The automotive legend was a longtime partner to Ford Motor Company and Edsel B Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, made the following statement: “Today, we have lost a legend in Ford Motor Company’s history, and my family and I have lost a dear friend.
“Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognized names in performance car history, and he’s been successful at everything he’s done. Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene or building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him. He was a great innovator whose legend at Ford never will be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”
Carroll Shelby was a member of the Ford family for the better part of 60 years, producing stunning performance vehicles from concepts to production models. He once said his energy and passion for performance products were always strongest when he was working with Ford.
Shelby most recently collaborated with the company on the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang, the most powerful production V8 in the world. Working with SVT engineers at Sebring and the Arizona Proving Grounds, he was known to drive at times for more than eight hours at the ripe old age of 88. He was obviously having so much fun, he didn’t want to stop.
In this 110th Anniversary of Ford Racing video, Shelby talks about his career working with Ford and winning Le Mans:
The legend begins
Carroll Shelby was nearly 30 years old before he entered his first car race – a quarter-mile drag meet in 1952. The hot rod he drove to the finish line that day was powered by a Ford V8.
Shelby’s first Ford derivatives were the legendary Cobras and Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s. He was heavily involved in the design and engineering of the Ford Shelby Cobra Concept car unveiled in 2004, and was a key member of the dream team that built the 2005 Ford GT.
Carroll Shelby may have had a late start, but he was a winner from the beginning. Just two years into his driving career, Aston Martin racing manager John Wyer recruited him to co-drive a DB3 at Sebring. Within months, the chicken farmer from Texas was bumping elbows and trading paint with the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Paul Frère. Driving an Aston Martin DBR1 with Roy Salvadori, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959.
Early in 1962, Shelby drove his second Ford-powered racecar. It was the first mockup for the Cobra, Shelby’s now-legendary marriage of a lightweight British roadster body with a small-block Ford V8. By January 1963 he had homologated the car under the FIA’s GT Group III class, and that month a Cobra won its first race, beating a field of Corvette Stingrays at Riverside in California.
In January 1965, Ford hired Shelby to lend his expertise to the GT40 campaign. Three cars had run the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, but none finished. Shelby began installing the more reliable 7-liter stock car engine in what would come to be known as the GT40 Mark II. It proved considerably faster than the Mark I, and in just two seasons became a strong contender. In 1966 the GT40 began a domination of endurance car racing that would last for four years.
While Ford and Shelby took on Ferrari at Le Mans, at home they fought Corvette. The first effort was the legendary Shelby Cobra, a Ford-powered, Shelby-engineered derivative of the AC Ace. The car had a one-ton weight advantage over the Corvette.
In August 1964 Ford had asked Carroll Shelby to develop a street-legal, high-performance Mustang to compete against Corvette in SCCA B-production road racing. By September, California-based Shelby-American had completed the first Mustang GT350.
The 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 was a fastback production model with a functional scoop in its fiberglass hood and 306hp from its 289ci V8 – an increase of 35hp over the stock engine. Suspension upgrades included a larger front stabilizer bar, Koni shocks and rear traction bars, along with race-ready features. It sold for $4000 and was instantly recognizable by its Wimbledon White paint and blue GT350 side stripes.
For 1966 the GT350 came in white, red, black, green and blue, and Hertz purchased nearly 1000 special GT350H weekend “rent-a-racers.” In 1967 Shelby Mustangs sported unique fiberglass bodywork that extended the front end with an aggressive dual scoop and finished the trunk lid with an integrated spoiler. But most important in 1967 was the new GT500, a big-block with 355hp. More than 2000 of those 428ci Mustangs were delivered that first model year. 1968 was when the name “Cobra” was first officially used on a Shelby Mustang, and that year a convertible body style became available. Although the Shelby Cobra GT350 was essentially unchanged, later GT500s were powered by the new Cobra Jet 428 engine and thus became GT500KR – for King of the Road. For 1969, the penultimate year of the Shelby Mustang, engine choices included the optional 351 Ram Air, and the bodywork incorporated a total of nine scoops – five on the hood, one at the front of each fender and one on each quarter panel. In 1970, with sales slowing, the final Shelby Mustangs built for 1969 were updated to 1970 spec and sold. The famed run had come to an end.
It would be more than 30 years before Ford and Shelby worked together again, and in March 2001 they reunited, with Shelby coming on board to consult on a new GT40 Concept. In March 2002, Ford green-lighted production of the Ford GT. Then, in April 2003, Shelby collaborated on a concept car that would pay homage to the original Shelby Cobra. The car stole the show the following year at NAIAS.
Ford stoked the passions of enthusiasts again in 2004 with the unveiling of the modern Ford Shelby GR-1 Concept at Pebble Beach. J Mays, Ford group vice president for Design, said Shelby’s input was reflected in the car’s performance underpinnings.
In 2008, Carroll Shelby’s 85th birthday was marked by the first 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR to roll off the production line. An exclusive run of only 1000 units, this King of the Road was a 540hp musclecar. Shelby, who was actively involved in developing it, said, “I’m always looking to up the ante when it comes to performance, and bringing back the King of the Road Mustang is just what we need.”
Carroll Shelby’s last collaboration with Ford was on the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500, which produces 662hp and 631 lb-ft, making it the most powerful production V8 engine in the world. In January, Shelby’s one-of-one racetrack durability car was auctioned at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, AZ, for $350,000.
More on Carroll Shelby’s career, in his own words, can be found in this series of videos: http://www.oninnovation.com/videos.aspx.
Key moments in the history of Carroll Shelby and Ford Motor Company
1952: Shelby enters first race at the wheel of a Ford-powered hot rod
1962: Shelby tests his first Ford-powered AC 260 Roadster – the car that would become the Shelby Cobra. Shelby-American begins operations in Venice, Calif. Cobra production begins
1964: Ford asks Shelby to develop a high-performance Mustang derivative. First Shelby prototypes are built
1965: Shelby GT350 is introduced. Ford hires Shelby-American to oversee GT40 program. Hertz begins buying GT350H versions for its “rent-a-racer” program
1966: Ford GT40 Mark II wins Le Mans. First 1967 Shelby GT500s delivered
1967: Ford and Shelby-American win Le Mans, again. 1968 Shelby Mustang convertibles debut
1968: 1969 model year production begins
1969: Shelby Mustang production ends
1970: Ford and Shelby end their long-term racing agreement
2001: Carroll Shelby is invited by Ford to consult on GT40 Concept
2002: Ford green-lights production of Ford GT
2003: Ford invites Shelby to collaborate on a concept car that pays homage to original Shelby Cobra
2004: Ford Shelby Cobra Concept steals the show at NAIAS. Ford asks Shelby to consult on a follow-up concept. Shelby announces it will build limited-edition Shelby Ford Expedition. Ford unveils Shelby GR-1 Concept
2006: Shelby GTH debuts at New York Auto Show
2007: GT500 name debuts
2008: First 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR rolls off the line on Carroll Shelby’s 85th birthday. Partnering with Ford Racing, Shelby fields factory race team for the first time since 1969
2011: Debut of 662-horsepower, 631-lb.-ft. 2013 Ford Shelby GT500, the most powerful production V8 engine in the world
2012: 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 sells at Barrett-Jackson for $350,000