Carroll Shelby built some of America’s great muscle cars but he was also a legend in American high performance car racing. His racing career started in 1952. He started off drag racing but quickly moved to road racing. He won his very first race, driving an MG. He beat not only other MG’s in the race but also the more powerful Jaguars. By 1954 Shelby was racing in Europe driving Aston Martins for John Wyers team. In November of 1954 Shelby rolled his racecar 4 times in a Pan American Mexico race and suffered cuts, breaks and a shattered elbow. He continued to race in 1955 using a special fiberglass cast and taping his hands to the steering wheel, despite these hardships Shelby continued to win. In 1957 Carroll Shelby was named racecar driver of the year by Sports Illustrated magazine. In 1960 Shelby moved to California and opened a Goodyear Tire Dealership and later that year he competed in his last race.
Carroll Shelby was retired from racing but he would now begin a chapter in his life that would have a profound impact on American sports cars. He opened a high performance driving school in 1961 and in March of 1962 he opened Shelby America in Venice California. His first car the Shelby Cobra was a combination of a frame being built by AC in England and a small block V-8 being built by Ford Motor Company. The Shelby Cobra was the fastest production car being built at the time. Shelby America went through some start up challenges but eventually starts selling quite a few Cobras. The car is a proven winner in the racing world and in 1965 Ford asks Shelby to develop a high performance Mustang for the street and racing. Ford was eager to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette on both the street and the track and they felt that Carroll Shelby could give them the edge that they needed.
In September 1964 Ford Motor Company and Shelby America form a partnership to build high performance Mustangs. Ford starts shipping stripped down Mustangs to Shelby and lets him do whatever he wants to them. The first 1965 Shelby GT 350 race and production cars are built in late 1964. They are only offered in white and Shelby added a blue stripe down the side with the words GT 350. Under the hood Shelby put in an aluminum intake, which pushed the horsepower from 271 to 306; they also added a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed transmission. The suspension received a larger front stabilizer bar, Koni shocks and traction bars as well as a 1″ sway bar. On the more cosmetic side the mustangs were fitted with fiberglass hoods with functional scoops. The rear seat was removed to make way for the spare tire and competition seat belts were put in. These models were put on the market in January of 1965. They did not sell fast but car enthusiasts were buying them, which was the target market.
In March of 1965 Shelby America moved production of the Mustangs to the Los Angeles International Airport. They started work on what would be the 1966 model. The 1966 GT350 would be offered in more then one color. It was available in black, red, green, and blue. Shelby America also offered a supercharged version of the GT350 as well as a convertible model. In November of 1965 Shelby works out a deal with Hertz to build Shelby GT 350H. He was originally given an order for 200, which is later upped to 1000.
The 1967 model year of the Shelby Mustangs offered a new style. Ford was building a tougher looking car and Shelby made it even more muscular by adding two scoops to the side and a spoiler. Many of the body components on the GT 350 were made of fiberglass. The biggest addition to the Shelby lineup was the GT 500. The Shelby 500 was the big-block version of the Shelby Mustang. It had a huge 428cu in. police interceptor motor, which produced 355 horsepower. You could buy the car with either a C-6 Automatic Transmission or a Ford Toploader 4-Speed manual. It came with power steering and brakes. The Hertz model was not produced this year nor was the supercharged version.
There were not a lot of changes made for the 1968 model year, except for some pretty extensive name changes. The Shelby Mustangs for this year were called the Shelby Cobra and the GT500 was released as the GT500KR for King of the Road. Most of the changes were cosmetic and Shelby produced a large number of convertibles for this model year.
In 1969 Ford completely redesigned the Mustang line. Shelby made some dramatic cosmetic changes to the car, he extended the entire nose of the car using fiberglass and put 5 scoops on the hood alone. The engine was basically the same but was also offered as a 351. 1969 would be the last year of the Shelby Mustangs. As sales slowed dramatically the partnership between Ford and Shelby America ended. The remaining 1969 models would be updated to 1970 specifications and sold. In December of 1969 Shelby America closed its doors. It would be the end of an era for American muscle cars. Carroll Shelby would go on to work for Dodge/Chrysler and would be instrumental in the Dodge Viper project.
In 2003 Ford Motor Company and Shelby Automotive announced they would begin building cars together again. The Shelby Cobra was introduced in 2004 and the Shelby Mustang GT 500 was introduced a year later in 2005. In 2006 Motor Trend magazine named Carroll Shelby one of the 50 most important people in the automotive industry and later that year Hertz and Ford agree to resurrect the Hertz Mustang for the car rental company. The convertible Shelby Mustang was brought out in 2007. The Shelby Mustangs are still being produced today.