A legendary racer and sports car maker has died amid the 50th anniversary celebration of the car that made him famous.
Autoweek magazine is reporting that Carroll Shelby died Thursday night at Baylor Hospital in Dallas at age 89.
Shelby, who had been battling pneumonia in recent months and had been forced to cancel an appearance at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance in mid-March, was the father of the AC Cobra sports car.
A Texas native, he was a race driver who won three U.S. sports-car championships in Ferraris and Maseratis, and won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans in an Aston Martin with British co-driver Roy Salvadori.
Dealing with heart problems in the 1960s, he came up with a plan to stuff an American Ford V-8 engine into a British 2-seat sports car called the AC Ace, and thus was born the Cobra. One of six streamlined coupe versions of the car designed by Peter Brock beat Ferrari to win the world manufacturer's title in 1965, that Cobra Daytona Coupe on display at this year's Amelia Concours. But Shelby didn't stop there.
Working with Ford, he created high-powered versions of the Mustang in the late 1960s, including the Shelby GT350, the cars winning in Trans Am races. As a team owner, Shelby presided over Ford's epic 1966 and '67 Le Mans victories. That makes him the only person to win Le Mans as a driver (with Aston Martin), a manufacturer (class victory with the Cobra Daytona) and team owner (Ford's GTs).
Shelby didn't like being called a legend, and told the Times-Union that when he was the honoree at the 1999 Amelia Concours.
"Some people are legends in their own minds, but it doesn't mean anything to me," he said. "I get up every morning and I am so thankful to be here and there are so many things I have to get done before Forest Lawn gets me that I don't have time for that."
He got a heart transplant and a new kidney in later years, yet continued to work with manufacturers to create sporty models, including Chrysler in the 1980s with the GLH and GLH-S (Goes Like Hell Some more) models of the Omni and Charger. He continued making AC Cobras, had a hand in bringing the first Dodge Viper to life, and built a new 2-seat sports car called the Series 1.
Being able to continue creating these cars was something that did make him proud, he told the Times-Union in 1999.
"Old men, when they are over the hill, are not supposed to be able to come back and do something worthwhile. I felt that now was the time to build a car that could compete in the world, " Shelby said. "There are a lot of small car companies. I wanted to see if I could compete again and that is what I did with the Series 1."
His company was still doing versions of modern Mustangs, the latest a 1,000-hp model.
It has been a great life, he said in 1999.
"Hell, they told me in 1960 that I had five years to live, so everything is borrowed time, " Shelby said. "I like to build street cars. ... After I am gone, I would like to see my name perpetuated on my street cars."
His Carroll Shelby Foundation helped children battle life-threatening illnesses, funded scholarships in automotive education and supported educational programs in automotive and related fields.
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