Carroll Shelby was born on January 11, 1923 in Leesburg, Texas, to Warren Hall Shelby, a rural mail carrier, and his wife Eloise Lawrence Shelby. Shelby suffered heart valve leakage problems by age 7 and spent most of his childhood in bed. By age 14, Shelby's health improved and he was subsequently declared to have "outgrown" his health problems. Shelby's first wife was Jeanne Fields; they married on December 18, 1943. Their daughter Sharon Anne Shelby was born a year later on September 27, 1944. They had two more children — sons named Michael Hall (born November 2, 1946) and Patrick Burt (born October 23, 1947). Shelby and Fields later separated and divorced in February 1960.
Shelby dealt with health issues throughout his life. He took nitroglycerine pills when he was racing because of his heart. He had a heart transplant in 1990 and a kidney transplant in 1996.
Shelby died on May 10, 2012 at the age of 89. He had been suffering from a serious heart ailment for decades. Joe Conway, president of Carroll Shelby International, said that "we are all deeply saddened, and feel a tremendous sense of loss for Carroll's family, ourselves and the entire automotive industry. There has been no one like Carroll Shelby and never will be. However, we promised Carroll we would carry on, and he put the team, the products and the vision in place to do just that."
Life before racing
Shelby honed his driving skills with his Willys automobile while attending Woodrow Wilson High School (Dallas, Texas). He graduated from Wilson in 1940. He was enrolled at The Georgia School of Technology in the Aeronautical Engineering program. However, because of the war Shelby did not go to school and enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, serving in World War II as a flight instructor and test pilot. He graduated with the rank of staff sergeant pilot.
Starting out amateur, he soon became a driver for the Cad-Allard, Aston Martin, and Maserati teams during the 1950s. Driving for Donald Healey, in a streamlined and supercharged, specially-modified, Austin-Healey 100S, he set 16 U.S. and international speed records. Teamed with Roy Salvadori, and driving for Aston Martin, he won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans.
He drove in the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race in a specially prepared Ferrari roadster, to a record run of 10:21.8 seconds on his way to victory in 1956.
He was Sports Illustrated's driver of the year in 1956 and 1957.
He competed in Formula One from 1958 to 1959, participating in a total of eight World Championship races and several non-championship races.
The highlight of his race driving career came in 1959, when he co-drove an Aston-Martin DBR1 (with Englishman Roy Salvadori) to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. During this race he noted the performance of an English GT car built by AC Cars, known as the Bristol. Three years later, the AC Bristol would become the basis for Shelby's most famous automotive creation -- the Cobra.
Shelby the constructor
After retiring from driving in October 1959 for health reasons, he opened a high-performance driving school and the Shelby-American company.
He obtained a license to import a successful British Sports racing car manufactured by AC Motors of England, installing an American Ford engine rather than its original British Bristol engine, and introduced the car to the American public as an AC Cobra, later to be known as a Shelby or Shelby Cobra. Shelby continued on to be influential with Ford manufactured cars, including the Daytona Coupe, GT40, the Mustang-based Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500, and the 427 Shelby Cobra. After parting with Ford, Shelby moved on to help develop performance cars with divisions of the two other Big 3 American companies, Dodge, and Oldsmobile. The most memorable of these cars was the Dodge Viper.
Ford provided financial support for Shelby's Cobras from 1962 through 1965 and provided financial support for the Ford GTs, first with John Wyer's Ford Advanced Vehicles in 1963 and then with Shelby American from 1964 through 1967.
In the intervening years, Shelby had a series of ventures start and stop relating to production of "completion" Cobras — cars that were allegedly built using "left over" parts and frames. In the 1960s, the FIA required entrants (Shelby, Ford, Ferrari, etc.) to produce at least 100 cars for homologated classes of racing. Shelby simply built an insufficient number of cars and skipped a large block of Vehicle Identification Numbers, to create the illusion the company had produced large numbers of cars. Decades later in the 1990s, Carroll alleged that he had found the "left over" frames, and began selling cars which were supposedly finally "completed". After it was discovered the cars were built from scratch in collaboration with McCluskey, Ltd., they were re-termed "continuation" Cobras. The cars are still built to this day, known as the current CSX4000 series of Cobras.
He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992.
In 2003, Ford Motor Co. and Carroll Shelby mended ties and he became technical advisor to the Ford GT project. In that same year, he formed Carroll Shelby International, Inc., based in Nevada.
Shelby Dodges and Dodge Shelbys
Shelby began working with Dodge at the request of Chrysler Corporation chairman, Lee Iacocca. Iacocca had previously been responsible for bringing Shelby to the Ford Mustang. After almost a decade of tuning work, Shelby was brought on board as the "Performance Consultant" on the Dodge Viper Technical Policy Committee made up of Chrysler's executive Bob Lutz, Product Design chief Tom Gale, and Engineering Vice President François Castaing.Shelby was used for his wealth of experience to make the Viper as light and powerful as possible.
The following cars were modified by Shelby, and bore his name, but still sold under the Dodge marque:
- 1983–1984 Dodge Shelby Charger
- 1985–1987 Dodge Charger Shelby
- 1984–1986 Dodge Omni GLH
The following cars used Shelby-modified parts, but were not overseen by Carroll Shelby:
- 1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z C/S
- 1987–1988 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z
- 1988–1991 Dodge Daytona C/S
- 1989–1991 Dodge Daytona Shelby
- 1988–1989 Dodge Lancer Shelby
- 1989–1990 Dodge Shadow Competition
- 1991–1992 Dodge Spirit R/T
- 1992–1993 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T
The following cars were modified and sold as Shelbys:
- 1986 Shelby GLHS (based on the Dodge Omni GLH)
- 1987 Shelby GLHS (based on the Dodge Charger Shelby)
- 1987 Shelby Lancer (based on the Dodge Lancer)
- 1987 Shelby CSX (based on the Dodge Shadow)
- 1988 Shelby CSX-T (based on the Dodge Shadow)
- 1989 Shelby Dakota (based on the Dodge Dakota)
- 1989 Shelby CSX-VNT (based on the Dodge Shadow)
Carroll Shelby's name is associated with a popular chili fixings kit. The kit is mostly spices in several packets, all contained in a miniature brown paper bag. On the side of the bag is a story related by Shelby about his cooking chili during his racing days. On the front of the bag is a depiction of a big western black hat, a trademark piece of clothing for Shelby. He was a founder of the Terlingua International Chili Championship in Terlingua, Texas.
In 1967, Shelby's name was briefly tied to a men's grooming product. "Carroll Shelby's Pit-Stop ... a Real Man's Deodorant" was promoted in car magazines, but sold poorly.
Shelby was the initial partner of Dan Gurney in establishing Gurney's All American Racers.
Donzi Marine, of Sarasota, Florida, created a special limited-edition 22-foot (7 m) speedboat (only 50 were made), based on their Classic line of boats in collaboration with Carroll Shelby. The boat is known as the Donzi Shelby 22 GT. This project has been in place since the 2007 model year and is currently the only boat ever to wear the Shelby name.
Carroll Shelby produced a line of eight-spoke alloy wheels for Saab automobiles in the early-to-mid 1980s. They were available in gold (Goldvane), hammered silver (Silvervane) finish, and a black hammered finish. These wheels were available through Saab dealers and could be fitted to Saab 99 and Saab 900 models manufactured through 1987. They are a sought-after accessory for Saab enthusiasts today.
In 1989, Shelby was inducted into Woodrow Wilson High School's Hall of Fame when it was created during the celebration of the school's 60th Anniversary. In 2009, Shelby was Grand Marshal of the Parade and spoke to and met with scores of fellow alums during Woodrow's 80th Anniversary Celebration.
In 2008 Shelby was awarded the 2008 Automotive Executive of the Year Award.
Shelby established the Carroll Shelby Children's Foundation to pay the medical bills of children who have heart disease but cannot afford treatment.