Auto Legend Carroll Shelby Dead at 89

Father of Cobra Hot Rod Had Illustrious Career

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( -- Auto legend Carroll Shelby died last night at Baylor Hospital in Dallas at the age of 89. The cause of death wasn't disclosed.

After a successful career as a race driver was shortened by a health issue, Mr. Shelby turned automaker in the 1960s. He created the Cobra, an Anglo-American hot rod of crude conception but stunning effectiveness that swept the tracks of North America and wrested a world manufacturer's title from Ferrari.

Carroll Shelby
Carroll Shelby

Additional success came with his makeovers of the Ford Mustang, which resulted in Trans-Am racing titles and the ferocious Shelby GT350 street car. His partnership with Ford blossomed into a friendship with Lee Iacocca, father of the Mustang.

In the 1980s, after Mr. Iacocca went to Chrysler, Mr. Shelby formed a venture with Chrysler that produced a number of specialty cars and trucks. He maintained a multifaceted automotive skunkworks, doing advanced research and development for other clients.

From 2005, these included Ford, with whom Mr. Shelby patched up an old grievance so that they could partner on a fresh range of super-hot Shelby Mustangs.

Other businesses Yet, impressive as his accomplishments were, automotive was only one of the scenes through which he moved with equal facility: ranching, real estate development, hotels, food production, aircraft-dealing. In every field that caught his interest, he was able to exercise a powerful combination of intelligence, curiosity, vision, timing, guile, cunning and charm, plus what he described as "the work ethic."

Not the least of Mr. Shelby's secrets was an easy, natural manner, a flashing grin and an almost old-fashioned sense of courtesy, which quickly made firm friendships and networks of important contacts.

Perhaps the most remarkable, most inspirational fact about Mr. Shelby's life was that he worked so hard despite a serious physical limitation -- a hereditary heart defect that led to four hospitalizations in 15 years for surgery, then a 1990 heart transplant.

Six years later, at age 73, he received a kidney from one of his sons, Mike Shelby.

In company with so many of the world's outstanding achievers, Carroll Hall Shelby had modest beginnings.

He was born on Jan. 11, 1923, in the small east Texas town of Leesburg, the son of a rural mail carrier. When Mr. Shelby was 10, the family moved to Dallas, where his father became a postal clerk and the boy discovered auto racing.

"I used to ride my bicycle to the old bullrings around Dallas when I was a kid, 12 or 14 years old," he recalled decades later. "So I've always had my interest in cars, that 's always been my No. 1 interest."

Life of satisfaction From his youth, Mr. Shelby maintained commercial interests all along. As he once noted, he was a child of the Depression, and the experience was formative.

He'd always had something going -- from paper routes, delivering for drug stores on his motorcycle and caddying on golf courses in the beginning, to buying and selling cars during his racing career. With Jim Hall and his brothers, Mr. Shelby was a partner in a Dallas dealership.

In a 1990 interview with Autoweek, Mr. Shelby said he felt grateful for "being able to do the things that I've wanted to over practically a lifetime and been lucky enough to have been successful enough out of them that as I grow into, ah, into old age that I can look back with satisfaction over a life well spent. I really consider myself a damn lucky individual. I don't think you can ask for much more outta life."

To read more about Carroll Shelby, check out the longer version of this story on

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