Q&A: Carroll Shelby

Chicken farmer, racing-car driver, auto manufacturer, chili impresario–your life has been full of twists and turns . . .

I’m having fun. Thank God I’m not an engineer; then I’d have to play by the rules! I pick the best people and work with them. I’m very thankful. I’m eighty-four years old; I’ve been at the top, and I’ve been at the bottom. I was out of the car business for almost thirty years. I could tell that real cars were going away back in 1966. But now we’re back in the performance business. These [new] cars are so superior to the ones we sold in the ’60s. Those cars could only go in a straight line; these cars can do anything.

Why are you building the Shelby GT500KR [King of the Road], and why now?

You know, these things are really helping the dealers. We’re building a thousand of them, all with 540 horsepower. The dealers can sell them for over list. They can make lots of money. That makes for happy dealers.

You have outlasted generations–and several administrations–of leadership at Ford. How does that feel?

[Laughs.] I never thought of it that way! Damn, I think you’re right! I’ll have to bring that up to some of those pissant forty-five-year-olds up there!

What’s the one question that no one has ever asked that you wish someone would?

You know, I don’t know. I’ve been asked ’em all. But thanks for not asking the question that everyone else does: “How did you come up with the idea for the Cobra?” I’ll bet I answered that one a thousand times. [The legend is that the car’s name came to him in a dream–Ed.]

What do you think is your legacy? What’s important to you?

That’s easy: helping kids. The Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation gives medical and educational assistance to underprivileged kids. That’s the most important legacy.