The automotive world has seen many impressive car designers over the years. From Georges Paulin, Harley Earl, Battista Farina, and numerous others, there’s no shortage of innovative designers worth mentioning. But perhaps one of the most iconic designers was Carroll Shelby with his breathtaking AC Cobra and many other remarkable vehicles.
Carroll Shelby made a name for himself as both an expert driver and car designer throughout his lengthy career. Although we could go on about any number of Shelby’s accomplishments, here’s a brief history of this legend and some notable Carroll Shelby cars.
History of a Legendary Car Designer
Before Carroll Shelby became a master car designer, he was highly interested in both cars and airplanes. He enrolled at The Georgia Institute of Technology to study Aeronautical Engineering, but he ended up changing his plans after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He abandoned his initial path to enlist in the United States Army Air Corps, where he trained to become a pilot. He served as a second lieutenant and eventually became a flight instructor and test pilot during World War II.
After the war, Shelby pursued professional driving. Some of his early races included the Grand Prairie Naval Air Station drag meet and the Cadillac-Allards in 1952.
Shelby experienced a great deal of racing success throughout the 1950s, driving for various teams, including Ferrari. In 1956, he started Carroll Shelby Sports Cars in Dallas, Texas. That same year, he was named Driver of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine. He was awarded the title once again the following year.
Shelby’s most famous driving win occurred in 1959 when he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he later described as his most thrilling accomplishment in racing.
After multiple serious racing accidents as well as other health concerns, Shelby officially retired from racing in 1960, but he would go on to continue making landmark contributions to the sport.
Developing Famous Carroll Shelby Cars
Although Carroll Shelby had tremendous success on the race track, he’s now primarily known as an expert automotive designer. He founded Shelby American, Inc. in 1962, where he went to work developing the remarkable Shelby Cobra.
Shelby felt inspired by the AC Ace chassis, but he wanted to equip the vehicle with a powerful V8 engine. Ultimately, his goal was to develop a car to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette in the racing circuit.
He contacted the British manufacturer AC Cars with the interest of using their chassis, and the company agreed under the condition that Shelby would equip the vehicle with an acceptable engine. Next, Shelby used his connections at the Ford Motor Company to equip the AC Ace chassis with the 221 cu in and 260 cu in V8 engines.
In its first year, Shelby American produced 75 units with the 260 cu in V8 engine and 25 units with the 289 cu in V8. Shelby originally only wanted to produce one hundred units of this stunning sports car, but the company eventually went on to develop over 50,000 units.
Shelby had racer Billy Krause use the vehicle at the Riverside International Raceway in 1962. It immediately became apparent to Shelby that he needed to modify the car further for it to be a champion on the race track, which led to Shelby American creating the Shelby Daytona Coupe. The Coupe replaced the AC roadster body with a lower-drag enclosed coupe, making the car even faster. Shelby American equipped the coupe with a 289 cu in V8 engine.
The Shelby Daytona Coupe achieved immense success on the racetrack. It won Le Mans as well as Tourist Trophy at Goodwood during the 1964 World American Sportscar Championship GT circuit. Additionally, it won the Sports Car Club of America’s U.S. GT Championship.
Carroll Shelby’s Collaboration with the Ford Motor Company
After achieving immense racing success with his remarkable Shelby Daytona Coupe, Carroll Shelby worked with Ford to create additional groundbreaking vehicles. He worked with Ford’s GT40 Sports Prototype racing program where he designed the GT40 Mark II and the GT40 Mark IV. Both vehicles were equipped with the Ford 427 cu in engine.
The Shelby-American racing team used the Mark II for the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Mark IV for the 1967 race. Shelby’s team won both years.
Shelby went on to continue developing vehicles for Ford, including his own version of the Mustang. Ford introduced their iconic Mustang in 1964, and only a year later, Shelby created his own distinct iteration of the muscle car: the Shelby GT350. These cars sported a powerful Windsor 289 cu in HiPo K-Code 271 hp V8 engine, which Shelby American modified with a large 4-barrel Holley 715 CFM carburetor, producing 306 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 329 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200 rpm.
In addition to collaborating with Ford, Shelby made a name for himself working with Dodge and Oldsmobile.
After his many accomplishments on the racetrack and developing groundbreaking cars, Carroll Shelby was rightfully inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991. He was also inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the Automotive Hall of Fame, the Diecast Hall of Fame, and the SCCA Hall of Fame.
Carroll Shelby died in 2012 at the age of 89, but he accomplished seemingly countless achievements and made a powerful impact on the automotive world.
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