Updated: May 17, 2021
From winning the 24 hours of Lemans to helping Chrysler develop a quick little hatchback, few people have left a mark on automotive culture quite like Carrol Shelby.
Ford's Mustang was a tremendous sales accomplishment when launched in the spring of 1964. Still, Lee Iacocca, who was Ford's Division General Manager, was concerned, even though it was selling well. The Mustang needed a performance image, and Lee didn't think it fit into the Ford Division Total Performance marketing program. So Iacocca asked Shelby if he could make the Mustang into a genuine sports car. The outcome was the 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350. As a result, the Shelby Mustang earned its sports car and performance image on race tracks across the United States. Participating in the Sports Car Club of America's B Production Class, the Mustang GT350 raced against Corvette Stingrays, Jaguar XKEs, Sunbeam Tigers, and several different Ferraris. The Mustang GT350 dominated the competition, winning the 1965 B Production National Championship while establishing a predominant performance image for the Ford Mustang.
Looking to give the Shelby mustang a little bit more power, Carrol introduced the GT500 in 1967 after Ford had enlarged the Mustang enough to hold a big-block V-8. This new GT500 was powered by a 428 cobra jet engine that was rated at 335 horsepower. However, many people claim that Ford and Shelby lied about the Cobra Jets power output, and the engines were actually making closer to 400 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque.
During their time working on the GT350, Ford GT, and Cobra programs, Shelby and Iacocca became friends. Then, in late 1978, Iacocca was hired by Chrysler Corporation to rescue the corporation from bankruptcy. He more than succeeded and, by 1982, wanted to re-establish Dodge as the performance division of Chrysler Corporation. To fulfill his aspiration, Lee Iacocca asked Carroll to help him rebuild Dodge's performance image that had been long lost.
Their collaboration started with the launch of the 1983 Dodge Shelby Charger. The Shelby Charger was built on the factory Charger assembly lines. With enhanced styling and modified suspensions, the 1983-87 Shelby Chargers were quick, economical performance cars, especially when the turbocharged 2.2L engines were introduced in 1985. Carrol Shelby was also the driving force behind the Dodge Omni GLH (for "Goes Like Hell!), making waves in the Hot Hatch class of performance cars. With the bonus of an intercooler, Shelby manifold, and turned the boost up to 12 psi, these lightweight four-cylinder Shelby's performed like V-8s.
In 1988, the president of Chrysler, Bob Lutz, wanted to build a sports car on the same principles as the original Shelby Cobra. Lutz wanted a Chrysler with raw driving performance, abundant horsepower, and aggressive looks. Lutz figured Chrysler had all the tools needed to develop such a sports car quickly; Lutz had the idea to use the V-10 engine that was being developed for the heavy-duty Dodge Ram pickup truck and the suspension parts from Dakota pickup truck. In hearing about Bob Lutz's idea, lead truck engineer François Castaing and Chrysler designer Tom Gale were sold on the project. Carroll Shelby was convinced to join the project, who loved the idea of a Cobra-inspired Chrysler. With Carrol Shelby on board, CEO of Chrysler Lee Iacocca gave the green light.
When the viper hit showrooms in 1992, it was an instant sensation, with its huge 400 horsepower V10 and lack of driver's aids made it almost impossible to control for the average driver.
The last car Carroll Shelby directly had a hand in creating and developing before his passing was a Ford. In 2011, Shelby American company collaborated with Electronic Arts to create the GT500 Super Snake 2011. This car is based on the 2011 Mustang GT but came with a mindblowing (for the time) 750 horsepower from its 5.4L V8.
Shelby passed away on May 10, 2012, at the age of 89. Carral had been suffering from a severe hereditary heart illness since he was a young boy. Few people have left such a significant impact on the automotive world as Carroll Shelby, and the cars he developed are still some of the most sought after in the world.