“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 1923, Shelby suffered heart valve leakage problems and spent much of his childhood in bed. Though Shelby’s health improved as he matured, he took nitroglycerine pills when he began racing because of his heart condition. Shelby’s first experience behind the wheel of a race car was in a friend’s 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 earned Sports Illustrated’s driver of the year award to 1956 and 1957 and competed in nearly a dozen F1 races between 1958 and 1959. In 1959, Shelby became the second American to win 24 hours of Le Mans. It was during that race that Shelby noted the performance of an English roadster built by AC Cars called the Ace, which three years later would become the basis for the Cobra. After retiring in October 1959 due to health concerns, 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, Shelby’s signature car, has wins on racing circuits all over the world. An influential force within the Ford Motor Company, Shelby assisted in the development of the GT40 and also worked on Chrysler’s Omni GLH and 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.