Carroll Shelby, in his last year of Formula One competition, drove a race-prepped version of Aston Martin’s DB4 for erstwhile AM owner David Brown. Astons at the time ran highly-tuned DOHC inline sixes, which apparently did not impress Shelby in the least.
When Shelby decided to get into construction in 1961, he wrote to AC Cars in Britain and asked them if they could modify their existing Ace roadster to accommodate a proper American-style V8. AC, which had been using Bristol’s six, a prewar BMW design, was in the process of switching to an English Ford six, and they told Shelby they could. Shelby then hit up Chevrolet, who turned him down flat. Ford, however, would talk to him, and they offered an updated version of their Windsor V8, bored out to 260 cubic inches. Shelby ordered up a chassis, and the transatlantic assembly line was created: AC would do the bodywork, then ship the carcass to Shelby’s West Coast facility, where the powertrain would be installed.
Seventy-five of these cars, christened “Cobra,” were built, priced at $5995; Shelby then switched to the new Windsor 289. The Cobra proved to be a sturdy and successful racer, so naturally it had to be improved upon; the chassis was stretched and strengthened, and Shelby, now enthusiastically supported by Ford, received a supply of the FE V8, a monster with 427 cubes.
Lee Iacocca, who had enlisted Shelby’s assistance in producing a line of high-performance Mustangs, eventually landed at Chrysler, and he persuaded Shelby to follow him. By then, pretty much everything Mopar was either already or about to be front-wheel drive, but no matter. The Shelby-modified Dodge Omni GLH (“Goes Like Hell”) offered 146 ponies to drag around a mere 2300 pounds, at a time when comparably-sized cars had maybe 90 or 100 at most. (A GLHS followed, with 175.)
Jack Baruth gave Shelby, who died Thursday, the following sendoff:
Although his final years were beset by scandal and an increasingly Byzantine series of lawsuits against everyone from “cloners” to his own fan club, the man’s contributions to the art, science, and passion of hauling ass in affordable cars are undeniable.
Even if some of them aren’t quite so affordable anymore.