Saturday, May 12, 2012

Carroll Shelby — 1923-2012

The man who made his name synonymous with muscle cars has died.

In the 1960s, Shelby raised the profile of American racing machines on the international sports-car circuit by packing powerful Ford V-8 engines into lightweight British roadsters, and by developing racing cars for Ford.

His Shelby Cobras proved worthy competitors to the likes of Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar and became prized collector’s items. Today they command six- and seven-figure prices.

“Carroll is sort of like the car world’s Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays,” Jay Leno, who owned three Shelby cars, told The New York Times in 2003. “Unlike so many racers, he didn’t come from a rich family, so he signifies that Everyman, common-sense ideal. When I was a kid, American cars were big, clunky things, until Carroll used his ingenuity to make them compete with European cars.”

In 1959, Shelby became the second American-born driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the brutal endurance race in France, co-driving a British-made Aston Martin.

But a heart ailment forced him to quit driving, and he founded Shelby American in 1962. It became one of the most successful independent sports-car builders of the era.