American motor sporting legend Carroll Shelby, winner of the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours and creator of mythic cars like the AC Cobra, died in Dallas (Texas) on 10th May.One of the greats in motor sport and the Le Mans 24 Hours died last week in the United States. He was a big man in every sense of the word, above all because of his talent.
He was born on 11th January 1923, the year of the first Le Mans 24 Hours, and he made his competition debut in the 50s in an MG after being a pilot and instructor in the American Air Force during WWII.
In 1959, he won the Le Mans 24 hours with British driver, Roy Salvadori, in the DBR1 Aston Martin. It was his second time out in the Sarthe classic having already raced an Aston Martin in US colours in 1954 with Paul Frère (Rtd).
Carroll Shelby has gone down in history for his creations especially the monstrous AC Cobra, a road-going dragster with Ford power that became the Ferrari 250 GTO’s toughest rival. In 1964, the big Daytona coupe designed by Peter Brock won the GT class in the Le Mans 24 Hours beating the GTOs and Jaguars and finished fourth overall.
Shelby then joined Ford as one of the prime movers behind the American make’s conquest of the Le Mans 24 Hours, which the cars from Detroit won four times on the trot in 1966-67-68-69. In 1963, he developed a very special road-going version of the Mustang, baptised the Shelby Mustang GT 350, followed by the GT 500 with the famous serpent badge that gave its name to the Shelby Cobras. Shelby not only wrote some of the greatest pages in the history of the Le Mans 24 hours, but also in the history of the cinema as he looked after the preparation of the Fastback Mustang and the Dodger Charger in the famous car chase scene in Bullitt, the first film released in 1968 by Solar, Steve McQueen’s production company, and directed by Brit Peter Yates.
He will always be remembered for his famous striped overalls à la Coluche that he wore during his drive to victory in 1959, his cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth, like James Dean, in victory lane and the legendary photos of Aston Martin team manager Reg Parnell shouting team orders through a megaphone. It is said that David Brown, the guest in the Clerk of the Course’s car, stuck his head through the window at Mulsanne and shouted at the feisty Texan to slow down! He was a great engineer, a talented designer who remained a warm and enthusiastic human being, and he was back at Le Mans a few years ago after a fabulous career.
Although the Automobile Club de l’Ouest is saddened by his death, it is proud to have known Carroll Shelby and to have given him a playing field on which to allow his talent to blossom. To his family and friends the Automobile Club de l’Ouest would like to express its deepest regrets.