Carroll Shelby

Discussion in 'Who's Who in Ferrari Universe' started by bitzman, Mar 2, 2012.

  1. bitzman

    bitzman F1 Rookie

    Feb 15, 2008
    Ontario, CA
    Carroll Hall Shelby is an East Texan, born on January 11, 1923 in Leesburg, Texas to Eloise Lawrence and Warren Shelby, the latter a rural mail carrier. Shelby’s first taste of speed was when he would ride on the running board of his dad’s Whippet during mail deliveries, yelling “faster Dad.” The family moved to Dallas, where Carroll graduated from high school and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He had developed an interest in flying in high school and served the entire World War II period in Texas, both as a flight instructor to bomber pilots and test pilot, the latter involving testing planes that had been repaired.

    During the war Carroll got married and welcomed the first of his three children. Though he did not go to college, during the war they had a special program to make officers of non-commissioned personnel and he finished the war with the rank of Second Lieutenant. After the war, Carroll tried a variety of businesses including running a fleet of dump trucks, working in the oil fields and raising chickens. He made a profit at first but then over 80,000 of his chickens died of Newcastle's disease. While trying to figure out what to do next to put bread on the table, Carroll got involved in car racing. It was just a hobby then because sports car racing didn’t pay in America where it was regarded strictly as an amateur sport.


    It was early in his racing career when Shelby accidentally developed a memorable image --- he was in a hurry to get to a race from the farm and didn’t have time to change to his racing suit so he wore his farmer’s bib overalls in the race and ended up garnering more publicity than the race winner! Later on, when he started his own car company, those overalls figured in the early publicity.

    He was named "Sports Car Driver of the Year" by Sports Illustrated magazine in both 1956 and 1957 and one time was featured on the cover. But even before that, he had been angling to get to Europe because the fact was that American sports car racing didn’t pay. He wasn’t alone in his ambitions, because also in Europe from California were his pals, Phil Hill , Dan Gurney and Ritchie Ginther plus Masten Gregory of St. Louis -- all determined to get “factory rides” where they would be factory "pilotos" for the factory making the cars. Hill and Ginther landed spots on the Ferrari team, and Dan Gurney landed a spot on the Porsche team. Shelby went British, impressing the head of Aston Martin racing enough to be asked to join the Aston Martin team. It was while with John Wyer's factory Aston Martin Team that Shelby scored his biggest success as a driver -- he and British co-driver Roy Salvadori won the 24-hours of Le Mans in 1959.

    But before that, he drove a number of Ferraris owned by wealthy american patrons, among them Tony Parravano and later John Edgar (Parravano flat disappeared, but after Shelby had left his employ). Both sponsors had later soured on Ferrari because they weren't sure they were getting the best cars or maybe hard used cars
    and turned to Maseratis.

    Toward the end of his driving career, Shelby began accepting rides in all kinds of cars, from Alfa Veloce Spyder to Max Balchowsky's junkyard Ol Yallers, but it was all for a purpose--he planned on building his own car someday and wanted to try at least everything out there once.

    Carroll returned to the U.S. in 1960 and was still racing , though it was becoming harder to disguise that he had a heart ailment that had been with him as a child. Finally it caught up with him and during one race in the year 1960, he pulled into the pits, took off his helmet, hung up his gloves and retired on the spot.


    Shelby had been angling to build his own production sports car, and there were some failed attempts , such as the time he had three Corvettes rebodied in Italy. He also failed in an attempt to talk Sir Donald Healey into letting him build Austin-Healeys powered by small block Chevrolet V8s.

    Shelby's inspiration was Count von Reventlow's Scarabs, powered by massaged Chevy V8s. It irked him that Reventlow toyed around with racing and producing cars and didn't get down to cranking them out for customers. He vowed to do it right. It was racing Max Balchowsky's "Ol' Yeller" race car, with which he had managed to outrun Ferraris, that convinced that the secret to success for him would be to mate a lightweight sports car with a powerful race-tuned American V8 like Reventlow but hopefully in somebody else's already built chassis. His first plan was to plop Chevys into Healeys but Donald Healey turned him down..

    In 1962, during lunch with an editor of Sports Car Graphic, Shelby heard the news that AC Cars Ltd., in England was discontinuing a sports car called the Ace-Bristol because they couldn’t get any more Bristol in-line six cylinder engines. Shelby put that knowledge together with the fact that Ford was about to produce a lightweight 221-cu. in. V8. He put the two together (with a 260 cu. in. V8) and created the immortal Cobra. Ford threw in their support both for manufacturing the cars and for a racing team, and by 1965, the Cobra factory team won the FIA Manufacturers Grand Touring World Championship in 1965, the only American car company to ever do so.

    During the middle of the Cobra program, Shelby got involved with Ford’s GT40 racing team and helped Ford secure back to back victories at LeMans in ’66 and ’67. Those victories greatly buoyed the reputation of Ford in Europe.

    Shelby was a busy man while at Ford. Back in ’65 Ford had asked him to create a more exciting Mustang (the car had made its debut being marketed as a "secretary's car") and the Shelby GT-350 Mustang was the result. Shelby rented a hanger near LAX airport and for several years cranked out Shelby Mustangs, most of which are worth over $100,000 today. In mid-67, production was shifted over to a Michigan sub-contractor. The original batch of Shelby's ended with the 1970 model year.

    Shelby then retired from the car business and went to Africa to fulfil a childhood dream of having a game hunting preserve. When he came back to America, he found his old boss at Ford, Lee Iacocca, had taken over the helm at Chrysler Corporation, and needed someone, a swashbuckler of sorts, to bolster the performance image of Chrysler products; and who better than the 'Ole Pirate from Princeton Drive in Venice, CA than Carroll Shelby? The first efforts were limited to mere stripes and decals on a Dodge but his operation grew into a "Skunk Works" factory in Whittier, California, where Shelby's buccaneers transformed Dodge Omnis, Chargers, Lancers, Shadows and Dakota pickups into pavement rippers from 1986 to 1989. The one Dodge car that he was involved with that was close to the Cobra in both concept and performance was the Viper. Shelby even drove it himself as the pace car driver at the Indianapolis 500, even though he had recently been the recipient of a heart transplant.

    Shelby left Chrysler and once again was involved with ranching, this time in Texas, but then got into the replica Cobra business, a business which thrives today, at his factory in Las Vegas.

    He also signed back on at Ford in 2003, just as they were preparing to bring back a retro version of the GT40. The new car, called the Ford GT was sold as an ’05 and ’06 model and became an instant success (4038 were sold). One difference between the original GT40 and the new one is that this time Ford didn't back a racing program. It was strictly competition in the showroom, with the new Ford GT a direct rival to Ferrari's 360 Modena.

    As part and parcel of the deal with Ford, Shelby also began designing new Shelby Mustangs, the first of which was introduced in 2007. Shelby's new Shelby Mustangs helped blunt the comeback of both Chevrolet's Camaro and Dodge's Challenger.

    Today Shelby is 89 years old and still involved in a number of businesses, from selling racing tires, to raising cattle in Texas, to manufacturing engines and wheels and being a Ford spokesman. After his two heart transplants, he vowed to help children with heart problems, and created a foundation for children with heart problems and more recently began helping a community college near his birthplace develop a program for training auto mechanics.

    He is still a car collector and has managed, through thick and thin, to hang on to the first Cobra he ever built, a car which he says he has turned down $5 million for....

    AUTHOR: Wallace A. Wyss

    (greatly condensed from the book SHELBY The Man The Cars The legend,available from Iconografix, Hudson, WI
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  3. pastmaster

    pastmaster Formula Junior

    Feb 5, 2006
    Alma, Michigan USA
    That was a great short biography on Carroll Shelby!

    I hold Carroll, in very high regard, I realize him as, "Our American Enzo Ferrari!" Compare the two men, there are more similarities when you consider their love of racing and their impact on the racing world. Their production of streetable race cars, as well as GT's, is a dream realized, that only few have attempted and succeeded. I will not say who was more successful, but Enzo Ferrari, is in a league of his own.

    Carroll Shelby's, philosophy I have heard in this statement.

    Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, so we live for today.

    Quite true.
  4. alexford

    alexford Rookie

    Apr 1, 2012
    Simi Valley, Ca., US
    Full Name:
    Alex Ford
    Absolutely a wonder and quick highlight version of Shelby the man and a bit of the Shelby mystique. One of my rides is a 2001 Mustang Bullitt. Not a shelby nor a GT car, it is none-the-less one of the first if not the first tribute car to the King of Cool. The Shelby's and GT-Shelby versions were my first memories of special Mustangs and without them, who knows if there ever would have been a Bullitt Mustang exercise. Totally interesting that Shelby at one time had Ferrari as rides--Alex Ford
  5. scuderia328

    scuderia328 Formula Junior

    Aug 2, 2010
    #4 scuderia328, Aug 25, 2012
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  7. twestby

    twestby Rookie

    Jan 20, 2007
    Pa, Fl
    Full Name:
    #6 twestby, Nov 4, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2017

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