A Look Back At 60 Years of Shelby

The Shelby was created by an American car designer called Carroll Hall Shelby, who was born in 1923. Carroll was interested in cars from an early age, and was already driving his father’s Ford sedan when he was 15 years old.

He transferred his love of cars and all things fast, to fighter planes, when he joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at the age of 19 and became a pilot. His particular enjoyment of the B-26 bomber was based purely on its straight-line speed, which was quicker than any of the German, Italian, or Japanese fighter planes that were around at that time.

Related: Here’s What The 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 Roadster Costs Today

Feeling The Need For Speed

At the end of World War II, Carroll returned to his love of cars – fast ones – and became a racing driver! He entered a race in 1952, winning in an MG-TC. This was the beginning of his racing career, and he quickly moved on to driving the fast and expensive Ferraris and Maseratis. He won 12 races in just two years and this on-track performance led to an invitation, in 1954, for him to drive for the prestigious Aston Martin factory team.

The absolute highlight of Carroll’s racing career came four years later, when he won the iconic 24 Hours Le Mans race in an Aston Martin. He retired from racing one year later, due to a heart condition.

When he was driving Ferraris and Maseratis, Carroll established the complexity of these engines and despite being impressed by their speed, he was less inspired by their unreliability. This led him to identify a niche in the US market, for a sports car that came with the handling of a European car but armed with the might of the American V8 engine. His ambition was to produce a car like this and to sell it at half the cost of the European marques, which would be possible as the V8 would be easier to maintain and service, thus keeping costs low. His desire was to call this dream car, Cobra.

The stars aligned for Carroll when he discovered that British specialist car manufacturer, AC Cars, no longer had an engine supplier for their sports car – the Bristol. So, taking the bull by the horns, Carroll made contact with AC Cars to sell his concept to them. Luckily they were receptive, suggesting that once he had secured an engine supplier, they discuss their potential collaboration further.

Carroll approached the Ford Motor Company with his idea, and they were really keen on getting involved in a sports car project that would rival the popular Chevrolet Corvette. Carroll’s ambition was big, with the sole aim of pitting his Cobra against the mighty Corvette in the US, and against the Ferrari in the European market. He was also determined to take the World Manufacturer’s GT Championship title from Ferrari, who had won it continuously since the championship was introduced.

California Dreaming

To give the project every possible chance of success, Carroll formed Shelby American in 1962, a company that would enable him to manufacturer the Cobra in California. Armed with Ford engines, the Cobra was a worldwide success both on and off the racetrack.

Carroll’s collaboration with Ford worked, with the Cobra winning races across America, smashing the Corvettes in the process. The icing on the cake came in 1965 when the Cobra won the much sought after World Manufacturer’s GT Championship with the team dominating the Ferrari. Incredibly, Shelby American remains the only US car manufacturer to win the championship ever since.

Related: Here’s What The 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Is Worth Today

It’s Not All About Good Looks

The Ford Mustang was launched in 1964 and was an immediate success. Although the car sold well, according to Lee Iacocca, who headed up the Ford Division as their General Manager, it didn’t work well within their marketing strategy in terms of image.

So, Lee made contact with Carroll to look at how the Mustang could be transformed into an all-American sports car with a performance image to seal the deal. With Shelby American’s input came the arrival of the 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350. This car fitted the bill perfectly, with its stunning good looks and performance to match. It was able to compete and dominate against the likes of the Corvette Stingray, the Jaguar XK6, Sunbeam Tiger, and a number of models from the Ferrari stable, culminating in winning the 1965 B Production National Championship. While it was busy proving its on-track ability, it was also providing the perfect performance image for the Ford Mustang.

Ford eventually took over the manufacturer of the Shelby cars in 1968 and the cars lost the vision originally initiated by Carroll. He elected to retire from car building in 1970, but after several months traveling, his mojo returned and so did he, to the world of cars with the Shelby Wheel Company, a business that manufactured specialty wheels for the after-sales market.

With A Little Help From My Friends

In 1978, Lee Iacocca was taken on by the Chrysler Group in the hope he could save them from bankruptcy and eventual closure. Employing Lee was a masterstroke by Chrysler as he managed to turn things around, especially when he decided to resurrect Dodge as a performance division within the business. He needed help with performance image again, so who did he contact? Luckily for him, he and Carroll had remained friends over the years.

Their first collaboration was the 1983 Dodge Shelby Charger, which was designed and engineered at the Chrysler Shelby Performance Center, based in California. These were performance cars that boasted economy and speed.

Racing was never far from Carroll’s heart, and he produced a car that was propelled by a Dodge 3.3-liter V6 engine. The car also kicked out a tasty 255hp. Originally called the Shelby Can-Am, it was later changed to the Dodge/Shelby Pro Series.

Related: Watch This 2022 Dodge Charger Redeye Take On A 2021 Audi R8

Powering Into The 21st Century

It’s astonishing how a company that started in the 1960s, remains current and still ever so cool, right? From 2005, Shelby Automobiles produced specialist high-performance Mustangs. A couple of years later, in 2007, saw the arrival of the Ford Shelby GT.


Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Carroll Shelby in May 2012, but not before he gave his company a wonderful heritage and an even better future. Never has the world had the utter privilege of having such an inspiring man at the helm of an automotive business.

Shelby American’s 60th anniversary is this year and to celebrate, they will launch a limited edition GT500KR. Based on the iconic GT500KR of 1968, this one will feature a 3.8-liter Whipple supercharger that will give a startlingly street-legal 900hp!!! A limited number of 60 will be available for 2022 with a starting price of $127,895, so what are you waiting for?


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