May 11, 2012, - 4:17 pm

Carroll Shelby, RIP: Father of the Shelby Cobra; Great American Entrepreneur

By Debbie Schlussel

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.

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27 Responses

Great article on a great man, Debbie. Thanks!

I did not even know he passed away.

PDMac60 on May 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm

one of America’s longest living heart transplant patient and even got a kidney from his son. Ventured out in business all over the place. He ran a safari business during the 70s when the high price of gas tried to kill big engine production. And if you have ever been to a food cooking competition, it is likely a spin off from his World Chili Cookoff invention, for lack of a better term. Well-round man, from that great generation who wasn’t afraid to try something and fail. He failed as often as he succeeded and they just don’t make them like that anymore, present company included. RIP Mr. Shelby, thank you for your contributions

TS loves DS on May 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

This Shelby was such a great car, that it was not only the fastest but the best performance engine in horsepower, to mention pozi rear traction and the short rear end to do the 1/4 mile in the lows or high seven´s sec. The limited cars to production was stopped because it was and is the best engine ever built in America. That is why they stopped building the engine and car because even today if you are lucky to have one you will know what G-force is on the take off. A friend had one and no one wanted to race him.

Augusto on May 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Amazing! I just caught a pic of a Cobra (before I knew he died) and was just marvelin’ at it because I love, LOVE old cars! I can spot the Shelby’s anywhere and seeing one is like seeing an old friend.

God bless and RIP Mr. Shelby! I have always loved Mustangs and when I spotted Jim Morrison’s “Shelby” (in the 70’s) I loved HIM and the car! Prolly my all-time favourite classic car!

Thanks for this lovely tribute DS. I just spotted a picture and I saved it because it’s been a while since I have seen a Cobra and only to find out minutes later Mr. Shelby died. RIP

(DS, I was wondering if you were going to tribute the passing of Vidal Sassoon? He just died and I must say I was so inspired and shocked by his story. He was Jewish (I always thought he was Italian! Doh!!!) and patriotic and loved Israel. I know all gals from our days used his hair-care products and remembered his famous commercials! His story was so nice to read about and reminded me I wanted to see his doco made a few years ago!)

Skunky on May 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

There is something else as well. One of his cars,the Shelby Cobra,made it into a manga and anime called “Gunsmith Cats.” The lead character in that one drove it.

Ghostwriter on May 11, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Carroll Shelby was the original “fast and furious.” Like Ray Dolby of noise reduction fame, he was an example of a purely self-made man, unafraid to be unpopular or “weird” to realize what he was after. He should be memorialized as Little Steven’s Freak of the Week on the latter’s “Underground Garage” radio show. RIP.

Seek on May 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm

He was someone who did not take the catastrophic collapse of his first business(chicken farming)as the end of the road. He made it the beginning of a second and far more lucrative career. Men like Carroll Shelby no longer have a place in the United States, since the society that reared and supported his multiple talents no longer exists. We live in a dark time that simply gets darker with breastfeeding three year olds hitting the cover of Time Magazine.

Worry on May 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Well said Worry! Indeed!

    Seek, I listen to Ko Melina on the weekends! LOL!

    Skunky on May 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Shelby, unlike the moron Eduardo Saverin, who’s a partner in Facebook, did not renounce his citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

FrenchKiss on May 11, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Debbie I’d renounce my US citizenship if it would save me several hundred million dollars. It’s not like renouncing Jerusalem, which would be like cutting off my own right arm. Instead of paying for a morally corrupt bureaucracy (our federal government) I would use the money to spread Yiddishkeit and Torah learning and to buy a bunch of surrogates so I could spread my seed so the world can be a better place. I wouldn’t waste that much money on a car, but I’d definitely get an import of some type with enough drink holders for the both of us.

A1 on May 11, 2012 at 8:03 pm


Hopewell on May 11, 2012 at 8:37 pm

My wife’s Uncle has a Cobra and it is about the most Bitchin thing ever. Eat his Chili (I have) and flames will come out of your butt the following morning, at which time you eat it again for breakfast. Great man…and general cool guy.

#1 Vato on May 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm

As usual Debbie you hit the nail on the head. Mr. Shelby is someone the youth of today should study. He did what he loved & found a way to make money doing it and in the process created many jobs so others could earn a living. Great writing about a great man.

A_Zion_State_0'mind on May 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm

My mom used to tell me ‘find something you love to do and you will never work a day in your life’. Still looking…

#1 Vato on May 11, 2012 at 9:50 pm

“I contrast Shelby to today’s internet billionaires…
…They are sterile, faux-hipsterized creators of ether.”

Excellent choice of words Debbie, and sooooooo true.
“Unfortunately, with a base price of $4,547, the car was too expensive for most consumers.”
Imagine if you could pick one of these up for that price today?!
Ford should come out with a retro 60’s Mustang. Of course, at today’s inflation I couldn’t afford one, but I’d love to see one on the road!

theShadow on May 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm

OUTSTANDING editorial Debbie! Great comments by everyone, too.
When they coined the term, the Greatest Generation, they were talking about this guy.

Viva Terlingua!

Snake Charmer on May 11, 2012 at 11:11 pm

How do Carroll Shelby CS69 wheels(black) look on a black GT?

retro wallpaper on May 12, 2012 at 3:38 am

Doris Day’s son sings lead on this:

Irving on May 12, 2012 at 4:13 am

Love the article and sad to hear that Mr. Shelby is gone. I must admit I liked and still do his cars especially his signature Cobras. Unfortunately those cars have gotten rarer and commanding a higher buck. What irks me is a lot of these guys buying them are just putting them on display than actually driving them. I think that a car that is just a show piece is a waste especially a Shelby. These cars were and are meant to be driven and experienced. Not sitting up looking pretty. Anyways sad to hear that men like Mr. Shelby are become rarer and rarer in these faux news of IPO’s from a company that likes to use people’s supposedly private information for ad revenue.

Mario on May 12, 2012 at 4:33 am

Yep, great car guy. I think his Dodge years were the most interesting, especially the little Dosge Omni GLH.

DS_ROCKS! on May 12, 2012 at 8:57 am

THE Shelby Cobra, greatest car on the planet and an American Icon. R I P Mr Shelby.

Bill on May 12, 2012 at 11:55 am

I may be a Canadian agnostic, but God Bless American Steel!

RIP Mr Shelby.

PS – Satan called and was shedding tears. He said that the roar of a fine Shelby reminded him of his late favourite pet manticore. Even the Devil respects wood works.

The Reverend Jacques on May 13, 2012 at 10:16 am

Carroll Shelby–RIP.

JeffE on May 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm

The Cobra an old car? Never in my book Skunky. I was amazed when I heard one was found in a junkyard years ago and though covered in rust and inoperable it sole for over a hundred grand. I would give my left arm to drive my dad’s 51 Mercury column shift flathead V-8 one more time. Now that is an old car.

Ron Wolf aka "Columbo" on May 13, 2012 at 11:00 pm

G-d Bless him. RIP.

Occam's Tool on May 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

May he rest in peace.

He created cars that touched the American spirit. He touched our minds with fast cars, winning races, and customizing your ride. In the same era many were getting interested in NASCAR and other forms of auto racing. You could even rent a Shelby Mustang from Hertz. I did it once when I was younger.

Most importantly, he touched off the creative entrepreneurial mind of kids in my neighborhood in Chicago, who beli3ved they could, and did, customize their ride, usually a cheap older car with muscle car potential, to get more horsepower and a better look than their buddy down the street (uh. that would be me). The sound of engines on my block several nights a week, screeching tires and the smell of gasoline.

Looking cool in your beefed up ride just like Shelby.

Panhandle on May 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I enjoy what you guys are up too. This type of clever
work and coverage! Keep up the great works guys I’ve included you guys
to our blogroll.

new ford mustang 2015 on December 14, 2013 at 6:57 am

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