"My name Is Carroll Shelby and performance is my business"
Carroll Shelby was a legend with an unbridled passion for fast cars. He was arguably the first car guy to effectively bridge business and motorsports in America. His life was a roller coaster ride full of tremendous highs and depressing lows. But that didn't stop him from fighting off bankruptcy and heart problems with the same tenacity he applied to racing. From the early 1950’s through the 1970’s, Shelby wrestled with some of the biggest names in the automotive world, and won. He was the embodiment of post World War II America and the cars he built over the course of 50 years were a reflection of that. They were rowdy, clever, and resilient. With their bellowing Ford
V-8’s, crude suspensions, and lightweight bodies, they dominated streets and race tracks the world over. In honor of the man who made performance his business, here’s a list of our favorite Shelby cars.
10 - Dodge Omni GLH/GLHS
The Dodge Omni
wasn’t a particularly memorable car, but Carroll Shelby got involved in the development of a performance version anyway. The Omni “Goes Like Hell” (GLH) weighed less than 2,200 lbs, allowing it to outperform the Volkswagen GTi in every category except curb appeal. Not put off by the forgettable nature of the Omni, Shelby put together the limited edition "Goes Like Hell (and then) Some" (GLHS)
based on the Omni GLH Turbo. In 1986, 500 of the already hot hatches received the full Shelby treatment. Upgrades included a larger Garrett turbo, an intercooler, lowered suspension, big brakes (for the time), and fully adjustable Koni shocks. All together, it was good for about 175 hp, and easily out handled the Ferrari 328
. Not bad for an $11,000 econo-box.
9 - 2012 Shelby 1000 & 1000 S/C
The most powerful Mustang
ever, it produces 950 hp from a supercharged 5.4 liter V-8, and 1100 hp in the track-only Shelby 1000
S/C version. Those are insane numbers for a street car with a solid rear axle. Then again, Carroll Shelby was never known for being rational. The Shelby 1000 gets to the 950 mark thanks to a Kenne Bell 3.6-liter supercharger, new cams, and larger intercooler. The S/C gets an even bigger supercharger, American Racing headers, and a new exhaust system. The standard GT500’s already sinister looks are beefed up thanks to bigger wheels, bigger brakes, and bespoke Shelby suspension components. Only 100 examples of both the Shelby 1000 and the Shelby 1000 S/C will be made. The $200,000 price tag seems fair especially since this is the last car Carroll Shelby saw through to production.
8 - 1992 Dodge Viper
Following the Omni GLH program, Shelby teamed up with Chrysler
in the development of the Dodge
Viper. The result was a distilled supercar powered by an eight-liter V-10 from a pick-up truck. It had plastic windows, no ABS, and its side exit exhausts doubled as branding irons. When it launched, the 1992 Viper
was the closest thing you could get to a modern day Cobra. The Viper
went on to win the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans, making it the first American car to do so since the GT40 in 1969.
7 - 1964 Sunbeam Tiger
In 1964 Sunbeam was looking to add a little muscle to its popular Sunbeam Alpine Roadster. So it approached Shelby to help turn its four-cylinder Alpine into a fire-breathing sports car
. Over the course of three years, 7,000 Sunbeam Tigers were built with Ford 260 V-8s sandwiched in between their fenders. The Shelby formula of big motor/little car transformed the Sunbeam into a back road monster. To this day, the Tiger still remains the cheap alternative to the original Shelby Cobra.
6 - 1963 Corvette Grand Sport
Technically, Shelby didn’t make this car, but no doubt the racing success of the Cobra spurred its development. Chief engineer Zora Arkus-Dontov, fed up with watching his Corvettes
lose weekend after weekend, secretly launched the Grand Sport
program in 1962. He began by trimming the fat off the original Corvette Z06 race car, adding disc brakes, and dropping in a specially built small block. The 377-cu in V8 made somewhere between 485-550 hp. Unfortunately, GM brass killed the project before the 125 examples needed for GT-class homologation were built. The five Grand Sports that survived entered competition as prototypes, and never competed directly against the Cobra. Which is a shame, because no one ever got to see this rivalry play out in a real race, or witness Shelby’s reaction to it.
5 - Shelby GT500 KR
“King of the Road” was the beginning of the end for the Shelby/Ford relationship. The name actually came from Chevrolet
, who intended to use it for their ultimate road going Corvette
. However, Carroll beat the Chevy boys to the trademark office and kept the name for this Mustang. All 1,712 GT500 KR
’s were powered by the Ford 428, while a handful were fitted with a supercharger that boosted horsepower to nearly 500. This is one Mustang that should be on everyone’s “to drive” list.
4 - Shelby GT350
Carroll Shelby himself called the original Mustang
a secretary’s car. So when Ford asked him to build a race car for SCCA B Production class competition, he stepped up to the challenge. Shelby began by taking a few hundred Mustangs right off the assembly line before their interiors and exhausts were installed. Upon arrival at his Los Angeles workshop, Shelby threw a high-rise intake on the 289 V-8, and bolted in a Ford Galaxy rear end. Shelby didn’t stop there, though. The suspension mounting points were modified, bigger brakes were fitted, and weight savings like fiberglass panels were fabricated. The end result was one of the best handling, rawest Mustangs ever.
3 - Shelby Daytona Coupe
Designed by Pete Brock and built in Modena, the Daytona Coupe
was the Cobra’s faster twin. Following the success of the Cobra, Shelby and Brock worked on creating a more aerodynamic version to conquer the 1964 World Sports Car Championship. The Daytona was powered by the same 289 V-8, giving it an 80-hp advantage over the Ferrari 250 GTO
. The sleek aerodynamic shape helped push its top speed close to 190 mph. Despite the amazing tag team effort by the Cobra and Daytona, Shelby lost the 1964 championship to Ferrari
by just six points. Fearful of total humiliation at the hands of the Americans, the Ferrari team pulled out of the GT class in 1965. The Daytona’s success in 1964 set the stage for the legendary six year battle between Ferrari and Shelby.
2 - Shelby Cobra
This is the car that made Carroll Shelby. What started out as a hot-rodder’s dream, became an American icon overnight. When AC
lost its engine supplier it turned to Carroll Shelby for help. The rest is history. For the early part of the 1960’s, the unsophisticated Cobra dominated European and American sports car racing. It took major victories at some of the most historic racing events like Sebring and Spa. Whether it came with the original Ford HiPo 260, the 289
, or the beastly Ford 427
, the Cobra combined savage American performance with classic British style.
1 - Ford GT40
is without a doubt Shelby’s greatest achievement. It stands as a testament to his talents as a team manager more than anything else he built. The story behind the GT40 is as long as it is epic, but in the end Shelby helped Ford build its first world class sports car in less than a year. The combination of Texas swagger, and cutting-edge technology drove the GT40 to four consecutive Le Mans victories. It's difficult to do the GT40 story justice in so few words, and to be honest A.J. Baime does a way better job than we can. So pick up Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans
, and revel in American motorsports glory.
Photos Courtesy of RM Auctions