3 things I’ll never forget about Carroll Shelby
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?
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.
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.