With the possible exceptions of Henry Ford and Mario Andretti, Carroll Shelby is America’s most famous automotive personality. That was probably true before the movie Ford v Ferrari hit it big last year, and it’s certainly the case in its wake. He’s been called America’s Enzo Ferrari. It was meant as a compliment, but the Texan hated his Italian rival and probably took it as a dig.Shelby was an accomplished race car driver and builder of great cars. His machines, many of which wore his name, have won on racetracks all over the world and commanded respect on the main streets of America for nearly 60 years. Although he accomplished great things later in his career, Carroll’s heyday was the 1960s, when he was building his original Cobras and Shelby Mustangs, and kicking Enzo’s ass with the Daytona Coupes and the GT40s. In tribute, here are 15 important Shelby Facts from that era everyone should know.
An on-track success, the Shelby Mustang GT350 would seem like a natural for the original Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, but it only appeared once. Organized by Car and Driver’s Brock Yates multiple times between 1971 and 1979, the races ran from New York City to Redondo Beach, California in Los Angeles. In the final event Rick Kopec, one of the founders of the Shelby American Automobile Club, and Robert Key, a psychologist from Southern California, entered Key’s Shelby, finishing in 38th place with a time of 48 hours and 53 minutes, a run that included a lengthy encounter with some New Jersey State Troopers. With 176,000 miles on it, the Mustang was far from new, and competed with a 3.00 rear end gear and a 32-gallon fuel tank they installed. Seven years earlier Pete Brock, the designer of the Shelby Daytona Coupe, competed with two others in a new Mercedes 280SEL sedan, finishing third in 37 hours and 33 minutes.
Small-block Cobra production
Many associate the Cobra with a monster big-block, but more were made with the smaller (and arguably better-matched) V-8. Shelby built 580 Cobras powered by the 271 horsepower High Performance 289 cubic inch small-block, the same solid-lifter engine found in 1965-1966 K-code Mustangs. Of those, one was a bare chassis. The street cars numbered 453 and about 30 got automatic transmissions. There were also 61 competition cars built included six Daytona coupes and four Dragonsnakes.