“I don’t think I’m a celebrity. I’m just a guy from east Texas who loves cars…”
Carroll Shelby brought excitement to motorsports and the American highway. Born in Leesburg, Texas, in January of 1923. Shelby suffered heart valve leakage problems and spent much of his childhood in bed. Though Shelby’s health would later improve, he took nitroglycerine pills when he began racing because of his heart condition. Shelby’s first experience behind the wheel of a racecar was in a friends MG TC, and later a Cad-Allard. The Allard’s combination of small size, light weight, and American V8 power would later serve as Shelby’s inspiration to create the legendary Cobra.
Shelby was very successful early on in his racing career, and he was eventually invited to drive for the Aston Martin and Maserati factory teams. He would earn Sports Illustrated’s driver of the year award for 1956 and 1957, and would compete in nearly a dozen F1 races between 1958 and 1959. One of Shelby’s signature race wins was the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans when he became the second American ever to win the race. It was during that race that Shelby noted the performance of an English roadster built by AC Cars called the Ace. Three years later, the AC Ace would become the basis for the Cobra. After retiring from driving in October 1959 due to his health, Shelby opened a high-performance driving school and founded Shelby-American. He obtained a license to import the AC Ace from England, and had AC fly a body to Dean Moon’s shop in Santa Fe Springs, California, where Shelby and his team then assembled the first Cobra.
The Cobra would become Shelby’s signature car, earning numerous wins on racing circuits all over the world. Shelby became an influential force of Ford’s cars, assisting in the development of the GT40 as well as the GT350 and GT500 Mustangs. Shelby would also help develop performance cars for Chrysler like the Omni GLH as well as the Dodge Viper. With a name that is now globally synonymous with motorsports and fast machinery, Shelby’s legacy lives on through his legendary cars.