He is known for creating some of the world’s most popular automobiles, but who is the father of the Shelby muscle cars? Aside from being an automotive designer, Carroll Shelby was also a former racing driver and an entrepreneur. He is best known for his involvement with the AC Cobra, as well as the Mustang-based performance vehicles built for Ford Motors, more popularly known as the Shelby Mustangs. He was involved with the Shelby Mustang project from 1965 until his death in 2012. He also had his own company, the Shelby American Inc., which he founded in 1962 and produced modified Ford vehicles and performance parts.
The father of the Shelby muscle cars was born in Leesburg, Texas, to a mailman, Warren Hall Shelby, and his wife, Eloise, on January 11, 1923. He was a sickly kid who suffered a leakage in one of his heart valves and remained almost entirely bedridden until the age of 14. He dealt with various health problems in his lifetime and had to take nitroglycerin pills for his heart during his years as a racecar driver.
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His work with Shelby muscle cars started with Dodge at the request of Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca. He was the official Performance Consultant on the Dodge Viper Technical Policy Committee that was then working on the Viper project under the direct supervision of Chrysler President Bob Lutz. He used his arsenal of experience to create a lightweight and powerful vehicle that eventually became known as the Viper VM-02, the first car made out of fiberglass and bearing a V10 engine.
Shelby created several Shelby muscle cars that bore the Dodge name, the 1983–1984 Dodge Shelby Charger, the 1985–1987 Dodge Charger Shelby and the 1984–1986 Dodge Omni GLH. He also extended his expertise in the production of Shelby-modified parts for the 986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z C/S, the 1987–1988 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z, the 1988–1991 Dodge Daytona C/S, the 1989–1991 Dodge Daytona Shelby, the 1988–1989 Dodge Lancer Shelby, the 1989–1990 Dodge Shadow Competition, the 1991–1992 Dodge Spirit R/T, the 1992–1993 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T, and the 1999–2000 Dodge Durango.
Shelby also created several muscle cars in cooperation with Ford. Aside from the Shelby Mustangs, he was tapped to take charge of the Ford Shelby Cobra Concept in 2004. It was built with a retro body resembling a 1960’s Cobra with a few modern touches. It had a Ford GT chassis with a 6.4L V10 engine with a maximum power of 605hp. The new Shelby Cobra received positive reviews from the press and took home the “Best in Show” trophy at that year’s Detroit International Auto Show.
Shelby introduced several versions of the Shelby Cobra roadster after the initial model in 2004. The Shelby GR-1, which sported a completely modern look, was reminiscent of the 1960’s Shelby Daytona. Another unit, the Shelby GT500 was revealed at the 2005 New York International Auto Show and was available for sale the following year. Shelby produced a limited edition Shelby GT-H in cooperation with the Hertz Corporation in 2006, which became an exclusive rental car for the company.
Shelby muscle cars remain some of the most loved models of muscle cars to date. Whether vintage or new, fans can’t seem to have enough of Carroll Shelby’s brainchildren. The muscle cars he created will surely carry his legacy on.