Home Cars 21 Cars That Made Carroll Shelby An Automotive Legend

21 Cars That Made Carroll Shelby An Automotive Legend

Vukasin Herbez January 28, 2020

Even if you’re not a car enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of Carroll Shelby. He is famous for his line of performance Mustangs and Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 cars. Shelby was one of those larger-than-life characters whose life looked like a screenplay for a Hollywood blockbuster. As a matter of fact, the 2019 movie Ford vs. Ferrari is a visualization of Shelby’s fight against Ferrari in the Le Mans. Although Shelby died in April 2012, he still inspires people all over the world.

Shelby was born in 1923 in a rural area of Leesburg, Texas. From an early age, he displayed an interest in mechanics and cars. Soon, Shelby’s talent and determination helped him win some races and advance above the amateur ranks. Shelby earned a reputation as a driver who could make any car go fast. It wasn’t long before teams like Maserati and Ferrari came calling. In fact, Shelby was one of the best American drivers of the period.

He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 in an Aston Martin. However, behind the triumph and fame, Shelby experienced immense pain. The pain was the result of his worsening heart problems. Shelby often raced under heavy medication. But, in 1960 after a few close calls, his doctors forbade him to race again. So Shelby’s professional career was over. As a retired racer, Carroll decided to fulfill his lifelong dream and built a sports car under his own name. And this is how the legend started. We broke down the 21 cars that made Shelby a true legend in our list below.

21. Scaglietti Corvette

Even before Shelby retired from racing and started building cars under his own name, he became a part of a team that produced one of the most exclusive Corvettes Chevrolet ever built, the Scaglietti Corvette. If you think the Scaglietti name sounds familiar, it is because they are an Italian coachbuilder responsible for some of the finest Ferraris of the ’50s and ’60s. In fact, they were an integral part of Ferrari legend.

So, Chevrolet wanted to honor the company by naming their four-seater coupe, the 612 Scaglietti. However, it is less known that Scaglietti produced three Corvettes in 1959 for Texas millionaire and car enthusiast Gary Laughlin. Jim Hall and Carroll Shelby, both notable racing drivers and constructors from Texas saw the potential in the 1959 Corvette’s engine and power.

Although the Corvette had a light fiberglass body, two of the constructors wanted better aerodynamics, a longer nose, and more luxurious appointments. So, they contacted Scaglietti to design and produce a bespoke body on the 1959 ‘Vette chassis. Scaglietti delivered three cars in different colors but with an exquisite design. However, they looked more like a Ferrari than a Corvette. There were plans to start regular production. But after careful consideration and cost projection, they abandoned these plans.

20. Shelby Cobra 289

The story of the Shelby Cobra 289 is widely known, but it’s interesting enough to tell it again. In 1962, Shelby heard that AC Cars from England was planning to shut down the production of their Ace sports roadster because Bristol engines weren’t available anymore. In just a couple of days, he managed to get several engineless bodies on a transport ship to his Venice Beach shop.

He went to work installing a Ford 260 V8 engine in the new bodies. A small but powerful American V8 in a light and nimble body proved to be a match made in heaven. Soon, Shelby installed the 289 V8 with 271 HP, which brought some serious performance to this little roadster. But Shelby’s main goal was racing and it was obvious the Cobra was a race track terror.

After all, it dominated all the domestic championships, beating all the Corvettes, Ferraris, and Jaguars. But Shelby wanted to go to Europe and prove his concept. So, in 1963/64, with some help from Ford, Shelby campaigned his Cobras all over Europe’s finest racing tracks, repeating his success.

His small V8 roadster proved extremely capable, dominating the GT class. The Ford V8 was a durable, reliable unit. but Shelby’s knowledge and racing know-how was crucial in setting the car right for different tracks. Because Shelby sold factory-prepared “competition” Cobras to private teams, many amateur races enjoyed success with this fierce car.

19. Sunbeam Tiger

In 1959, Sunbeam presented the Alpine. It was a nice-looking roadster with dependable and conventional mechanicals. It came with a small 1.5 or 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine. But the company soon realized it needed much more than four cylinders to be competitive in the sports car market. So they called Shelby and asked him to turn the docile Alpine into a performance car.

The Sunbeam management figured that since Shelby was building Cobras as Euro-American hybrids, he could do the same with the modest Alpine. So, Shelby designed the Sunbeam Tiger as a muscle car version of the Alpine. He installed a Ford 260 and later a 289 V8 engine and redesigned the suspension and steering. It was the first British roadster with the proper V8 rumble delivering an impressive performance.

Finally, Sunbeam had a sports car. The Tiger was fast and powerful by the standards of the day. Back in 1964, this was one of the best power roadsters money could buy. Most of the cars went to U.S. buyers. When they ceased production in 1968, Sunbeam had built around 7,000 Tigers.

18. Shelby GT350R

Shelby started building Mustangs in 1965 as fire-breathing machines. They brought Ford some much-needed recognition and performance credentials. The cars that were responsible for his racing success were the 34 “R” models they produced in 1965 for privateers and racing teams all over the world. Those cars were not street-legal.

Those R models were purely for racing purposes; something they did extremely well. The GT350R had numerous modifications, making it lighter, faster and sharper than the regular GT350. The R version was powered by the same 289 V8 as the regular Shelby GT350. But it produced close to 400 HP and came with numerous racing modifications.

The car was light and well-balanced, so it proved extremely fast. It won races in America, Europe, and South America, as well. Each car had numerous wins under its belt. In fact, car fans consider every R model to be a highly valuable piece of Mustang and racing history.

17. Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe

Even though the Cobra roadster was dominating the international GT racing scene in the early ’60s, Shelby noticed the roadster body was unsuitable for all tracks and races. Even with the hardtop, the Cobra lacked top speeds due to poor aerodynamics. And on long straights like Le Mans, it was slower than the competition. So his answer was to redesign the car and make a racing missile capable of insane top speeds.

To do that, Shelby needed to fully modify the Cobra. So, with the help of his talented team of engineers and hot rodders, he constructed a longer chassis. Also, he relocated the suspension and design for a longer, sleeker and more aerodynamically efficient body. They called it the Daytona Coupe. And it was a pure racing car barely suitable for street driving with the intent to destroy the competition.

They finished the car just in time for the legendary 1965 racing season. They shipped it to Europe where it continued the dominance of American engineering. The Daytona Coupe won the 1965 GT Championship. That was an extraordinary success for Ford, Shelby and his team of talented drivers and mechanics.

16. Ford GT40

Interestingly, the Ford GT40 wasn’t Shelby’s project. In fact, he came on board after they had already designed and engineered it. However, Shelby played a crucial part in its legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans wins. Shelby’s experience as a driver, team leader and constructor led their team of motivated racers who wanted to dethrone the mighty Ferrari. Also, Ford backed his Cobra and Mustang projects, so Shelby couldn’t refuse. After a failed attempt to buy Ferrari in the early ’60s, Ford was angry with Enzo Ferrari.

They decided to beat him on the race track to prove who the real boss was. But back then, Ford didn’t have a racing program or someone to manage it. So, the company looked for outsourcers who could make things happen.

They found the basis for the Ferrari-beating race car in England in a Lola Mk6. Soon, they re-engineered and redesigned it. Also, they gave it a new racing 289 V8 engine, turning it into the first Ford GT40 in 1964. However, the car didn’t look promising in the beginning. But meticulous work and money transformed the GT40 into a world-conquering machine in months.

Today, the GT40’s recognizable design is as American as apple pie. But, they designed the car in England and it came to America already complete. And, It humiliated Ferrari between 1966 and 1969. This was when the GT40 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times in a row.

It was an amazing success and achievement for a company that never appeared in the Le Mans race before the mid-60s. The GT40 became the symbol of American race cars. It dominated the European racing scene, which was a big success for Ford, Shelby, and his team.

15. Shelby GT500

The Shelby Mustang started as a stripped-down version of a Ford pony car. Basically, they were road racers with minimal comforts and maximum driving involvement. But after the 1967 model year, the Shelby Mustang line evolved into a GT coupe. Bigger and more powerful than before, the 1967 GT500 featured a new design and modified front and rear end.

But the best feature was the big 427 V8 engine with 335 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque. In those days, Ford was notorious for underrating the power output of their engines, so a 335 HP sounded too little for the big 427. Some car enthusiasts claim the real power was closer to the 400 HP range. And the performance figures backed that claim. The 0 to 60 mph acceleration time was 6.5 seconds.

That was good for the day and thanks to their suspension modifications, the GT 500 could handle the curves well too. The new GT500 model was a hit since it offered powerful performance as well as luxury and comfort. However, it lost the purists who adored the earlier GT350 models for their uncompromised character and raw nature.

14. Shelby GT500KR

Back in late 1967, Shelby learned that Chevrolet was planning to introduce a special performance version of the Corvette they called, “The King of the Road.” He liked the name, so when he found out the name was unregistered, he put the copyright on it. Shelby wanted to present a special version of the GT500 to spite Chevrolet.

Since Ford had just introduced the 428 Cobra Jet, its legendary muscle engine, this was the perfect time to install it into a Shelby. Also, they wanted to add some performance goodies and go-fast options to create one of the most sought-after muscle cars of all time, the Shelby GT500KR or King of the Road.

Although they rated the 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP, everybody knew the engine delivered more than 400 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque. Ford limited the production and loaded the GT500KR with interior trimmings and luxuries. Unfortunately, they only produced the GT500KR for the 1968 model year, dropping the version for 1969.

In 1968, Shelby stopped producing Mustangs for Ford. They moved the Shelby Mustang assembly from California to Michigan. Even though Ford continued to offer Shelby Mustangs until 1970, Carroll was not a part of the engineering team after 1968.

13. Shelby Lonestar

By the end of the ’60s, Shelby decided he needed to build a successor to the Cobra 289 and Cobra 427. But he didn’t settle for just a restyled version or an improved old model. Rather than that, he constructed a new car with a mid-mounted V8 engine and racing suspension to provide performance on a whole new level. Shelby took the modified GT40 platform, along with the engine and transmission and designed a different body that was even lighter than the standard GT40.

Initially, they called the car the Shelby Cobra III. But soon after that, Shelby declared that they had built the prototype in England. So, the Ford executives said they owned the rights to the “Cobra” nameplate, forbidding Carroll to use it. And because Ford didn’t want to build another Cobra, Shelby was on his own. And he decided to rename the car the “Lonestar” after his home state of Texas.

They only completed one Shelby Lonestar in 1968. But due to the name and lack of Ford’s financial backing, that one Lonestar remained a sole example. For decades, enthusiasts thought it was gone. However, the car is alive and well. In fact, they thoroughly restored it a couple of years back.

12. Dodge Omni GLH

For the better part of the ’70s, Shelby stayed away from the automotive business. The muscle car era was gone, Ford closed its racing program, and it looked like Carroll was out of work. He concentrated on some other ventures, including his famous chili products. However, when Lee Iacocca, his old pal from Ford, took over Chrysler, Shelby got an invitation to return to the performance game. But this time, it was under new circumstances.

While Europe was embracing the hot hatch class, developing it further in the mid-80s, America seemed quite uninterested. The Golf GTI sold well in the states. But the domestic manufacturers didn’t produce any models that could be considered hot hatches. But then the legendary Carroll Shelby teamed up with Dodge and introduced his version of the compact Omni model.

They called it the Omni GLH and it was a proper hot hatch. It was also one of the best affordable performance models money could buy in those days. Nobody expected Dodge could produce a hot hatch that could beat their European competitors. But with Shelby’s help, they did just that.

Shelby took the 2.2-liter four-cylinder and added a turbocharger to produce a total output of 175 HP. And the 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of fewer than seven seconds was impressive and highly competitive for the day. Of course, the Omni GLH had some suspension modifications and other bits improved so it could handle all that power.

But the best thing about this car is the name GLH, which means “Goes like Hell.” Shelby and Dodge produced an improved version they called the GLHS. That stood for “Goes Like Hell S`more.” And they made just 500 of those models.

11. Dodge Shelby Charger

Those L-Body Chargers they built in the ’80s were forgettable cars that weren’t especially popular or fast. But when Shelby, who was involved with Chrysler at the time, introduced the Shelby Charger, the car finally gained some respect. But Shelby’s recipe was simple. He turbocharged an existing 2.2-liter four-cylinder to deliver 175 HP.

Then he equipped it with a close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox. Also, he stiffened the suspension and improved braking. And all those changes turned the boring regular Charger into the Shelby Charger with a vivid performance. And it could outrun most production muscle cars of the period.

They sold the Shelby Charger along with the regular models in the Dodge dealerships. However, Shelby bought the last 1,000 of them, turning them into the Charger GHLS. It was similar to the Shelby Omni GHLS with the same engine and platform.

10. Dodge Viper RT/10

The original Viper in the early ’90s showed what happens when talented individuals with clear goals want to make the perfect car. And those individuals were then president of Chrysler, Bob Lutz; chief engineer, Francois Castaing; chief designer, Tom Gale, and Shelby. Chrysler was enjoying strong sales, so they wanted a model to celebrate their success.

They also wanted a car to connect them with their muscle car roots from the ’60s and ’70s. Castaing, Lutz, and Gale were fans of Shelby’s original Cobra which is one of the most exciting American sports/muscle cars they ever built. The team wanted to build a modern-day Cobra.

But they wanted a car with more power, refinement, and performance to show that a light but powerful roadster was still attractive. Thanks to their influence, the team soon gathered over 80 engineers and designers, officially starting Project Viper. In 1989, they revealed the Dodge Viper concept at the Detroit Motor Show.

They went crazy over the aggressive but elegant lines and prototype V10 engine. The reaction of the public was so overwhelming that Iacocca, Chrysler chairman, rushed the car into production. They wanted it to be ready for its 1992 release, as well as for pace car duty at the legendary Indianapolis 500. Under the hood was an 8.0-liter fully aluminum V10 with 400 HP and 465 lb-ft of torque. The performance secured the Viper’s place as one of the most powerful new models on the market. With a price of just over $50,000 and 0 to 60 mph times of 4.6 seconds, the Viper beat those European exotic machines. It established itself as one of the best-looking, fastest cars of the early ‘90s.

9. Shelby Series 1

After the success of the Viper, Carroll decided to return to the sports car manufacturing business with a new project. His idea was to introduce a retro-styled car. It would be a power roadster with sharper handling, more direct driving dynamics, and a modern drivetrain. The idea materialized in the form of the Shelby Series 1. It was a world-class sports convertible and the only vehicle Shelby ever built from the ground up.

They unveiled the Series 1 in 1999 and it featured a gorgeous roadster body. Its low silhouette and design went back to the mid-60s. However, under the body, everything was new, including the Oldsmobile 4.0-liter V8 engine delivering 320 HP. Since the car was light, the performance was impressive.

In fact, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph took only four seconds, which was fantastic for the late ’90s. Unfortunately, U.S. regulations regarding car manufacturing forbade Shelby from producing the Series 1 as a regular model. They only allowed him to build it as a kit car, which he refused. Due to limited availability and high price, they only made about 250 of them up to 2005.

8. Shelby GT500

The first Mustang to wear the Shelby name in almost 40 years was the 2007 model. The SVT department who conceived the Cobra R models consulted with Carroll Shelby. So, the 2007 Shelby GT 500 looked mean with its aggressive design and multiple upgrades. Also, it sounded terrifying thanks to the new 5.4-liter supercharged V8 engine producing 500 HP and 480 lb-ft of torque.

This was the first production Mustang that broke the magic 500 HP barrier, making it the most powerful muscle car at the moment. With racing stripes on the hood, roof and trunk, and four exhaust pipes making a scary rumble thanks to the massive V8, the 2007 Shelby GT 500 made Carroll Shelby proud. Of course, the performance was amazing since 0 to 60 mph took only 4.5 seconds.

Even though this car could probably accelerate even faster, pushing the pedal too hard would burn the rear tires due to its massive torque.

7. Shelby GT350R

Shelby died in 2012, just two years before Ford officially released the newest car under his name: the 2015 Shelby GT350. This model marked the return to Ford’s uncompromised sports car roots in a glorious manner. Although they based the Shelby on the Mustang GT, much of the car’s suspension, design, aero package, and engine were new.

But the biggest single difference is the fantastic Voodoo engine. It provides a 5.2-liter displacement, 526 HP and 429 lb-ft of torque. This high-revving powerplant relies on the flat-plane crank technology that allows this big V8 to scream to almost 9,000 rpm. In fact, it is the same technology exotic manufacturers like Ferrari use.

This was the first time a muscle car had such an advanced engine. Ford’s investment into the Shelby GT350R paid off since the performance is mind-boggling, taking just 3.9 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. But the numbers don’t do justice to this car. The Shelby GT350R is a pure sports car that delivers fantastic driving dynamics and great handling experience for drivers.

However, it is closer to the Porsche GT3 in precision driving and cornering speeds than it is to the humble Mustangs of yesteryear. This car is not only one of the fastest Mustangs ever, but it is also one of the best sports cars in recent years. Carroll Shelby would be proud of how good of a job Ford did with this new GT350.

6. Shelby EXP 500 “Green Hornet”

Shelby explored the possibilities and limits of the Mustang platform and engineering, producing several interesting prototypes. But one of the most popular and famous is the legendary “Green Hornet” from 1968. The Green Hornet featured the most innovative features like a 390 V8 equipped with fuel injection.

The Green Hornet came with disc brakes on all four wheels and an independent rear suspension. With this layout, the Green Hornet handled and stopped better than any other sports car on the market. Unfortunately, the cost of producing those features was too much, so Ford and Shelby decided to go with more conventional technology.

5. 1967 GT500 Super Snake

The 1967 Shelby GT500 was a landmark muscle car in design, but also in power and performance. However, Shelby wanted more, so he conceived the special high-speed record-breaking GT500 Super Snake.

What made the Super Snake so special was the 500 HP 427 V8 straight from the Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 race car. This powerful engine pushed this Mustang to over 170 mph top speed. The idea was to produce a limited run of these cars, but unfortunately, the cost was just too high.

4. 1966 Shelby GT350 Convertible

At the end of the 1966 model year, Shelby decided to produce a limited, secret run of six GT350 convertibles to give to his family and friends. This commemorative edition would celebrate the success of the GT350, as well as serve as a prototype for the potential production of future convertibles.

Each car received options like air conditioning and a roll bar. Then they painted each car in a different color, adding its signature white racing stripes. For years, most mainstream muscle car enthusiasts were unaware of the ’66 GT350 convertible. The reason for that is because GT350 convertible owners kept them in private collections, rarely showing them in public.

3. Shelby Dakota

The Dakota was a compact pickup truck Dodge sold between 1987 and 1996. It was dependable, tough-looking and came with a wide range of engines and trim levels. But Dodge wanted more. In the late ’80s, the company envisioned a performance version.

They enlisted Shelby, who was working with Chrysler Corporation at the moment, to create it. Shelby took a regular production Dakota and installed a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 175 HP in it. Even though the power output was relatively small, the Dakota was light. Since it had lots of torque, this compact truck delivered a convincing performance.

2. Shelby F-150

Although Shelby never got a chance to see this truck, he would approve of the insane 750 HP Shelby F-150. After all, his company and his legacy inspired the company to build it.

Under the hood is a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 pumping 750 HP and delivering a Raptor-beating performance. With its insane price tag and eye-catching livery and appearance, the Shelby F-150 is the definitive continuation of the iconic Shelby legend.

1. Toyota 2000GT SCCA by Shelby American

Not many people know that Shelby was one of the people behind Toyota’s racing success in the SCCA championship in the late ’60s. Toyota presented this car in 1967, turning the eyes of the car world to a small company from war-torn Japan. All the big car magazines of the period praised the ride and driving dynamics of the Toyota 2000GT. Despite getting only 150 HP from the high-revving 2.0-liter six-cylinder, the 2000 GT offered decent performance and almost racecar-like handling.

Despite the performance and construction, it was obvious that the 2000 GT wasn’t a race car and that it would take a magician to make it work. Shelby was that magician, and with his team of experts, he made the 2000GT one of the most accomplished cars in the series.

These are the 21 cars that made Carroll Shelby an automotive legend. Shelby had the golden touch in the automotive world. Everything he touched became a hit with performance fans, Mustang fans, driving fans, and even racing teams. His life and his infamous designs forever changed car history.

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