On this day in 1965, car designer and automobile racer Carroll Shelby introduces the 306 horsepower V8 engine Shelby GT 350 — a version of the Ford Mustang named after designer and World War II aircraft.
The long hood and short rear deck beauty, sold almost 22,000 after debuting in Ford showrooms across the U.S. and more than 400,000 in the first year of production.
Carroll Shelby was born in Leesburg, Texas, in 1923. Shelby raced his first quarter mile drag meet in January of 1952, after serving in World War II and becoming a father to three children.
Rumor has it, Mr. Shelby was a bit of a romantic. He was a flight instructor during WWII and was stationed in San Antonio, Texas. During longer missions he’d stuff love letters in his combat boots and drop them over his fiance’s farm.
But Shelby was tougher than your grand-dad and old man put together. In 1955 Shelby drove the 12-hour Sebring race with a broken hand in a fiberglass cast fastened to the steering wheel. In his final race at Laguna Seca, he griped about popping nitroglycerin tablets (for his chronic heart condition) during the race and claimed it was why he finished second.
He was also the second American to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1959.
On top of becoming a decorated racer and innovator of American Muscle classics with beefy engines that collectors dreamed about — He was also a philanthropist who created a foundation to help fund children in need of organ transplants. A foundation that continues its work today.
Carroll rushed to a race one time straight from the farm still wearing his work overalls and made headlines because of his attire. Another piece of the puzzle on why the public adored him. He was famous and iconic in the automotive industry, but still a real salt of the earth kind of guy who wasn’t afraid of hard work. The epitome of every regular man trying to make it in America.
Jay Leno, former talk show host and automobile collector/enthusiast explained Shelby as,
the car world’s Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays… Unlike so many racers, he didn’t come from a rich family, so he signifies that everyman, common-sense ideal. When I was kid, American cars were big, clunky things, until Carroll used his ingenuity to make them compete with European cars. He was a populist, the kind of guy that other car buffs could emulate.
On May 10, 2012, in Dallas, Texas, the man – the myth – the legend, passed away at age 89. His name will forever rev the heart beat of gear-heads, soothe a child in need of a transplant and be remembered as the dude who changed the car world, forever.
Thanks Carroll Shelby for being friggin’ awesome.