3 things I’ll never forget about Carroll Shelby

Long ago, Carroll Shelby signed the glovebox door of my 1967 GT500, kindly inscribing it to me personally. That pretty much sealed the deal that this Mustang will stay with me forever. Kayla Keenan

To know Carroll Shelby was to have an anecdote or two about Carroll Shelby. I’m lucky to have three, each of which makes me smile.

1. In his distinctive Texas twang, Carroll Shelby used to call me “that IN-surance guy.” That was on-brand for his sense of humor. I loved it.

2. He once corrected me for using the term “sports cars” in reference to his work. “It’s called a ‘sport car,’ young man,” he said dryly. He wasn’t kidding about that one. He was adamant on that detail, regardless of what the rest of the motorsports world called them.

3. My wife, Soon, used to work with him, so I sent him the glovebox cover of my Lime Gold 1967 Shelby GT500, asking him to sign it. He did, but unlike most of the car parts he signed, he personalized mine—which was nice, but I had to chuckle. Why? Because at the time I was considering selling it, which is harder to do when the glovebox says, “To, McKeel.” But, oh well, it’s now a permanent part of my car collection, and I’m glad for it.

Shelby, both the man and his cars, has been on my mind lately for two reasons. First, I had the good fortune of giving a little speech recently at the Cobra Experience museum in Martinez, California. The topic they wanted me to discuss wasn’t Cobras, however. It was the future of collectible cars, which is right up my alley. The future of our hobby depends on museums, car shows, clubs, concours events, track days, and passionate car people like these who celebrate and preserve the great cars of the past and are willing to educate new generations about them. If we don’t do it, who will?

Ford Trimotor plane traverse city michigan tarmac mckeel hagerty shelby gt500
Don Rutt

Second, Shelby has been seemingly everywhere the past few years. And his cars continue to grow in popularity and value. (One example: Since 2012, the 1965 Shelby GT350 and 1967 Shelby GT500 fastback have appreciated 111 percent and 61 percent, respectively, according to the ace Automotive Intelligence team at Hagerty.) Most recently, he was profiled in Magneto, the high-end British car magazine, which termed him an “All-American Hero.” Two new books are out about him: Preston Lerner’s Shelby American: The Renegades Who Built the Cars, Won the Races, and Lived the Legend; and Colin Comer’s Shelby American 60 Years of High Performance. Both are excellent reads, and both were excerpted in the November/December 2022 issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine, if you want to get a sample there. And, of course, there was the splendid 2019 movie Ford v Ferrari, which introduced Shelby to a whole new generation of car enthusiasts.

Not bad for a guy who departed this world in 2012. But will it last? Has Carroll Shelby earned a permanent place in the hearts, minds, and lexicon of the car world?

I think he has, and for two reasons. First, there’s his aforementioned larger-than-life personality. Everyone loves risk-takers and plain talkers. We also love our underdogs.

Caroll Shelby Le Mans
Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

It might seem odd to describe Shelby that way, but consider: Here’s a guy—a former chicken farmer from Texas with lifelong heart issues—who, with Roy Salvadori, wins Le Mans as a driver while suffering from dysentery. Then, in 1964, his Cobra Daytona Coupe, built by Shelby American, wins the GT class at Le Mans. Then, while running the race team for Ford, his GT40s defeat the heralded Ferraris and win Le Mans overall in 1966 and 1967. Along the way, his small, underfunded company builds fast, light road cars that were, to some, better than the Corvette.

That incredible stretch is merely one chapter in the Shelby story, of course. But in it, the seeds of a legend are planted.

Long may it grow.




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    Shelby has cemented his place in automotive lore for some time to come. For a lot of people he represents what the idealized concept of An American is: self-assured, self-made, and a man of action; from humble beginnings to taking on all comers.

    It may not all be *strictly* true, but Ol’ Shel had another quintessential American trait – talking himself into the sale, whether it was his cars or his own legend. It’s been said the greatest currency in a world of deepfakes and misinformation is authenticity, and even when Shelby was lying, he was telling you the truth.

    Three things I’ll never forget about Shelby:
    1. His grifting of funds from his children’s charity.
    2. His unnecessary pursuit of Factory Five and other Cobra kit car manufacturer’s. He stuffs a Ford engine in an AC Ace and acts like he designed a brand new car that no one else should be able to replicate.
    3. His unnecessary pursuit of SAAC.

    One of the most over-rated and over-admired people in the automotive world.

    You’re probably a Chevy Or Mopar person and a hater to boot. The man is a legend with a following like no other. I wonder what good things you have accomplished.

    He won lemans in a 1950 aston martin. And then did something that saved ford. What have you done mate?

    Apparently you never heard that GM/Chevy Duntov turned down Shelby BEFORE he went to Ford. Iacocca thought it was just the enhancement the new SBF program could take advantage of. Just one of Iacocca’s many “out of the box” automotive decisions that created major changes in the industry. Ford gave the first 6 engines to Shelby on credit so it was Ford that saved Shelby.

    Your version of the Corvette story is bunk! The real story starts out like a bad joke. Three Texan’s (Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall and Garry Laughlin) walk into Ed Cole’s GM office and asked for three chassis, which Ed gave them. Well, they never actually walked in, but they had the connections, and Ed did give them the chassis. In turn, they sent them to Scaglietti, yes, one of Ferrari’s body sculptors, Enzo was livid! What came back to the states, were the three most beautiful Corvettes ever! That’s when GM management got wind of the cars, and put a stop to it! On the one hand a shame, on the other hand, if they hadn’t, no Cobra! Truth is, stranger then fiction.

    Shelby’s Children’s Heart Foundation took in OVER $1,000,000 and spent about $10,000 on kids from the tax reporting documents… Lost all my respect when I realized that it was his creed for life — get mine first. Maybe things changed when he sold the Shelby name to Ford because of the costs to get emissions certifications for vehicles of even limited production numbers. His multiple other pursuits to “protect his name” by going after SAAC, Factory Five and others long after he had abandoned his “Cobra pursuits” was just “me first” endeavors. I’ve owned a dozen Shelbys and my 9F02R4 that I purchased June 1969 is still in my garage. Shelby’s later life actions don’t diminish the cars of the 1960s he was involved with and their mark on automotive history. BUT none of that would have happened without the dozens of talented people who worked for him. Who designed the World Championship Daytona Coupe? The cars & TEAMS ARE the legend. Shelby was no different than the photo shoot of the first GT350 – it had different sets of wheels on each side so it looked like two different vehicles… Carrol Shelby had different sides…

    It is what it is and the Shelby fans out there will be forever loyal to the man no matter what . I have 2 signed autographs from him which I received back in 1977 and I will treasure them till my last day on earth . ❤️🙏❤️ If you can’t say anything nice about the man , then keep your pie hole shut .

    “The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones.”

    ― William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

    Like all of us. A mixture of good and bad. I’m becoming more careful to not immediately accept accusations or adulations in the age of the ol’ interweb

    Agree. I have no time for Haters. So much B.S. and hate is the weakness of the internet. Opinions are usually based on hearsay.

    Best day of my racing career happened the moment this shot was taken. I had just won the final NAJA Championship that he set up to determine the fastest journalist in the country. That year-long event ended in Las Vegas, and I won it by 0.009s. The moment this shot was taken, he said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone handle a car like that!”…certainly made my day, lemme tell ya!

    At dinner that night, the top journalists sat at our table, and I felt sorry for him answering the same ol’ questions that he’s probably had to answer 1000x. So, when the food came, I looked over at him and said, “Hey Carroll, which do you think was better, the big-block or small-block Cobra?”

    As all the journalists within an earshot dropped their silverware and dove for their notepads and pens, he told me, “The big-block was a BASTARD of a car! Go like hell in a straight line, but that’s about it. The small-block was a MUCH better car.” I simply replied, “Thought so.”


    Carol was a wide range of people. That is why there are so many takes on him. .

    Carol was a big hearted guy no pun intended but a skilled driver, pilot, hard nosed businessman, ladies man, snake charmer, a little con man and salesman.

    Carol set goals and did everything he could to accomplish them.

    He was great at finding the right people at the right times to accomplish these goals. He did not install the engine in the first AC but he got the right guy to do it.

    He connected with Goodyear to take over the west coast racing tire distribution and got a lot of support from Goodyear to bay for his plans.

    He dealt with a very difficult and often out of control HF2 and his staff.

    I am not a Cobra owner or Ford fan but I was always jealous of the other companies having Carol. I could only imagine where Chevy could have gone with him running the Grand Sports.

    I was around him when I was a child once as my father worked at Goodyear. The CEO then drove a GT350 daily that was a gift from Carol.

    Later on I got cussed out by him at work as an order of heads for his continuation cars was delayed.

    There were many highlights and a number of failures as no one hits all the balls over the fence. But even his failures are still collectable today.

    Heck he even got Goodyear sell his chili in their gift shop at their headquarters.

    The man led a full far from perfect life but it was a life well lived with few regrets.

    No one could do a movie on him as you could never capture the man in less than 3 hours. It would take a series to get it right.

    Sure he went after the legacy and image of his cars as that was his business. The guy who did the Manix lost control of its image and lost a fortune.

    He may not have installed the first engine but he carried the idea and made it work.

    He dis have to compromise and let Ford take the name and build their own deals but most today don’t really consider todays Shelby his cars but I am sure he made money on them and today I bet a charity is surviving from the name use.

    It Must be Texas as there were many traits he and Jim Hall shared. Today the auto world is so much more interesting for it.

    The only negative I have with a Cobra are the cheap copies that have stock 5.0 engines in them. Cone on guys do it right get a big engine and the right wheels to do these. You are so close.

    Those who were lucky to know Carol enjoyed his stories and adventures right up to his last days with us. His aircraft adventures were as flamboyant as the sport cars, from fighter training to flying from Southern California to his Texas ranch in an ultralight to prove to the FAA that his new heart was just fine and he should get his medical back. The bureaucrats didn’t budge.

    I was fortunate to meet him twice in vegas. first time was at the NASCAR track. there was a line forming at one of the garages & he was signing autographs & selling his book with all proceeds to his charity. he also personalized his signature to me in the book. the other time was at the factory store. He & i were both in the hat section & he was bitching up a storm about not being able to take a hat “out of his store” without letting someone scan the inventory tag. I still have 2 of his hats that he signed (that i will likely never wear) & I did get to sign the wall in his main shop. Does not seem like it was that long ago.

    He is still my Hero and I drive my dash signed 427 S/C with relish as often as I can. RIP Shel !

    In my opinion he was nothing more than a big mouth, look at the cars that were designed by him they are nothing more than a joke.

    Flying into Denver one summer, talking cars with a guy seated next to me. Turns out that he was COO for Shelby’s operations. “Why Denver?” He mentioned that they were having what would now be called an “all hands” meeting, and scheduled it for Vail. I joked, that I was surprised that Carroll wasn’t flying them in on the corporate jet. He replied, they didn’t have a jet, Carroll lost his license on a medical, and they picked for Vail, for the altitude. Apparently Shelby couldn’t deal with the thin air, with his heart issues, and would not attend. They found they could get way more decisions made without Carroll taking every conversation down a rabbit hole. Just another bit of The Legend.

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