but a company that thrived on competition. Fast-forward to the 1930s; the Ford 2-door coupe was the original vehicle that helped start the hod rod age. Teenagers and automotive enthusiasts alike would always try to find new ways to improve their hot rod in giving it more horsepower, torque, and style. Due to this civilian innovation, Ford was one of the first companies to take notice of this quickly work towards creating more potent V8 American muscle throughout the Ford lineup.
Unfortunately, due to the World War II outbreak, Ford was unable to continue its innovation of making more potent vehicles for hot rodders to take to new levels. Due to the change of technologies found through WWII, Ford was able to take this and implement it into civilian automobiles. Over the next fifteen years, Ford would create some of the most potent vehicles, including the Crown Victoria and Ford Five-Hundred, which exemplified the foundations to help create the age of performance and racing for Ford Motor Company. Throughout the history of Ford, many individuals have become synonymous with the brand, but no one is more important to Ford racing and performance than Carroll Shelby!
Shelby's Early Life
Born in rural Leesburg, Texas, Shelby grew in a town with only about 200 people strong. He would move on up to Dallas, Texas, to grow into his teenage years where he would go onto graduate high school and then, after that, would join the United States Air Force in 1941, which he would service during WWII. After the war ended in 1945, he and his new bride Jeanne Fields would return to Dallas, opening up a dump truck business while having two kids with Jeanne.
After a very unsuccessful try at farming and the dump truck industry, he would turn his focus on putting all his effort towards pursuing his lifelong passion for speed and performance. Unfortunately, Shelby was bankrupt, having to feed and raise two children while still providing for his wife. It made it very difficult to pursue this dream. Despite all this hardship, it didn’t phase Carroll one bit as he would now do whatever it humanly took to pursue the life of becoming a world-renowned racecar driver.
Shelby The Racer
Heading into the 1950s, Shelby was determined to get a seat to start his racing career no matter what it took. At first, he was trekking down the quarter-mile in 1952 with a fully built Ford hot rod with a modified Ford V-8. Carroll loved the thrill of big horsepower and getting down the quarter-mile as fast as possible. Only one issue remained: he knew he had more talent to get into road course racing and work his way to the big leagues of motorsports. After some hard and using wit, Shelby eventually got his first ride into road racing in an MG-TC, which won him his first-ever road race.
After Carroll received his first break in road racing, he would go onto becoming a driver that would make a name for himself around the world of professional motorsports. Most notably, he would impress Aston Martin, two years into his racing career he would go onto to finish top ten in a thousand kilometers in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It helped put Shelby on the map of one of the premier drivers around the world. Due to this consistent success on the track, Aston Martin decided to pick him up as one of their premier drivers for races like the 24 hours of Le Mans and British grand touring races.
Unfortunately, hardship struck Carroll again; in February of 1960, he started to develop a heart condition which at first were just chest pains. But after a physical from his physician, he was diagnosed with irregular heart issues. Just as Shelby’s determination and passion, he wouldn’t back down from racing to fulfill his life’s passion. Due to the cardiovascular problems, he was forced to retire from formal racing at the age of only thirty-seven years old.
Becoming An American Autmotive Icon
Coming into the 1960s, Shelby was still dealing with the fact that he couldn’t formally race in the world of motorsports and racing. Just as he was in his racing career, he set forth on a mission to create a brand and company that would challenge Chevrolet, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Porsche. He would start by building the powerhouse that Shelby is today by making a two-sided company that would be Shelby American, which would build performance vehicles and the other creating a high-performance driving school.
Based in Southern California, where Shelby could race year-round due to the constant sunshine and excellent climate. Shelby’s facility would house the now world-renowned performance company that it has become today. Using his vision of stuffing a monster American V8 into a European sports car body, Carroll would go to sleep one night and dream of the word Cobra and the venomous snake as he woke up to get down the vision he had for the behemoth it is known today. With a clear vision for what his first entirely built Shelby vehicle, he got to work with his team to develop the Cobra roadster. To get the namesake and the company off the ground floor, Shelby would need a lot of help; luckily in 1963, he struck gold when a British automaker required help. Shelby learned that he could take advantage of this one in a lifetime opportunity. He then proceeded to make a deal with A/C Cars when they were on the decline due to the Bristol Six Cylinder engine benign on the deterioration of business and production.
During the next few years, Shelby and his team would need to make significant headway as they received the rights and components to take over A/C Cars. During this time, they only had the body to start with and could develop the chassis, but at the same time, they needed a powertrain. Turning to Lee Iacocca and persuading him, he allocated a bundle of 289 Cubic Inch Ford V8 engines to power the Cobra. He began a never-ending surge forward that would put him into the history books of American automotive culture and prowess. Leading into the mid-1960s, he would go onto creating vehicles like the Shelby Cobra 427, Ford GT Mark I, and Shelby Daytona Coupe.
These engineering and designing lessons would have Ford calling on him to lead the charge to take down Ferrari after the deal went south when Ford tried to purchase Ferrari from the man himself in Enzo Ferrari. Henry Ford II set out to spend whatever money and resources to bring down the most dominant manufacturer in motorsports at that time in the 24 hours of Le Mans. Ford and Shelby cemented a name together that is just as synonymous as apple pie and America. All while doing this, he would be simultaneously developing the Mustang to form mule to racehorse in the 1965 Shelby GT350 & GT350R.
After much trial and error at Le Mans, Ford and Shelby finally came up with the Ford GT MKII that would stuff the NASCAR 427 big-block V8 into the Le Mans racecar. Ironing out all the headaches, mistakes, and miscues, they could wipe the floor with Ferrari in 1966 in a 1,2,3 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans cementing a racing pedigree that still stands very strong to this very day. Due to these events, Shelby and Ford could kick off the remaining decade of unbridled performance, style, and functionality.
The Legacy Of Carroll Shelby
For Shelby and Ford, the 1960s was a decade of triumph and perseverance through many obstacles both companies had to overcome to achieve the unthinkable. Since then, enthusiasts have become accustomed to the legacy of unbridled American muscle and performance that these two titans made together. After the 1960s, something happened where the two would split off from one another for the next forty years. During this time, Shelby would venture off to do other projects with Dodge in creating the next evolution of what he thought the Cobra could be in modern form. It would become known as the Dodge R/T Viper; this behemoth would carry a drivetrain of Texas-size displacement and horsepower in an 8.0L V10 producing 450 horsepower.
Luckily for Mustang and Shelby fans, Alan Mulally would finally get the team back together to bring the Shelby GT500 back to showrooms all across America in 2007. Exactly forty years after the original GT500 was launched back in 1967. It would be the first time that Ford and Shelby worked directly together on a project since the legendary years of the 60s. Using lessons learned from the mighty 2005 and 2006 Ford GT supercar paying tribute to the original Le Man winning Ford GT MKII. The 2007 Shelby GT500 would use the same formula that Carroll always used to create his unbridled American performance icons.
Over the next seven years, Ford and Shelby would inject more venom and sophistication than any Shelby models to come before. During this time, enthusiasts would see the progression of the GT500 to greater heights than ever before. It all culminated in 2013 when Shelby worked with Ford to create the most sinister of the S197 GT500s. With a monstrous 5.8L Eaton Supercharged V8 making 662 horsepower and 635 lb/ft of torque Shelby finally had a dream come true of taking a Mustang to over 200 miles per hour. It culminated the more than fifty decades of success with Ford to bring the most powerful production Shelby ever to be built.
Unfortunately, it would be his last collaboration with Ford Motor Company as Carroll passed away in 2012. During this year, everyone at Ford and the Mustang community was hit hard by the news, including us here at Steeda. Shelby left a legacy of American performance, passion, achievement, and accomplishments that will only be able to be accomplished once in a generation throughout the automotive industry. He cemented a legacy in which he created unbridled all-out American performance, sophistication, and style. Whether it was the Cobra 427, Daytona Coupe, Ford GT, Shelby GT350, Shelby GT500, or the Dodge Viper, he was always focused on putting American innovation and sophistication the world stage. This mindset is what helped create the most ferocious and venomous GT500 ever to be built in the 2020 Shelby GT500 with 760 horsepower; it is no doubt that Carroll would be incredibly proud of this next generation of Cobra power.
Image Credit: Ford Motor Company, Shelby American, Bodie Stroud Industries