"Words: Charles Bamber Looking at publicity shots of Carroll Shelby from the 1950s, with Stetson and crooked smile in place, you could be forgiven for thinking him the lead man in a classic John Ford Western. In fact Shelby’s "
Carroll Shelby, the master of muscle cars, was born 11th January
On Shelby's birthday we indulge in a look at the man behind muscle cars
Salt and pepper. Gin and tonic. Twin-stripes and 1960s US muscle cars. OK, while the third pairing might not be quite as fabled as the first and second, it was created by a legend. In most automotive circles at least, the combination is legendary.
Carroll Shelby was born on 11 January 1923 and is perhaps most fondly remembered for creating the four-wheeled icon that is the Shelby Cobra 427 in 1965. The former chicken farmer had created sports cars before the 6,998cc, Ford V8-engined monster, but it was the big-wheeled, flared-arched, ‘massive motor in a tiny, lightweight car’ two-seater which is arguably his most revered.
Other acclaimed achievements included a tuned Ford Mustang, the Shelby GT350. The 4.7-litre, 306bhp V8-engined fastback coupé arrived in 1965, and formed the basis of the GT350H ‘Rent-a-Racer’. A performance car offered by the Hertz Corporation, around 1,000 of the black-painted, gold-striped cars were built. In 1967, the Shelby GT500 was introduced with a ‘Ford Cobra’ 428 cu.in V8.
Chrysler was the next stop for Shelby in the early 1980s where he conceived a range of performance cars under the Dodge brand. The muscle car master even had a hand in the birth of the 400bhp, 8.0-litre V10-powered Dodge Viper RT/10. In the early 2000s, the Shelby-Ford marriage vows were renewed with the announcement that Shelby was a consultant on the new Ford GT supercar.
In 2003 Shelby and Ford collaborated on the V10-engined Ford Shelby Cobra Concept. A new performance Mustang, the Ford Shelby GT500 followed in 2005, while a new iteration of the ’65 Hertz Mustang – the Shelby GT-H – arrived a year later and started a run of modern-day Shelby-branded pony cars.
As well as being gifted with road machines, Shelby also enjoyed considerable success at Le Mans. The Shelby-American Daytona Cobra coupé won the GT class in 1964 – ahead of Ferrari – and finished fourth overall. Ford also had a Ferrari-beating goal and Shelby supported the US carmaker on development of its GT40 racing car. It was a wise move: in 1966, a trio of Ford’s new endurance sports car racer finished first, second and third at the French event.
Shelby was certainly no stranger to the Circuit de la Sarthe. In 1959, before an ongoing heart condition forced him to retire from racing, he and Ray Salvadori won the renowned French endurance event with an Aston Martin DBR1/300. Lesser known perhaps is that Shelby also marketed his own brand of chilli mix, as well as deodorant – ‘Pit Stop’ was sold as ‘A Real Man’s Deodorant.’ The performance car visionary also launched his own charity, the Carroll Shelby Foundation.
A master of many talents and one of the automotive greats, Carroll Shelby died on 10 May 2012 aged 89. But, while he may be gone, his prodigious performance and muscle car legacy remains as legendary as the man himself.
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