When Shelby died Thursday night in a Dallas hospital, he also was one of the nation’s longest-living heart transplant recipients, having received a heart on June 7, 1990, from a 34-year-old man who died of an aneurysm. Shelby also received a kidney transplant in 1996 from his son, Michael.
“What made him so unusual is he developed, literally, hundreds of cars,” said Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. “This guy was 89 years old and he was still developing cars.”
Shelby first made his name behind the wheel of a car, winning France’s grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race with teammate Ray Salvadori in 1959. He had turned to the race-car circuit in the 1950s after his chicken ranch failed. He won dozens of races in various classes throughout the 1950s and was twice named Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year.
He already was suffering serious heart problems when he won Le Mans and ran the race “with nitroglycerin pills under his tongue,” his longtime friend, Dick Messer, executive director of Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum, once noted. Soon after his win at Le Mans, he gave up racing and turned his attention to designing high-powered “muscle cars” that eventually became the Shelby Cobra and the Mustang Shelby GT500.
“He’s an icon in the medical world and an icon in the automotive world,” Messer said.
“His legacy is the diversity of his life,” he added. “He’s incredibly innovative. His life has always been the reinvention of Carroll Shelby.”
The Cobra, which used Ford engines and a British sport car chassis, was the fastest production model ever made when it was displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1962.
A year later, Cobras were winning races over Corvettes, and in 1964 the Rip Chords had a Top 5 hit on the Billboard pop chart with “Hey, Little Cobra.” (”Spring, little Cobra, getting ready to strike, spring, little Cobra, with all of your might. Hey, little Cobra, don’t you know you’re gonna shut ‘em down?”)
In 2007, an 800-horsepower model of the Cobra made in 1966, once Shelby’s personal car, sold for $5.5 million at auction, a record for an American car.
“It’s a special car. It would do just over three seconds to 60 (mph), 40 years ago,” Shelby told the crowd before the sale, held in Scottsdale, Ariz.
It was Lee Iacocca, then head of Ford Motor Co., who assigned Shelby the task of designing a model of Ford’s Mustang that could compete against the Corvette for young male buyers. Iacocca often joked that Shelby was so persistent he gave him the money and Ford V-8 engines to build the Cobra just to get him out of his office.
If you ever drove one ,then you know it was fun,....I have driven,both types & had a ball......thank you Mr Shelby. -Les , HF&RV , Cheers !