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Carroll Shelby's Early Days

Carroll Hall Shelby was born in 1923 in Leesburg, in East Texas. As a youngster he sometimes accompanied his Dad, a US. Postal worker, on his route. He had one sister, Lula, who was three years younger than Carroll. Shelby’s interest in automobiles began at a young age. He could not wait to own a car and by age 15 he was driving and caring for his Dad’s two door Ford sedan.

After graduating high school, Carroll Shelby enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. He soon earned his wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant. It was the practice in World War II of the Air Corps to keep the best pilots in the USA to train others. Although Shelby requested it, he never went into combat. His favorite aircraft was the B-26 bomber because it was faster in a straight line than any Japanese, German or Italian fighter planes produced during the war.


Carroll Shelby With Father’s Ford

Carroll could not wait to learn to drive and have a car of his own. When he was 15 he spent so much time with his father’s Ford sedan, he thought of the car as his own.


Second Lieutenant Carroll Shelby

When World War II came along Carroll joined the Army Air Corps. After graduating from flight school as a second Lieutenant in 1942, Shelby flew a variety of aircraft. During his tour of duty, he was assigned to fly a number of bombers, including B-18s, B-25 Mitchells, B-26 Marauders, B-17 Flying Fortresses and finally the Super Fortress B-29s.


1942 Army Air Corps

Carroll Shelby(second from left) with some of his Army Air Corps buddies. Shelby spent three years in the service of his country and was stationed at several bases including ones in Texas and Colorado. He was mustered out in 1945 when the war ended.


Carroll Shelby the Driver

When World War II ended, Carroll mustered out of the Army Air Corps. He started many businesses, but Shelby had a real need for speed. Winning his first race in 1952 in a MG-TC got his road racing career on a fast track. Soon Shelby was driving Ferrari and Maserati sports racing cars. He won 12 races in two years. Impressed by his driving talents, Shelby was invited to join the Aston Martin factory team in 1954

The pinnacle of Shelby’s driving career came in 1959 when he won the crown jewel of international sports cars racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving an Aston Martin. A heart condition caused Shelby to retire from racing in 1960.


Shelby Wins his first race in an MG-TC

In 1952, Carroll Shelby found a way to feed his passion for speed was through road racing. His first race, driving an MG-TC, Shelby won the MG and the Production Car Classes at a race in Texas.


Carroll Shelby’s Family In The Early 1950s

Carroll’s family—daughter Sharon, wife Jeanne, and sons Patrick (L) and Michael (R), appreciated all the races and trophies he won in 1952 and 1953. During those early years Shelby established himself as an up and coming driver with twelve victories. It was just the beginning of what was to become a brilliant international racing career.


1956 With John Edgar’s 857S Ferrari

During the mid and late 1950s, Carroll Shelby drove a variety of sports cars including this 857S Ferrari of wealthy sportsman John Edgar. Shelby also demonstrated his considerable talents behind the wheel of a significant number of other leading sports cars of the day, including Maserati, Jaguar and Aston Martin. He won races from Riverside, California, to Silverstone, England, to Le Mans, France.


The Cobra years

During his international racing career Carroll Shelby drove the fastest and most expensive sports cars of the day. Although obviously fast, the Ferraris, Maserati’s, Aston Martins and Jaguars were very expensive and featured very complex engines.

Shelby was impressed by the speed of these sports cars, but not the unreliable engines that required constant maintenance and repair. With this idea in mind, he wondered why no one in the United States built a sports car that offered European handling and balance with an American V-8 engine that could be easily serviced at any car dealership or independent garage. He began to think of building such a sports car and selling it for half the price of those from European marques. During a dream, he came up with the name for his car, the Cobra.

Carroll Shelby’s idea became reality when he learned that AC Cars in Great Britain lost the engine supplier for their Bristol sports car. Shelby contacted AC Cars and told them his idea. They were enthusiastic and told him to reach back out when he had an engine manufacturer lined up.

Shelby proposed his sports car to Ford Motor Company, who liked the idea of offering a sports car that would go head-to-head with the Chevrolet Corvette. Carroll, always the racer, explained his ambition to race Cobras against Corvette in the USA and against Ferrari in Europe. He wanted to win the World Manufacturer’s GT Championship that had been the sole property of Ferrari since its inception.

In 1962, Shelby created Shelby American, a new company to build his car in California. Equipped with the Ford 260 and later the 289 cubic-inch engines, the Cobra proved to be a success for Ford dealers and on racetracks worldwide.

The Cobras dominated Corvettes in North America, winning races coast to coast. On July 4, 1965, the Cobra (in roadster and coupe form) won the World Manufacturers’ GT Championship, as the team soundly defeated Ferrari. Shelby American is the only American vehicle manufacturer to win the prestigious championship, before or since.


Carroll Shelby In The First Cobra

Carroll Shelby is pictured in the first Cobra built, CSX2000. To drum up interest, Shelby showcased the Cobra in a variety of ways, including in multiple magazine articles and with prime placement in the Ford Motor Company exhibit at the 1962 New York Auto Show


Cobras Dominated The Racetracks Of America

Carroll Shelby stands proudly with three of his competition Cobras. The 289 Cobra roadsters beat their main competition, the Chevrolet Corvette, across America, building a strong performance image for the Cobra brand and Shelby American.


World Champion Daytona Coupe

To beat Ferrari on the very fast European race circuits, Shelby American needed a more aerodynamic Cobra. Shelby American employee Peter Brock designed the coupe body. The Cobra Coupe debuted at Daytona International Raceway and the press named the it the “Daytona Coupe.”

During the years the Daytona Coupe raced, it proved to be the car that Shelby American needed to beat Ferrari’s previously dominant 250 GTO. On July 4, 1965, the Cobra Daytona Coupe helped Shelby American win the World Manufacturers’ GT Championship.


The Ford Years

The Ford Mustang was a huge sales success when introduced in the spring of 1964. However, Lee Iacocca, Ford Division General Manager, was concerned that the Mustang, while selling well, lacked a performance image and did not fit into the Ford Division Total Performance marketing program.

To correct the image issue, Iacocca called Carroll Shelby and asked if he could make the Mustang into a sports car with a winning performance image. The result was the 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350. This latest Shelby American performance car earned its sports car and performance image on road race circuits across America. Competing in the Sports Car Club of America’s B Production Class against the Corvette Stingray, Jaguar XKE, Sunbeam Tiger and various Ferrari models, the new GT350 dominated the competition, winning the 1965 B Production National Championship while building a performance image for the Ford Mustang.

The Shelby GT350 was produced from 1965-1970, with the GT500 model added in 1967 after Ford enlarged the Mustang enough to hold a big-block V-8. The Shelby GT500, powered by a 428 cubic inch engine, was built from 1967-1970.


The Ford GT Program

In early 1965, Ford handed over a struggling Ford GT racing program to Carroll Shelby and his band of hot rodders. In just a few short months, Shelby American had transformed the Ford GT from a corporate loser to instant winner. Winning both international endurance races at Daytona and Sebring. By 1966 the Shelby American Ford GT program was all conquering, completely dominating Ferrari and winning the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, the crown jewel of international sports car racing, with a 1-2-3 finish.

Carroll Shelby is the only person to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a driver with Aston Martin in 1959, as a manufacturer with the Cobra Daytona Coupe in 1964 and as a team manager in 1966 and 1967 for the Ford GT program.


Driver, Manager, Owner

Carroll Shelby selected only the finest, world class drivers for the Cobra and Ford endurance racing programs. Pictured here with Dan Gurney during the 1966 12 Hours of Sebring, as they discuss the performance of Gurney’s Ford GT.


Trans Am Domination

In 1966, the Sports Car Club of America created a new racing series called the Trans-American Sedan Championship, or Trans-Am series. This gave Ford Motor Company another opportunity to build a performance image for Mustang. The Shelby-built cars and teams won championships in 1966 and 1967. Shelby American-built Mustangs earned more victories in the 1968 and 1969 Trans-Am seasons.

Shelby American retired from the series at the end of the 1969 racing season after a very successful four-year run. Along the way, the Shelby American team beat some of the best racing teams of the day, including the Bud Moore factory-backed Mercury Cougar and Roger Penske’s Camaro, heavily supported by Chevrolet.


The "Retired" Years

When Ford Motor Company assumed production of the Shelby automobiles in 1968, the vehicles moved further away from the sports car Shelby American envisioned. In January 1970, Carroll Shelby retired from the automobile and racing business. A feature article in Road & Track magazine at that time explained the history of Carroll Shelby’s storied career, particularly the car building segment. The article was titled, A Legend Says Goodbye.

While Shelby might have retired from the car business, it was hardly goodbye.

In the early 1970s, Carroll Shelby traveled to Africa for around nine months every year. He explored many places and recharged his “batteries” after a long decade of racing and building performance cars.

Carroll was a fan of chili. In 1967, he was one of the founders of the world’s first Championship Chili Cook-off held in Terlingua, Texas. At the 1972 cook-off, Shelby launched his Original Texas Brand Chili Mix to the delight of chili connoisseurs everywhere. It was a huge success across the country.

In 1971, Shelby established the Shelby Wheel Company in Gardena, California. The company manufactured and distributed aftermarket specialty wheels.


Carroll At His Desk

Even though Carroll Shelby had “retired” from the automobile business, he did not retire from the business world. During the 1970s, Shelby expanded his Goodyear Tire distributor, providing more and more racers with the latest Goodyear tires. He also founded the Shelby Wheel Company that produced performance wheels for a variety of vehicles.

During his frequent trips to the Texas ghost town of Terlingua, Texas, Shelby and his friends came up with the idea of a unique chili cook-off., the Terlingua International Chili Championship. Carroll’s own chili recipe became so popular that he created a new company for Carroll Shelby Chili. Within a year Carroll Shelby Chili was sold in stores coast to coast.


Exploring Africa

After a lifetime of racing and building world famous performance cars, Carroll Shelby decided to take some time off and go to Africa to explore, rest and enjoy the varied landscape and animals on that continent. It was a quiet time for Shelby who became refreshed and began thinking creating new and exciting ventures.


Carroll Shelby On His Ranch

Carroll Shelby loved to spend time at his ranch located in Pittsburg, Texas. Here in East Texas, he could enjoy his horses, raise Kobe beef cattle and relax with his family. He especially looked forward to spending time with his grand children away from the rigors of all the business activity that consumed his life.


The Dodge Years

During the 1960s, Carroll Shelby and Lee Iacocca became very good friends as Shelby, through his Cobra, Ford GT and Shelby Mustang programs, put some teeth and credibility into the Ford Total Performance marketing program.

In late 1978, Iacocca was hired by Chrysler Corporation to basically save the corporation from bankruptcy and oblivion. He succeeded mightily and by 1982 wanted to re-establish Dodge as the performance division of Chrysler Corporation. To accomplish this objective, Lee Iacocca called on Carroll Shelby to see if they could build a performance image for Dodge.

The collaboration began with the 1983 Dodge Shelby Charger. Designed and engineered at the Chrysler Shelby Performance Center in California, these were built on the factory Charger assembly lines. With enhanced styling and modified suspensions, the 1983-87 Shelby Chargers were quick, economical performance cars, especially when the turbocharged 2.2L engines became available in 1985. Shelby was also the driving force behind the Dodge Omni GLH (for “Goes Like Hell!), a standout in the “pocket rocket” class of performance cars. The Dodge Daytona “later also received the Shelby treatment

In 1986, Shelby brought limited production models in-house to Shelby Automobiles in Whittier, California. Here, Shelby launched the GLHS series, first with the Omni GLHS, followed by the GLHS Charger in 1987. With the addition of an intercooler, Shelby manifold, and a bump to 12 psi of boost, these lightweight four-cylinder Shelby’s performed like the V-8s of two decades earlier. Other Dodges built at Shelby Automobiles include the Shadow CSX, CSX-T for the Thrifty rental car company, the Shelby Lancer, and the Shelby Dakota.

Always the racer, Shelby created an SCCA spec series, the Shelby Can-Am, later renamed the Dodge/Shelby Pro Series. The cars were powered by a Dodge 3.3L V-6 engine that put out 255 horsepower. The Pro Series cars were successful not only in the USA, but in South Africa, and introduced many enthusiasts to road racing.


Shelby and Iaccoca Together Again

After his move to Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca wanted to establish the Dodge Division as the company’s performance division. To accomplish his objective he enlisted Carroll Shelby to make it happen.


Small Engines, Big Power

Throughout the 1980s Carroll Shelby and his team utilized turbocharging as a way to increase the power and performance of the Dodge engines. The concept car pictured here with Shelby was just one of a number of Dodges. During Shelby’s time with Chrysler, a total of 22 different Shelby Dodge or Dodge Shelby models were offered.


Always Ahead of his Time

Shelby Automobiles was a performance trailblazer in the 1980s. Shelby introduced the first application of a V-8 engine in a mid-sized pickup with the Shelby Dakota in 1989. The 1989 CSX was the first American production car to use a Variable Nozzle Turbocharger (VNT), as well as the first application of composite wheels on a production car.

Shelby Dodge vehicles also were well equipped with suspension, brake, tire and wheel packages that were in concert with the additional power the vehicles produced. All the performance of the Shelby vehicles provided Dodge Division with the performance image Lee Iacocca desired.


The Carroll Shelby Foundation

As a heart transplant recipient, Carroll Shelby understood the stress and worry felt during the wait for a viable donor organ. He established the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation in 1991 to help children in similar life-threatening situations. This charitable enterprise was a major focus of Carroll Shelby’s life. The organization’s name was later changed to the Carroll Shelby Foundation (a 501 (c) 3 charity) as its mission expanded to include supporting organizations that provide medical assistance, and funding of scholarships, the Shelby Automotive Foundation, and programs related to automotive education.


Share Your Life

When you donate your organs you give someone a chance to live. Your commitment to organ and tissue donation can save lives. Carrol Shelby waited years before receiving his own heart transplant. He was also very aware of the problems and expense involved in heart surgery as well as the often lengthy process of locating a suitable donor organ. The Carroll Shelby Foundation is dedicated to sharing the message of organ and tissue donation. Follow the Foundation’s example by sharing your decision with your family now.


Helping children in need

The Carroll Shelby Foundation has helped numerous youngsters undergo major coronary surgeries and assisted charities and children worldwide raise money for their own fundraising campaigns. In addition to providing start-up money funding to launch healthcare programs and facilities; The Carroll Shelby Foundation also provides grants to organizations conducting research in the fields of coronary and organ transplant management.


Actions Benefiting the foundation

Since its inception, the Carroll Shelby Foundation has helped numerous children facing life-threatening illnesses and made donations to pediatric care hospitals.

Most Shelby-related activities and events offer chances to make a donation to the Carroll Shelby Foundation. There are multiple ways to donate.


The Modern Ponycar Wars

The Shelby Snake and the big Blue Oval partnered to make fast cars together once more following the introduction of a capable, retro-styled new Mustang for 2005.

Shelby began producing a string of special high performance Mustangs, each with its own personality and purpose, but each with the unmistakable Shelby soul. The econo-performance CS6 led to the CS8. In 2006, Shelby and Hertz reunited for a 40th anniversary Hertz Shelby, the GT-H, and another round of rental Shelby’s in 2007. The Hertz cars proved so popular that the public clamored for a version, which resulted in the Shelby GT. It was really the Shelby GT that kicked up production for Shelby, as these were pre-title cars sold through Ford dealers, and built in large numbers.

When the supercharged Ford Shelby GT500 arrived in 2007, Shelby Automobiles was ready. Working closely with Ford Motor Company, the two companies offered the GT500KR through Ford dealers and the GT500 Super Snake edition available directly from Shelby. A Shelby 1000 was introduced with even more horsepower and capabilities.In 2011, Shelby American brought the Shelby GT350 back to life with the new 5.0L V8. For the first time since the 1970 model year, both the Shelby GT500 and GT350 were available.


The Black and Gold Revival

Forty years after they first teamed up, Shelby American and the Hertz Corporation reunited to create a new run of Shelby rental cars, the GT-H. With Ford Racing Handling Pack, 25 extra horses over a stock Mustang GT, and unique Shelby styling, the GT-H brightened up a lot of business trips and vacations. The success of the GT-H led directly to the creation of the Shelby GT Mustang.


Partnerships for Power

Shelby American invests a lot of R&D resources into designing its own parts, as well as working with partners like Ford Racing to develop unique products for the Shelby Performance Parts catalog. Over the years, Shelby American has teamed with some of the biggest names in the automotive aftermarket.


Mustang Reborn

The 2005 Mustang GT proved the perfect car to launch a new generation of Shelby Mustangs. With its classic, pure Mustang looks, retro-vibe interior, and solid V-8 RWD architecture, it was ripe for an injection of Shelby performance.



Shelby is associated with the Ford Mustang for good reason. The modern era at Shelby American has spawned a powerful array of fast Mustangs. But the Shelby lineup today has expanded to include the hottest trucks on the planet, such as the Shelby Raptor, Shelby F-150, Shelby F-150 Super Snake, and Shelby F-250 Diesel. The Shelby Performance Parts division is flourishing, and Team Shelby has evolved into a must-join club that keeps Shelby fans united with fun events, shows, and forums.

Shelby American moved to its current headquarters just off the Las Vegas strip in late 2013. Today, Shelby American is far more than just a manufacturing facility. It has become a destination, with a heritage center and car collection that is worth a trip to Vegas by itself.

Carroll Shelby passed away on May 11, 2012. However, he lived long enough to guide his namesake company into a bright future. The Shelby story makes for exciting reading, but the final chapters have yet to be written.


Performance Truck Business

Performance trucks have been a growing part of Shelby American’s business for close to a decade. In 2009 Ford launched production of the Ratpor, shortly after Shelby introduced its version of the performance truck and hasn’t looked back since.. Shelby American builds around 1000 trucks per model year and has steadily grown in the performance truck arena.


Mustang Platform Going Global

When Ford launched the “global” S550 Mustang platform, building RHD cars right alongside LHD Mustangs, it opened up markets and opportunities in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and South Africa. Shelby American has been right at the forefront in these markets, with an expanding list of Mod Shops that create authorized Shelby vehicles.


Product Lineup of Old and New

Whether you’re seeking the wind-in-the-hair experience of a Continuation Cobra, the muscle car pedigree of a 50th Anniversary 1968 Shelby G.T. 500KR, the leading-edge performance of a blisteringly fast Shelby Mustang, or the stylish and tough utility of a Shelby truck, Shelby American has a vehicle for every high-performance desire.


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