May 11, 2012, - 4:17 pm
I don’t know a lot about cars. But I probably know more about the auto biz than most women who don’t work in that industry. And I also know what I like, which has always included the very cool Shelby Cobra. Yesterday, Carroll Shelby, the legendary Texan behind that car and many others, died. He was a great Formula One racer who went on to become one of the great entrepreneurs in the auto industry, working with the Big Three automakers (after he influenced them greatly) and also independently. Before his career in cars, he enlisted and served in World War II in the U.S. Air Corps as a flight instructor and test pilot.
I contrast Shelby to today’s internet billionaires, and it’s no contest. He was a patriotic, aw-shucks Southern down-home guy who actually created things. They are sterile, faux-hipsterized creators of ether. And none of them was once Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year, as Shelby was in 1956 and 1957. Sadly, there will never again be great entrepreneurial men like Carroll Shelby in the auto industry.
Shelby . . . the [former] chicken farmer . . .said, “I never made a damn dime until I started doing what I wanted.” . . . “I love horsepower,” he said more than once.
Beyond just his efforts in the small world of hot-rodding, Shelby influenced how Detroit automakers thought about high-performance, and he proved that hard work and bit of guile can make a hero.
But to achieve that, he had to jump from chicken-raising — his fowl all died of a disease one year — and into full-time auto racing, which he’d been doing on the side, in the 1950s. He was a success — at first continuing to wear the work overalls that he did as a farmer — and parlayed that reputation into a foothold as a car builder.
The litany of significant cars he created is long, running from the original 1962 AC Cobra — small British sports car with a big (for the times) Ford engine — through a sojourn at Chrysler and a stint with GM via a failed Oldsmobile-powered car, back to Ford. He was involved with development of Ford’s GT 500 Mustang, the 2013 version of which is certified as the most-powerful regular-production car in the world. . . .
“I’ve had a good run. I’ve built a lot of things that work and a lot of things that didn’t work.” He estimates that of the 165 car projects he tried over his lifetime, seven or eight turned a profit. . . .
His was a bold approach to car crafting that was too in-your-face for mainline car companies to conjure in-house. They let him come up with wild machines under their sponsorship, then refined them into cars the automakers could sell as high-performance halos.
A truly great American who deserves to be recognized and remembered for his many contributions.
Carroll Shelby, Rest In Peace.
Tags: Carroll Shelby, cars, Chrysler, cool cars, Ford, GT 500 Mustang, Mustang, Oldsmobile, Shelby, Shelby Cobra