The death of Carroll Shelby will be felt by every car guy in the world.
The man was a mythical figure for every guy who ever dreamed of brute force sports cars that had British looks and Detroit muscle under the hood.
The man served his country during World War Two as an Army Air Corps volunteer who became a test pilot, a risky career choice that required steel-willed daredevils to survive the program.
But Shelby was primarily known as a race car driver and designer for those of us who elevated him to a legend.
His iconic car was his Ford Shelby Cobra. These Shelby creations were Ford-sanctioned hot rods that pulled out the anemic four-banger European engine in the Bristol sports car and replaced it with a 289 Ford small block.
Shelby undoubtedly wrinkled a few egos in England, but he became a folk hero in North America. Shelby had targeted the Corvette in North America with his Cobra. The battle even sparked a hit song called “Hey Little Cobra” by the Rip Chords that featured a street war between a ‘Vette and a Cobra.
The long association between Shelby and Ford included a 24 Hours of Le Mans run in which an upstart American-built exotic sports car called the GT 40 blew the doors off the best sports cars in the world in 1966 and ’67. It was the finest moment in American automotive racing history and we owe it all to Mr. Shelby.
By then the Shelby legend had become synonymous with Ford and he turned his sights on Mustang. A Shelby Mustang became an instant legend in the Pony Car Wars and still turns plenty of heads at any car show.
Shelby had also added a shoe-horned 427 Ford big block into a Cobra and suddenly these cars were scary fast and available to anybody with a checkbook at a Ford dealership. They did not make many of these brutes and probably saved many lives because of the limited production.
Today any 60s and early 70s car with an original Shelby badge is worth a ton of cash. The man’s name means everything on the side of a car for obvious reasons: the owners are lucky enough to own a piece of an automotive legend.
Today we mourn the loss of Carroll Shelby but we recognize that the man will never really be gone from car guy world. Every time we see a Shelby badge on a car we will understand that the Carroll Shelby legend will never die.
We salute the man who made us all dream big dreams as kids because he was the man who built the Shelby legend on the track and on the street.
Thank you Carroll.
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