Legendary entrepreneur, American muscle-car manufacturer, and race-car driver Carroll Shelby died Friday at the age of 89, according to a statement by his company Carroll Shelby International Inc. (OTC: CSBI.PK). The cause of death was not disclosed.
Born in Leesburg, Texas, on Jan. 11, 1923, Shelby lived a storied life. He was one of those World War II pilots known as "flying sergeants," a championship-winning race-car driver, the founder of Shelby American, and the creator of the legendary Shelby GT500 Super Snake. The Shelby Cobra is one of the most iconic cars in American motoring history.
"We are all deeply saddened and feel a tremendous sense of loss for Carroll's family, ourselves, and the entire automotive industry," said Joe Conway, president of Carroll Shelby International.
Shelby was the son of a homemaker and a postal worker in the dusty town of Leesburg, and he attended high school in Dallas before joining the Army Air Corps to fight during World War II. After the war, he launched a career in business running a dump-truck operation, chicken farm, and sports-car dealership. Shelby began working his way onto the muscle-car scene by building "Scaglietti Corvettes" based on the GM Roadster with his business partners, Jim and Dick Hall.
While building Scaglietti Corvettes, Shelby was also gunning his engine in the racing world, first drag-racing a 1932 Ford, then racing around the U.S. When all of his chickens succumbed to limberneck disease, Shelby made a break with poultry and became a full-time racing driver. However, Shelby always had a bit of the chicken farmer in him, and striped bib coveralls became his trademark racing attire.
During his racing career, Shelby drove for such high-profile manufacturers as Aston-Martin and Ferrari, and he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He also set speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. In addition, he was named Sports Illustrated's "Driver of the Year" twice. In 1960, however, a heart condition brought Shelby's racing days to an early end.
The end of Shelby's racing days was not an end to his achievements, as he began stuffing muscle cars, mostly Ford GT series Mustangs, with increasingly huge amounts of horsepower. Ford gave Shelby motors and startup cash for a vehicle modification venture that came to be known as Shelby American. The first car, a small two-seater, was known as the Shelby Cobra and was introduced at the 1962 New York Auto Show.
Shelby didn't just work with Ford. He also had a hand in developing Chrysler's Dodge Viper, which he drove to pace the Indianapolis 500 in 1991,
The last car Shelby worked on, the enormous Shelby 1000, made its debut at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, a bookend to an illustrious career. It was the highest-horsepower car Shelby ever made.
When Shelby rode in the 800-horsepower Super Snake last year, he looked at his engineers and asked, "When am I gonna get 1000?" -- or so the story goes. The Shelby 1000 was built "from the mind and the heart and the soul of Carroll Shelby," John Luft, president of Shelby American, said at the New York Auto Show this year.
Shelby's cars eventually ran in LeMans, and he became the only person in history to win the race as a driver, team owner, and automotive manufacturer.
"Carroll Shelby was an automotive visionary and leader. His West Texas down-home bib overall style had a huge emotional impact on me when he launched his now-legendary Ford-powered Cobra team, I found myself a very willing volunteer to lend my driving ability to his quest to take on the established European teams on their home turf," said Dan Gurney, Shelby American racing driver.
Shelby has helped keep American muscle cars alive in an era of hybrid and electric vehicles, of the minivan and the eco-conscious Prius. Thanks to Carroll Shelby and his contributions to the automotive industry, car lovers will be able to continue driving stupidly fast while hearing awesomely huge engines roar for years to come.
"There has been no one like Carroll Shelby and never will be. However, we promised Carroll we would carry on, and he put the team, the products, and the vision in place to do just that," Conway said.
Shelby is survived by his wife Cleo; children Patrick, Michael, and Sharon; sister Anne Shelby Ellison; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Funeral plans are currently unavailable. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Shelby's charitable foundation, the Carroll Shelby Foundation.
Carroll Shelby International shares were up 22.22 percent to 22 cents a stub on Friday.
Check out this "In Their Own Words -- Carroll Shelby" video: