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Carroll Shelby, famed for fast living and faster cars, dies at 89

May 11, 2012|By Shav Glick and Jerry Hirsch | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • Carroll Shelby designed the cult-classic Shelby Cobras and Ford's Shelby Mustang.
Carroll Shelby designed the cult-classic Shelby Cobras and Ford's… (Associated Press )

Carroll Shelby, the charismatic Texan who parlayed a short-lived racing career into a specialized business building high-performance, street-legal cars, died Thursday. He was 89.

Shelby died at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, according to an announcement by his company, Carroll Shelby Licensing. A cause was not disclosed.

He led a colorful, outsized life that touched virtually every corner of the automotive world, said Leslie Kendall, curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

PHOTOS: Carroll Shelby, 1923-2012

“He was the only individual to influence the designs of all three major American automakers. Everything he touched became legendary,” Kendall said.  “Even recently he was working on an experimental engine.”

Living in the fast lane was a matter of fact for Shelby, who designed the cult-classic Shelby Cobras and Ford’s Shelby Mustang.

He raced cars. He had a heart transplant from a Las Vegas gambler in 1990 and a kidney transplant from a son in 1996. He was married seven times.

While trying to fend off an anticipated heart attack, he drove in a 200-mile race in 1960 with nitroglycerin pills underneath his tongue, finishing third at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey.

“If I hadn't slowed down each time I popped one of those pills, I might have won,” he said, then announced his retirement as a driver later that year after clinching the U.S. Road Racing championship series at Riverside International Raceway.

Five years earlier he had replaced a plastic cast on his broken elbow with a fiberglass one and had his hand taped to the steering wheel so he could help Phil Hill drive a Ferrari to second place in a 12-hour race at Sebring, Fla.

“Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognized names in performance car history, and he's been successful at everything he's done,” said Edsel B. Ford II, member of the board of directors of Ford Motor Co.and great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of the company. “Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene, to building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him.”

Shelby most recently collaborated with the automaker on the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang, which has 650 horsepower, making it the most powerful production V-8 engine in the world.

[For the Record, 2:21 p.m.  May 11: An earlier version of this post said Carroll Shelby clinched the U.S. Road Racing championship series at Riverside International Speedway. The track was called Riverside International Raceway.]

 Hirsch is a Times staff writer. Glick, who died in 2007, was a longtime motor racing writer for The Times.

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