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Farewell Carroll Shelby

May 11, 2012

The snake charmer has died.

Carroll Shelby was 89; he died on Thursday, May 10 at Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, TX. Larger than life, yes, even larger than his home state, the former chicken farmer left behind a trail of success in driving race cars, designing race cars, designing and building racing and street-going muscle cars, developing chili, selling Goodyear tires and philanthropy.

Yes, philanthropy. After Shelby received a heart transplant in 1990 and a kidney from son Mike in 1996, he put some of his vast energy stores toward combatting heart disease, a hereditary foe with which he’d lived all his life.

It was angina that pulled Shelby from driving and winning in 1959, after he’d earned victory with Briton Roy Salvadori in an Aston Martin DB3. He’d been looking to get out of driving for a good four-five years prior – even though he didn’t start racing until he was 30 – and getting into building sports cars and racing them.

With engineer Phil Remington by his side, and with such staff as Peter Brock and John Morton in his Los Angeles shop, Shelby took a flaccid British AC Ace roadster and made it into the Cobra, injecting Ford’s American V-8 engines of 289- and 427-cubic-inch displacement and making them icons that still command respect.

This year’s Rolex Monterey Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this August will focus on the Shelby Cobra and a record 45 cars are expected from around the world to take part in the festivities that celebrate a production run of 998 Shelby Cobra roadsters between 1962 and 1967.

He joined with Ford to try and topple Ferrari at Le Mans; Shelby and Enzo Ferrari never did see eye to eye and the GT40 Mark II was the car that won Le Mans in 1966 and continued to dominate sports prototype racing through the following four years.

Shelby even concocted a chili mix that could be considered a cure for baldness; it had great taste and heat – kind of like its mentor.

I referred to Carroll Shelby as a snake charmer and certainly he could be the most charming gentleman in the world – when he wanted to be. He fed his philanthropic needs with that charm and could entice just about anyone to see things his way.

He enticed Ford Motor Co to take its pony car, the Mustang and give it some, um, balls. The Shelby Mustang is still being made today by Shelby American in Las Vegas, and the 1,000-horsepower version was just recently announced at the New York Auto Show.

Carroll Shelby was many things: husband to Cleo, father to three, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was also a larger than life entrepreneur. “Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognized names in performance car history and he’s been successful at everything he’s done,” said Edsel B Ford II, the great grandson of Henry Ford, Ford Motor Co founder.

Goodbye Ol’ Shel… we’ll remember you well.

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