Carroll Shelby was nothing if not a car guy, and much of his legacy will live in his automotive creations, of which there are many. While Shelby has made enough gas-powered race cars and street machines to fill books, we’ve compiled a list of our very favorites.
Original Shelby Cobra
Carroll Shelby introduced the original Shelby Cobra, chassis code CSX2000, a the New York auto show in spring 1962. The prior September, Shelby had learned that British company AC Cars had lost its engine supplier and would be forced to stop building its Ace roadster. The American instead proposed that AC Cars provide chassis to Shelby, which would then install a 260 cubic-inch (4.3 liters) Ford V-8 engine. The name “Cobra” apparently came to Shelby in a dream.Only the first 75 or so cars had the 245-hp, 260-c.i. V-8 before Shelby switched to a 271-hp, 289-c.i. (4.7-liter) engine.
Shelby Daytona Coupe
By 1963, Carroll Shelby had set his sights on victory in Europe. But on the faster tracks across the ocean, the open-top Cobra wouldn’t have been competitive due to poor aerodynamics, not to mention reduced safety. Shelby American designer Peter Brock was tasked with creating a coupe, and from that design prompt was born the Daytona Coupe. When the company first tested chassis CSX2287 at Riverside Raceway, it was four seconds quicker per lap than the Cobra roadster.
Just six copies were produced; except for the first model, the aluminum bodywork was produced in Modena, Italy by Carrozzeria Gransport. The race cars were extremely successful, winning the GT class at the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1964, followed by victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 12 Hours of Sebring in 1965, as well as setting 23 speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1965. Unfortunately, a new FIA racing rule in 1966 required all race cars to be homologated with at least 500 street-legal copies, rendering the Daytona Coupe illegal for competition and thus obsolete.
It has to be one of the greatest racing stories of all time. In 1963 Enzo Ferrari backed out of talks with Henry Ford II, abruptly cancelling the sale of Ferrari to Ford, something that was all but completed. Ford, enraged, instructs his engineers to do two things: one, build a racing car suitable of competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and two, beat Ferrari.
In 1964, Ford’s engineers (along with race car builder Lola) did neither: the Mark I GT40 may have been a stunning-looking race car, but it scored DNFs at both theNurburgring 1000km and Le Mans after mechanical failures. Frustrated, Ford engineers packed up the cars (still dirty from its race in Nassau, Bahamas) and shipped them to Carroll Shelby. Shelby and his team upgraded the car with a slightly larger engine, magnesium wheels, and better brakes, and sent them to the race circuit in 1965. When the initial modifications weren’t enough, Shelby gave the GT40 a completely new heart for 1966–a 7.0-liter V-8.
At Circuit de la Sarthe in 1966, Ferrari was massacred: Fords took 1-2-3 in the 24-hour race, although the win was slightly marred by some 23rd-hour controversy about team orders. Still, Henry Ford II’s goal to hit Enzo Ferrari where it hurt had succeeded.
427 Cobra/Super Snake
The Shelby badge is arguably best known when it’s affixed to one of two cars: the Ford Mustang, or the Shelby Cobra. While the Cobra CSX2000 is already one of our favorite Shelby creations, we admire the 427 Cobra for taking the Cobra and taking it to new heights of lunacy. Shelby’s boys stripped the Cobra of its 289-cubic-inch V-8 engine and put in a 7.0-liter monster. The initial results included downed trees, broken ribs, and mangled driveshafts, but before long the 427 saw some success.
The 427 Cobra Super Snake, which packed the same 427-cubic-inch (7.0 liter) V-8 engine but withtwo superchargers and an automatic transmission, was immortalized in “200 MPH,” a 13-minute stand-up comedy bit by Comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby had ordered one of two Super Snakes for himself after a chance run in with Shelby (the two were friends), but things took a turn for the worse (in dramatic, comic fashion) shortly after Cosby took delivery.
“I looked at the speedometer…the speedometer starts at zero and goes all the way up around to 200 mph. And under the 200 there’s still more room and the words ‘oh wow.’”
The car was said to have at least 800 horsepower, and Cosby ended up returning the car to Shelby after one evening with it, proclaiming it undriveable as a result of too much power. The Super Snake’s next buyer, Tony Maxey, accidentally drove the car off a cliff some time later. For better or worse, the 427’s status as a bad boy racer was cemented.
Returning your rental car to Hertz with evidence of fast food consumption inside is probably par for the course (what’s a few McDonald’s wrappers among friends?) but a couple of examples of the Shelby GT350-H, nicknamed “Rent-a-Racer,” were returned to Hertz with something else inside. It’s been said that GT350-Hs were returned to Hertz Rent-a-Car locations with evidence of welded in for use in a sanctioned race event.
We can hardly blame the renters for that: the Shelby GT350-H may have been parked on the same lot as any number of boring compact cars, but it was a true racer for the road. The first 85 models were essentially reskinned GT350s, with four-speed manual transmissions and gold racing stripes, and the second batch of 800 had automatic transmissions and gold-on-black paintjobs. With 306 horsepower on tap from Ford’s familiar 289-cubic-inch V-8, the GT350-H was undoubtedly some of the most fun one could have on four (rented) wheels. Here’s hoping all of the renters purchased the extra insurance.
Dodge Omni GLH/GLH Turbo/GLHS
“There must be a zillion better little boxes on the road than the GLH Turbo–cars with more features and slicker options, more stylish cars, cars with fewer rattles, civilized cars. But nothing on the road says ‘We bad!‘ better than Dodge’s demon machine.”
That quote was written in 1985 by Automobile Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jean Jennings, and shows Shelby’s overarching theme among his cars: while some can be derided for being a little crude or difficult to live with, they’re powerful, brash pieces of equipment and they make big statements.
The Dodge Omni was just a plebian econobox when it came onto the scene in 1978, but Carroll Shelby and his team fettled with the car and ended up with the GLH, an acronym that famously stands for “Goes Like Hell.” The GLH later offered a turbo version and even spawned the Shelby GLHS, an Omni built to, as the acronym suggests, “[Go] Like Hell S’more.” In 1986 the GLHS went from 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds, and made 175 horsepower. In comparison, a Volkswagen GTI made 200 horsepower and took 7.0 seconds to do the job…20 years later. Perhaps Shelby’s recipe for hot hatch performance is something close to timeless.
At the 2005 New York auto show, Ford and Shelby introduced the Mustang Shelby GT500, which went on sale in summer 2006 as a 2007 model. Based on a regular Ford Mustang, the GT500 represented the first true collaboration between Ford and Carroll Shelby in several years. The primary upgrade was a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 engine with 500 hp and 480 lb-ft, matched by new suspension components, upgraded brakes, and muscular new body add-ons. A year later, the Shelby GT500 KR — “King of the Road” — was introduced with 540 hp and 510 lb-ft. Only 1000 examples were produced.
In 2011, the GT500 received a major upgrade when the 5.4-liter V-8 moved to all-aluminum construction, reducing weight and thus improving handling. The engine also was boosted to 550 hp and 510 lb-ft. For 2013, Ford has taken the Shelby GT500 to an even more extreme level. A new supercharged 5.8-liter V-8 makes 650 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, and Ford says the car will reach 200 mph.
Honorable Mention: Dodge Viper
There is no shortage of automotive industry members who claim to have fathered the Dodge Viper, and Carroll Shelby’s role was indeed quite small. The back story is now familiar: then-Dodge employee Bob Lutz wanted to build a modern-day Cobra, but needed to convince company chairman Lee Iacocca. Shelby was already on the company payroll as a performance consultant, so Lutz asked Shelby to help present the idea of the 1989 Viper concept car to Iacocca. He reportedly screamed at Iacocca, “You have got to do this” — and miraculously, the Viper concept car was approved. Shelby became a member of the executive committee for Dodge Viper development, endorsed the concept at its debut at the 1989 Detroit auto show, and was often pictured in press photos as Dodge developed the sports car. Mostly, though, the car is mentioned here because it was inspired directly by Shelby’s original Cobra.
Honorable Mention: Ford GT
Carroll Shelby helped bring racing success to the original GT40, so it seemed only right he was consulted on the modern-day Ford GT supercar that was sold in 2005 and 2006. While he didn’t really have much influence on the new GT, Shelby was brought on as one of the lead consultants for the car. To make sure the modern GT stayed true to the styling of the original, Ford even put a GT40 in the middle of the design studio to inspire its stylists.Even if his input on the GT was minimal, Shelby’s success with the GT40 paved the way for Ford’s retro supercar.
List compiled and edited by Jake Holmes, Evan McCausland, and Ben Timmins
Shelby GT350-H photo courtesy of Wikipedia