Carroll Shelby was an American race car driver, car designer, and entrepreneur. He is the founder of the performance motor vehicles company “Shelby American International,” and he is known for building the “AC Cobra” and the “Ford Shelby GT40” cars.
Carroll Hall Shelby was born on Thursday, January 11, 1923 (age 89 years; at the time of death) in Leesburg, Texas, United States. His zodiac sign is Capricorn. He did his schooling from “Woodrow Wilson High School” in Dallas, Texas.
After completing high school, he enrolled in the Aeronautical Engineering Program at the “Georgia Institute of Technology” in Atlanta, Georgia. However, because of World War II, he could not complete his education; as he was enlisted as a flight instructor and test pilot of the “AT-11 Kansan” and “Curtiss AT-9 Jeep” in the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). In 1942, he graduated from Flight School as a Second Lieutenant. In 1945, when the war ended, he ascended to the rank of “Staff Sergeant Pilot.”
In 1945, after the war ended, he moved back to Dallas, and he started a dump truck business. In 1949, he started a chicken ranch in Dallas. His first batch of chickens earned him a profit of $5,000. However, his poultry business did not last long; as his second batch of chickens died after catching a virus. His business failed, and he was broke. He then turned his attention towards his passion for cars and speed. He had been interested in cars since he was a child. When he was a child, he could not wait to own a car of his own. At the age of 15, he used to drive and work on his father’s two-door Ford sedan.
Height (approx.): 5′ 9″
Eye Colour: Black
Hair Colour: Dark Brown
Family & Wife
Carroll Shelby’s father, Warren Hall Shelby was a US postal service worker. His mother, Eloise Lawrence Shelby was a homemaker. He had a younger sister, Anne Shelby Ellison.
In 1943, Shelby married his first wife, Jeanne Fields. They had three children together- Michael Hall Shelby, Patrick Shelby, and Sharon Anne Shelby. However, they got divorced in 1960. In September 1960, he got married to his second wife, Jan Harrison (actress), and they got divorced in 1962. In 1991, Shelby got married to Lena Dahl (philanthropist). However, in 1997, Lena passed away in a car accident. In 1997, Shelby got married to Cleo Shelby. They remained married until Shelby’s death in 2012.
In 1950, he started his career as an amateur driver with his friend’s “MG-TC” car and a borrowed “Cad-Allards” car. In 1952, he won his first race in an “MG-TC,” and his racing career kicked off. He was invited by Ferrari and Maserati to race their cars, and he won 12 races in the next two years. In 1954, “Aston Martin” invited Shelby to join their racing team.
In 1959, he took part in the “24 Hours of Le Mans.” He co-drove the “Aston Martin DBR1” with the British racer “Roy Salvadori.” They won the 1959 Le Mans, and Shelby became the first American driver to win the “Le Mans.” However, he had to retire from the world of racing after the 1959 Le Mans, at the peak of his career, due to a heart condition. In August 1959, he formally announced his retirement from the world of racing.
After retiring from international racing, Shelby founded “Shelby American.” Throughout his career, Shelby had driven fast cars like Ferrari, Aston Martin, MG, Jaguars, and others. He loved those cars, and he wanted to build an American car that would offer the same handling of European cars and the power of an American V-8 engine, which would be easy to service at car dealerships or even at an independent garage.
His dream turned into reality when he learned that “AC Cars” had lost their engine supplier. Shelby contacted AC, and he proposed his idea of building an American sportscar accessible and affordable by everyone. AC loved the idea and asked him to contact them when he had an engine supplier. Shelby tied up with Ford to provide him with engines, which he then used to develop the “AC Cobra,” under his company, “Shelby American.” In 1962, he launched the first “AC Cobra.”
Shelby used to hire professional drivers and raced the AC Cobra in many races. The Cobras dominated the racing scene in America, which was previously ruled by Chevrolet’s Corvette. In 1965, Shelby American manufactured the “Daytona Coupe,” a car specifically built to beat Ferrari on the racetrack. On July 4, 1965, the Daytona defeated Ferrari and also won the “World Manufacturers’ GT Championship.” Shelby American is the only American vehicle manufacturer to win the prestigious championship, before or since.
In 1965, Shelby worked with Ford to build the “Ford GT40.” He hired the American racer Ken Miles to be on his team to build the GT40. Shelby’s team worked on the GT40 for 2 years, and they raced the GT40 on behalf of Ford in the “1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.” Three Ford GT40’s were entered in the race, and they won with all three Ford cars taking the First, Second, and the Third positions. In August 1966, Shelby and Miles were testing the successor to the Ford GT40, the “Ford J” prototype. However, the car flipped and crashed; resulting in the death of Ken Miles. Miles was a close friend of Miles, and he went into depression for several months after his death.
In 1974. Shelby left the automotive industry, he retired and moved to South Africa to start a new life there. He started manufacturing his chili in South Africa, which was a success. In 1982, his former Ford colleague, Lee Iacocca approached Shelby to start a contract with the American car company “Chrysler” to work on their brand “Dodge.” Shelby agreed and worked with Dodge for six years to produce several cars that bore the “Shelby” name. Shelby is also credited with being one of the core members in the production of the “Dodge Viper.” In 1991, the first “Dodge Viper” was launched and it has been a popular name in the auto industry since then.
On May 10, 2012, Carroll Shelby passed away due to a heart ailment that he had been suffering from for decades. He was buried in the “Leesburg Cemetery” in Leesburg, Camp County, Texas, USA.
- When Shelby was 7 years old, he was diagnosed with a “heart valve leakage,” and he suffered health complications throughout his life.
- In 1959, when Shelby won the “24 Hours Le Mans” with Dan Gurney, they were standing on the podium after the race and Shelby whispered into Dan’s ear to spray champagne on everyone. No one had ever done that, and it was Shelby who had started the tradition of spraying champagne from the podium after winning a race.
- Shelby got the idea of the name “Cobra” in a dream. He would often have dreams about cars, but he was not able to remember them in the morning. It made him keep a pen and paper on his bedside, and one morning, he woke up with the word “Cobra” written on paper. It led him to create the iconic “AC Cobra.”
- During the fifties, Shelby used to drive for Ferrari. However, in 1958, after the deaths of several Ferrari drivers including his close friend “Luigi Musso,” Shelby left Ferrari, and he blamed “Enzo Ferrari” (founder of Ferrari) for the death of his friends.
- Carroll Shelby used to love chili. In 1967, he had started the “Championship Chili Cook-Off” in Terlingua, Texas which is held every year to date. In 1972, during the Chili Cook-Off, he launched his brand of chili, the “Texas Brand Chili Mix.” It was a huge success across the United States.
- The famous American restaurant “Chili’s” was started by Larry Levine (Shelby’s son-in-law). Levine saw Shelby’s Chili Cook-Off championship and its popularity, and he decided to start a chili exclusive restaurant. The restaurant went on to become a huge success and is counted among the top restaurants in America.
- Shelby was a very romantic person. During his stint in the USAAC, he used to stuff love letters in leather boots and drop them on his fiancee’s farm whenever he used to fly over it.
- In 1990, Shelby established the “Shelby Heart Fund” (later renamed as the “Shelby Children’s Foundation” and now the “Carroll Shelby Foundation”), which helps children battling life-threatening illnesses. He raised a lot of awareness and money for his charity. In 2011, Shelby was also recognized by the “World Children’s Transplant Fund” for his contributions throughout the years.
- On October 1, 1991, Shelby was inducted into the “Motorsports Hall of Fame of America” under the “Sports Cars” category.
- In 1999, Shelby’s first Cobra was named as the “Most Significant Car of the Last Fifty Years” by Motor Trend Magazine.
- On November 15, 2019, a film titled “Ford v Ferrari” depicting the story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles in the “1966 Le Mans” was released. “Christian Bale” played the role of Ken Miles and “Matt Damon” played the role of Carroll Shelby.