Carroll Shelby is an icon in the Mustang performance world. Today, he’s celebrating his 87th birthday. His main goal in life has simply been to move faster, whether it was in the airplanes he’s flown or the cars he’s raced. Shelby’s legacy is one defined by the many roles he took in the automotive world and by the legendary high performance Mustangs he created.
Shelby has worn many hats over the years, and one of the very first was an aviator’s cap. He was a flight instructor and test pilot in Texas during WWII. When he returned to civilian life, he started farming chickens and driving in local races, often neglecting to change out of his work clothing before a race. The odd racing uniform didn’t seem to discourage major racing teams from asking him to drive for them.
Shelby’s racing career lasted from 1952-1960. During that time, he raced for some of the most famous teams of the era, including Cad-Allard, Aston Martin, and Maserati. In the 1959 season, he and Roy Salvadori won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is one of the racing world’s most grueling, challenging events. Shelby’s racing career ended shortly after this win, however, because of health reasons.
Though Shelby’s health kept him from racing, he wasn’t ready to stop working with cars. In 1961, he opened a high-performance driving school and Shelby-American, the company that produces all the great Shelby parts you know and love. He designed some of the highest-performance cars of the muscle car era, including his famed GT350 and GT500 Mustangs. Though technically not all of the upgraded Mustangs from this era are Cobras (a name which was only applied starting in ’68), these models all reflected Shelby’s vision.
Shelby turned what he considered a ‘secretary’s car’ into a race car that could give any vehicle on the road at the time a run for its money. Shelby and Ford parted ways in 1969, but he eventually reconciled with the company and began designing upgraded versions of Ford’s Mustang GT. These include the GT-H, which was only available through Hertz rental companies, and more recently, the Shelby GT500 and GT500KR.
Shelby’s enduring mark has not only been left on the worlds of racing and automotive design, but on the lives of the children his Carroll Shelby Foundation has touched. Shelby is one of the longest living heart transplant patients in America. When he was in need of a new heart, he was forced to wait years for a suitable donor heart.
During that time, he realized that there were less-fortunate children in need of donor organs who would probably not be able to afford the costly transplant process, and whose lives would be tragically cut short because of this. He created his Foundation to give assistance to children in need of coronary or kidney care, and it now also offers scholarships and financial assistance for those entering the automotive field.
Everyone here at AmericanMuscle would like to wish a happy birthday to Carroll Shelby, a pioneer in the racing and Mustang industry.