Coming up now is an exclusive R.I.D history session. So grab hold of your morning coffees and get inspired and pump your emotions meter up a notch, before you start your day! This is the story, of Carroll Shelby.
Post War Racing Career- (Could’ve Gone Better)-
After various successes, (which even included a record hill climb in a Ferrari) Shelby had landed a position in racing gold, Formula One. He only raced for 2 years in 1958 and 1959, in a Maserati 250F and an Aston Martin DBR4/250, and on top of the short driving time, he scored no points, no wins, no championships, or even any podiums. If that was the result these days for a driver, then chances are, that driver would probably reconsider his life choices. But Shelby refused to do so, and Aston had instead, entered him into one of the most grueling races on earth, the Le-Mans 24 Hours!
In 1959, this would be the highlight of Shelby’s racing career. He co-piloted an Aston Martin DBR1 alongside the Englishman Roy Salvadori, into which they had won! They had completed 323 laps of the Northern French Hell. For once, things were turning around very quickly indeed, but even after a prestigious win, the penny dropped.
Health Issues With a Silver Lining-
Shelby wanted to continue and occupy his life with cars and racing, but he couldn’t drive. So instead, he dreamed up of building his own race car, and “beating the Hell outta Ferrari!”. And then the legend began. And it all started in little old England!
A New Sports Car, And it Wasn’t Conventional-
In the quiet little country, which was called the United Kingdom. There were many sports car manufacturers selling their crafted, fun sports machines by the masses. Triumph was well, a triumph! MG knew their way around, and Austin Healey were shifting their majestic sports cars faster than AC’s business plans.
This is because the humble British sports car maker (AC) were struggling to carry on making their current car, the ACE. Their Ford and Bristol engines were given to other makers such as Ford (U.K based) to be put in their saloon cars. There wasn’t much leeway for AC’s sports cars, until Carroll Shelby came along!
He shook a deal with Ford (U.S) to supply some big V8 engines, and then made a deal with AC for him to supply these engines for the little ACE sports car. Shelby received their ACE chassis (which was actually over 20 years old) and inserted a 260ci (4.3 litre) Ford V8 into it, this engine was tuned specifically for high performance. And then a legend was born, the AC Cobra! The car pictured above is that exact experimental car into which was the first to have this incredible V8-English chassis combination. But what they didn’t know at the time, was that this small experiment would turn out to be one of the most influential automotive icons ever conceived.
The Cobra’s Challenging Career-
Carroll had gotten himself into a challenging situation, because he wanted the Cobra to be a “Corvette Beater”, and this name proved to be true. These new Cobras had done just that, at the Riverside international Speedway in 1963, the driver (Dave MacDonand) had flown past a field of Corvettes Stingrays, Porsches and even Maseratis! This incredible performance had landed the Cobra it’s first ever recorded victory, a fabulous achievement from a car with a very humble birth. Not only that, the Cobra proved to be a success in races all across America. Until Sebring came along in 1964.
By then, a car which was powered by a 390ci V8 failed to finish the race, because of the new engine expiring due to damper failure. The driver (Ken Miles) nicknamed that car ‘Turd’ It was reported that that Sebring car was undriveable.
In 1963, Shelby had even entered Cobras which had a detachable hardtop fitted, into a place in which he was a success. The 24 hours of Le-Mans! Note the key word in that sentence is ‘was’.
This is because the best place in which the Cobra finished was in 6th place, by which Ferrari had overshadowed the chicken farmer. On top of that, only one car, which was driven by Peter Bolton and Ninian Sanderson and had finished with 310 laps under their skin, whereas the other one, which was driven by Ed Hugus and Peter Jopp having only completed 127 laps. Enzo Ferrari it seemed, was sure to be very smug about this failure from Carroll Shelby. But he was never going to throw in the towel, not yet!
Shelby and his team had completely redesigned the racing Cobra, they changed the body so it was more aerodynamic. Because in the old car, it was reported that at speeds of over 165mph, the rear end of the car would scrape the road due to it’s poor aerodynamics. This was sorted with the fresh looking beast, the Cobra Daytona.
Even though in 1964, it didn’t win the grueling endurance race overall, but it did however, win the GT class! the car that had finished, which was driven by Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant, had smoked BOTH of Ferrari’s 250 GTOs. This scared Enzo despite the Daytona being beaten by 3 Ferraris in the class above. This proved that the smile could be wiped off any Italian car-maker’s face, by an American tuned sports car!
Inspiration can be found here, taking on Ferrari after just fitting a truck’s engine into a humble sports car is a risk, nobody would take today. Carroll Shelby is one of the world’s most influential automotive heroes, to anybody who knows their cars. Beating Ferrari at Le-Mans, was considered impossible in the early ’60s, but Shelby proved that point very wrong indeed. And the Cobra actually affected more, than you might think!
The Sunday Times reported that a Cobra Daytona, (which was being tested prior to the upcoming Le-Mans 24 hours) had reached an estimate of over 190mph on the newly established M1 Motorway. At these times, motorways had no speed limits, but then again, they were not very busy, and most cars weren’t dangerously fast. But the Cobra Daytona changed everything about those perspectives.
The ministry of transport, the AA, and the RAC were furious about this speed run. They didn’t want a public road to be a testing ground for racing cars. And that made the government introduce the 70mph limit, not just on the M1, but on all future motorways in the U.K. It’s fascinating isn’t it, a car that was made by Carroll Shelby to beat Ferrari, had given us something we take for granted everyday. Not many people know about this, it’s astonishing how this rule came around!
The Inevitable, But The Legacy Still Lives On-
The Cobra was overall, a financial failure that lead Ford and Carroll Shelby to stop bringing cars over from England in 1967. AC carried on producing some great cars such as the 428 Roadster, Shelby on the other hand, formed a partnership with Ford that proved to be one of the greatest that still stands to this day, this was Shelby working with Ford to modify their cars!
This fabulous agreement spawned many great cars, thus including the Mustang GT350 and even the Ferrari bashing GT40! Which won Le-Mans 4 times on the trot, thanks to Shelby’s tuned V8 engines. This partnership still stands today with modern Mustangs, now that they use flat-plane crank V8s, but the stripes and colour schemes are still present. And these American road weapons prove to be some of the most desirable muscle cars on sale today.
However, this is going to get emotional now. So drop your coffees and get out your tissues! By May 10th in 2012, Carroll Shelby, one of the worlds most inspiring engineers, a pioneer in tuning, had died. When I heard about this when I was just 12 years old, I couldn’t help but cry. Because I used to get told these amazing stories before I went to sleep as a kid. And I’ll never forget that feeling of real life sadness, of when I looked back at his history, and heard and saw a 7.0 litre Cobra team car the very next day.
But I think Carroll Shelby can inspire us all! Because the man had serious health issues throughout his life, but that didn’t stop him from achieving some amazing things, that most of us wouldn’t dream of! Serving as a World War II veteran, becoming a Formula One driver, winning the 24 Hours of Le-Mans, building his own sports car which beat even the most serious of competition. And finally, leaving a legacy, in which we will NEVER forget! Most car founders are either rich aristocrats or were born in an art gallery, Carroll Shelby on the other hand, he was a weak man with a heart condition, with dreams that we today, would only joke about. And even to this day, I love the fact that his name is still stuck to the back of some awesome Shelby muscle cars!
And there we are! That was a history lesson about one of the most influential pioneers to have ever lived!
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Written by Aaron Hussei