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Cobra king Shelby dies at 89

2012-05-14 11:48

FATHER OF THE COBRA: Carroll Shelby (89), creator of the famous Shelby Cobra 427, and the Ford GT40 that beat Ferrari at Le Mans, has died. Pictured above, Shelby unveiled his 1964 production Cobra and Cobra race car at Shelby American in Cali

Carroll Shelby, the acknowledged father of the muscle car, has died in hospital in Dallas, Texas. He was 89.

His company, Carroll Shelby International, reported the car king’s death but did not disclose the cause but Facebook entry on Shelby’s name said he was admitted late in April with pneumonia.

The Washington Post has described Shelby as “a failed chicken farmer who roared out of the hills of East Texas to become a champion race car driver and the father of the muscle car, building some of the fastest and sleekest sports cars ever to hit the highway”.


The Post also reported that “on top of his supercharged life” Shelby was one of world’s longest-surviving recipients of a heart transplant (1990) and principal founder of the International Chilli Society which sanctions thousands of chilli-cooking contests each year and has raised more than $1-billion for charity.

Shelby, the Post added, “made and lost fortunes, trained pilots during the Second World War, ran a safari business in Africa and was married at least six times” but was known best for his daring automotive achievements, first as a driver and later as a designer.

He won his first race in 1952 and soon became the country’s leading sports-car driver. “Once, hurrying to get to a race from his farm,” the Post wrote “Shelby didn’t have enough time to change out of his bib overalls. He got more attention for his outfit than for winning the race and, from then on, always wore overalls in the driver’s seat.”

He made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1957 after 19 wins in a row and was twice the magazine’s Driver of the Year. He won at the Le Mans 24-Hour in 1959 with team mate Roy Salvadori.

A bad heart took him off the track in 1960 so, the Post said, “he determined to make the fastest, sexiest sports car on the road, putting a Ford V8 in the chassis of a little-known British roadster, dubbed his new car the Shelby Cobra, and created a legend”.

0-100 IN 4 SECONDS

“Shelby almost single-handedly defined the modern muscle car - all horsepower and wide tyres, rumbling engines, dual side exhausts and unbelievable speed.”
The Cobra could hit 100km/h in four seconds, something few cars can do even today

Only about 1000 were assembled before he closed the first version of his business in 1967 but Automobile magazine ranked the original Shelby Cobra as one of the 10 most important sports cars.

“In my opinion,” auto executive Lee Iacocca said in 1995, “Shelby invented the muscle car in this country.”

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