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Carroll Shelby dead at 89

Snake charmer: Carroll Shelby’s Hollywood looks, Texas charm and hot cars made him a hero to car fans around the world.

Muscle car pioneer Carroll Shelby dies after 60 years of glory on road and track

General News logo14 May 2012

ONE of the most influential figures in American motoring and motor sport is gone. Legendary racer and engineer Carroll Shelby died in Dallas on May 10 at the age of 89.

Mr Shelby – who was forced to retire from race driving with heart trouble after winning the Le Mans 24 Hour classic for Aston Martin in 1959 while sucking on nitroglycerine tablets – was one of the longest-living heart transplant recipients in the US, having received a new heart in 1990.

The cause of death has not been revealed but Mr Shelby had been battling ill-health for some time.

Mr Shelby was born in Texas on January 11, 1923, served as a flight instructor in World War II, raised chickens before turning his attention to cars and worked actively until his death.

In 1962, he started building his Cobras, which were effectively lightweight British AC sportscars with brutish Ford V8 engines, and brought Ford further road and racetrack glory for many decades with a series of Shelby Mustangs.

After beating Ferrari in the World Sportscar Championship with a team of Cobras, Shelby was recruited by Dearborn to take over development of the Ford GT40 prototype program that ultimately ended Ferrari’s domination at Le Mans – a personal vendetta by Henry Ford II after a failed takeover of Ferrari – with victories in the French classic in 1966 and 1967.

Mr Shelby then turned the two-door Mustang – which he once dismissed as “a secretary’s car” – into a serious muscle car with the Shelby GT350 and GT500 fastbacks, but when the first energy crisis killed his business in the 1970s, Mr Shelby moved to Africa and ran a safari tours, which seemed appropriate for such an Indiana Jones-type figure.

80 center imageLeft: Carroll Shelby with Edsel Ford in 2006 and the Ford Falcon Cobra ‘Bathurst special’ created by Mr Ford in 1978.

When Chrysler created the Cobra-influenced Viper in the early 1990s, company chairman Lee Iacocca – a former Ford executive who inspired the original Mustang – brought his old mate back into the business to create a supercharged high-performance version.

In 2001, Mr Shelby returned to the Ford family after 30 years, as a consultant on the revived GT supercar program before reviving the Shelby, Cobra and GT500 brands with a series of Mustang-based muscle cars.

His last collaboration, the 2013 Shelby GT500, is powered by what Ford claims in the most powerful production V8 engine in the world, producing 494kW of power and 856Nm of torque.

Edsel B. Ford, great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford – who famously applied the Cobra name and colours to a series of white Falcons with blue stripes when he was president of Ford Australia in 1978 – paid tribute to Mr Shelby on Friday.

“Today, we have lost a legend in Ford Motor Company’s history, and my family and I have lost a dear friend,” said Mr Ford, who sits on the Ford board.

“Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognised names in performance car history, and he’s been successful at everything he’s done. Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene or building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him.

“He was a great innovator whose legend at Ford never will be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.” Mr Shelby is survived by his second wife Cleo and three children from his first marriage.

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