By Pete Lyons, AutoWeek
Auto legend Carroll Shelby died Thursday night, May 10, at Baylor Hospital in Dallas at the age of 89.
Carroll Shelby’s shadow stretched out Texas tall across nearly the whole of the world’s automotive landscape. A natural as a race driver, he won three U.S. sports-car championships in Ferraris and Maseratis, and for Aston Martin he won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans with British co-driver Roy Salvadori.
Turning automaker in the 1960s, he fathered the Cobra, an Anglo-American hot rod of crude conception but stunning effectiveness that swept the tracks of North America and wrested a world manufacturer’s title from Ferrari. Additional success came with his makeovers of the Ford Mustang, which resulted in Trans-Am racing titles and the ferocious Shelby GT350 street car. As a team owner, he presided over Ford’s epic 1966 and ’67 Le Mans victories.
Shelby is believed to be the only person to win Le Mans as a driver (with Aston Martin), a manufacturer (class victory with the Cobra Daytona coupe) and team owner (Ford’s GTs).
Lew Spencer, once a Cobra race driver, says that working for Shelby was exhilarating. “He is a visionary in many ways, and a doer. He’s an idea man—Carroll gets great ideas—and he does not like details. He doesn’t like an office. He’s not interested in sitting around on a day-to-day basis. He wants another challenge, to move on to something exciting. That’s part of the fun of working for him, it’ll always be moving, nothing stagnant. There’s a feeling of fun, also a respect for the accomplishments of the man.
“He is an entrepreneur who borders on the con man—he is a legitimate con man. You have to be in this business. It’s the old American success story. When he gets knocked down—like with his chicken business [which was hit with a poultry disease]—he’s flat, he gets back up.”
Shelby himself, in the 1990 Autoweek interview, said he felt grateful for “being able to do the things that I’ve wanted to over practically a lifetime and been lucky enough to have been successful enough out of them that as I grow into, ah, into old age that I can look back with satisfaction over a life well spent. I really consider myself a damn lucky individual. I don’t think you can ask for much more outta life.”
Funeral plans were in process. Donations to the Carroll Shelby Foundation are encouraged in lieu of flowers. Information about the foundation can be found at www.carrollshelbyfoundation.com.