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Carroll Shelby dies at 89; cult classic car designer

He retired from racing and built the Cobra, which married Ford V-8 engines with a lightweight British chassis. He later worked with Ford on the Mustang.

May 12, 2012|By Shav Glick and Jerry Hirsch, Special to The Times

Showing a knack for salesmanship, Shelby had the same car painted different colors so that he could get cover feature stories in different automotive magazines at the same time. He liked to tell the story that when he was down to his last $20, he used it to take an auto writer to lunch to talk him into a story about his Cobras.

Road & Track magazine called the hot-rod "nothing more than a weapon designed specifically for proceeding from one point to another in a minimum amount of time."

The Cobras won Sports Car Club of America manufacturing championships from 1963 through 1965 and in 1965 beat out Ferrari, the first and only time an American-conceived car won the world championship. A year later, European rule makers banned the 7-liter engine used by Shelby.

"We were a bunch of hot-rodders from Venice, California, and to beat Ferrari the way we did, well, I'm still proud of it," Shelby said in 2006.

Ford had hired Shelby in the mid-1960s to pump up the performance of the Mustang, but by 1970, when the expense of building Shelby's version became prohibitive, his interest flagged and he turned to other endeavors, including a safari business in Africa which he ran for seven years, and a chili cook-off in Terlingua, Texas, that led to his marketing his own brand of chili.

In 1982, Iacocca, by then chairman of Chrysler Corp., brought him back into the car designing and marketing business. Shelby served as a performance consultant for Chrysler sports car programs and helped introduce the Viper, a 400-horsepower, V-10 product that emphasized power. He also worked briefly in the '90s with Oldsmobile on plans for a lightweight, high-powered car.

In recent years he had returned to Ford to work on the concept for the new Mustang GT500 and wrangled with manufacturers of Cobra replicas over the rights to the design. His Las Vegas factory cranked out his own fiberglass version, and he also had a plant there making racing tires.

He established the Carroll Shelby Children's Foundation to pay medical bills of children who have heart disease and can't afford treatment. A portion of proceeds from the sale of his Cobras goes into that fund.

Shelby had homes in Los Angeles and Las Vegas as well as two ranches in Texas.

In addition to his wife, Cleo, his survivors include sons Patrick and Michael (who donated a kidney to his father); a daughter, Sharon Levine; and a sister, Anne Shelby Ellison, all of whom live in the Dallas area.

Glick, The Times' longtime motor racing writer, filed a version of this obituary before his death in 2007.

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