We took an opportunity earlier to remember Carroll Shelby’s life, but there are a few details you can’t cover in a short obituary. There are sounds and emotions, fender curves and high-rising cam noises, little nuances and details a few words could never begin to describe. So instead, we’ll show you. Throughout his life Shelby built and influenced many race-winning monsters. Here are a few.
Loosely based on his already successful AC Cobra, the Daytona coupe had a similar V8, but was far more aerodynamic to tackle the Mulsanne and similar endurance straits where the Cobra fell behind. For this, Shelby hired designer Peter Brock, and the streamlining did the trick, tacking 25 mph onto the Cobra’s top speed. Six of these beauties were built.
Ford fell head-over-heels for Shelby American’s work, and charged him to build not only their race cars, but also some angry versions of the Mustang. Among them was the Cobra GT500, packed with a 428 and two 600 cfm Holley four-barrels. The result was 355 hp, or so the brochure said. They had a tendency to underrate power figures in those days. We don’t know what the kid in this video says, but it’s probably, “Now we know which brake cooling intakes were actually functional!”
The mid-1980s were tough for the Big Three. Under assault from foreign, inexpensive hot hatches, Chrysler execs, namely Lee Iacocca, took their pitiful and boring K-cars to Shelby to get some work done. And work he did. The Dodge Omni GLH (Goes Like Hell) was boosted to 146 hp and stripped down to 2,200 lbs. It was more than a match for any Teutonic bunny, and helped legitimize the hot hatch segment in America.
Most of Shelby’s cars were extensively modified versions of existant models. The Series 1 was not. Shelby designed and built the curvaceous roadster from paper to metal, plugging in a 4 liter Oldsmobile V8. This was good for 320 hp and a 4.4 second 0-60 time. Unless you wanted yours with a supercharger. Then you got 600 hp and a 3.2 second run to 60. Only 249 were built.
None of these could have come about if not for the AC Cobra, Shelby’s first shoehorning of a huge engine into a lilliputian car. A tiny British roadster with so much power was sand in the swim shorts of the burgeoning muscle car era, as well as countless opponents on the race track. The original Cobra carried a 260 V8, upgraded in 1963 to the 289 that would eventually find a home in the Mustang. But later Shelby went blessedly mad and squeezed in a 427.
Shelby built a 900 hp version for Bill Cosby, who found it too powerful to drive, and gave it back.
The Cobra wasn’t the only serpentine monster to bear Shelby’s legacy. He sat on the Technical Policy Committee for the Dodge Viper, along with “Maximum” Bob Lutz, Tom Gale, and Francois Castaing. Lutz used Shelby as the Viper project’s “conscience,” keeping it pure: light and powerful, like the AC Cobras of old. It worked, and the Viper remains a legend in performance and styling.
Everyone remembers “Eleanor,” the you-won’t-like-me-when-I’m-angry GT500 Cobra Mustang, because it sold in far greater numbers than its little brother, the GT350. For $200 more, wouldn’t you go 500? But the 350 was no slouch, its 289 growling out 306 hp with the help of a high-riser intake manifold. Shelby also upgraded the rear axle and brakes, giving it discs up front and better drums in the back. The above GT350 owner might take issue with anyone calling it a secretary’s car.
The GT40 is the most attractive and iconic American race car ever built, and anyone who says otherwise can meet us outside. But we kid, we kid. The Daytona Coupe might take that title. In any case, the 40-inch-tall, 450 hp 5.0 V8-powered, Gurney Bubble bearing Prancing Pony eater was built by Shelby American specifically so Ford could topple Ferrari from their mountain of four consecutive Le Mans trophies. In fact, the first attempts to do so failed, and Ferrari won again in 1964 and 1965. And then 1966 rolled around, and the GT40 took a 1-2-3 finish, trouncing Ferrari and restoring Henry Ford II’s honor.
After all, in 1963, Ford spent millions auditing Ferrari in an effort to buy the firm. And then Ferrari backed out. In the old days, when auto execs got mad at each other, awesome things happened.
So these incredible machines reviewed, we choose to remember Carroll Shelby for the things he built, and the checkered flags with which they became so familiar.