Marques of distinction - Shelby

By: Unique Cars magazine

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shelby mustang shelby mustang

Despite a life plagued by health problems, Carroll Shelby was an icon of automotive high performance and remained involved in the development of cars that carried his universally recognised 'Cobra' emblem

Originally published in Unique Cars #304, Oct/Nov 2009

When the former Aston-Martin works driver and 1959 Le Mans winner decided to build a definitive sports car, the V8-engined monster that emerged was based on the meek and mild British-built AC Ace sports car.

The Cobra appeared in 1962, initially with a 4.2-litre Ford V8, and was aimed at challenging the new Jaguar E Type. By 1966, Shelby’s 427SC version had become the fastest sports car in the world, with a monster 7.0-litre engine and 300km/h top speed.

Contributions to development of Ford’s troubled GT40 Le Mans car and a GT350 version of the new Mustang allowed Shelby to forge a relationship with Ford, which would survive, despite some conflicts, into the ’70s.

Mustang-based Shelby models achieved immediate competition success in the USA and Europe. Rental car giant Hertz even ordered 1000 specially-built cars – designated GT350-H – which often returned from weekend hire showing the signs of race-circuit combat.

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In 1970, Ford’s arrangement with Shelby American was terminated and Carroll Shelby shifted his energies to other interests including wheel manufacturing, beef cattle and marketing a chilli-making kit.


In the 1980s, Chrysler Chairman and former Ford executive Lee Iacocca contracted Shelby to breathe some magic into his company’s less than inspiring Dodge line-up.

Shelby contributed initially by reworking three Dodge models and adding his name to several others. From 1986, a separate line of Shelby versions was offered; most with turbocharged engines and stunning performance from their sub-3.0-litre engines.

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During the late-’80s and while selling ‘continuation’ versions of his Cobra, Shelby played a leading role in creating a car that rekindled the concept pioneered 25 years earlier by his 427SC.

The Dodge Viper used an 8.0-litre, V10 truck engine with massive torque and the durability to finish 12th outright in its first tilt at the Le Mans 24 Hour race. He also revived another successful strategy; building 1001 CSX-T Dodge Shadows for the Thrifty car rental chain.

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Following a heart transplant in 1990, it might have seemed reasonable for Shelby to retire. However, ‘Old Shel’ maintained his passion for high performance and in 2003 established Shelby Automobiles.

Shortly after, he unveiled the company’s first all-new design – the Cobra Concept – and today the business is a thriving supplier of high-performance Ford Mustang derivatives, including the 525kW Super Snake.


From Unique Cars #304, Oct/Nov 2009

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