12 May 2012

End of an Era: Carroll Shelby passes at 89

Words by Niky Tamayo
 
shelby_ripThe first inkling that British lawmakers had that speed limits might be a good idea was a day back in 1963 when a small British sportscar with a big American engine did 185 mph on the fabled M1... or so the story goes. In 1965, Ford produced a limited run of high-performance Mustangs, co-built with the small racing shop that built that 185 mph monster. They leased a number of these to Hertz Rent-A-Car, calling them the GT350H. These rental racers were so good that some came back from customers with the engines swapped out. When Hertz returned the whole consignment, even more of the cars had had those upgrades... borrowed.
 
In the early 60’s, the Ford GT40 racing program, borne of Henry Ford's hate for Enzo Ferrari, was faltering. But in 1966, that same small racing shop straightened out the racing program, and the GT40 came in first, second, and third at LeMans.  
 
Such is the legend of Carroll Hall Shelby. Responsible for some of the most iconic cars in history. Sadly, the great man passed away last May 11, 2012 at the age of 89.
 
The Shelby Cobra, the Shelby Mustangs, the GT40, and all cars that owe their existence in part to a man who was part-myth, part-legend, and part-real-world Motoring God. Perhaps the man’s work has become something of a fashion statement or branding exercise over the past few decades, but his legacy is undeniable. Perhaps it’s not so important to those of us who didn’t grow up with American cars and V8s, but Shelby’s approach to racing and car-building reverberates today, amongst tuners and builders who strive to shove ever bigger lumps of metal under the hoods of ever smaller cars. 
 
The Shelby empire spawned a number of other tuning houses that today produce the cars of our dreams. Even today, the Cobra inspires a whole industry of kit-cars, replicas and fast and wild sports cars, such as the Viper. 
 
Shelby wasn’t the first, but he was one of the best. And while the man may be gone, the story goes on. We salute you, Carroll. Goodbye.