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Carroll Shelby: an icon for high-performance cars

Carroll Shelby, who died Thursday, gave up car racing to create the Cobra and high-performance models of the Ford Mustang, Dodge (Omni) Shelby, and other cars. Carroll Shelby was a 'one-man brand.' 

By Nelson IresonGuest blogger / May 12, 2012

In this1960 file photo, race car driver Carroll Shelby, center, of Dallas, receives his winner's trophy from promotion manager Dave Brandman, after winning the 200-mile International Grand Prix at the Riverside Raceways in California. Shelby, the legendary race driver and Shelby Cobra sports car designer, died Thursday.

AP/File

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If you don't know who Carroll Shelby is, you might as well hang up your car enthusiast credentials right now, because they're no longer valid. Though his role in the American automotive industry has changed over the last several decades, he was an icon, a one-man brand. He died last night at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Texas. He was 89.

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Shelby got his start in the car business after leaving the United States Army Air Corps, where he served during World War II as a test pilot and instructor. He soon began racing for teams like Aston Martin and Maserati. In 1959, Shelby won the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving an Aston Martin DBR1/300. He also set speed records and competed in Formula One (1958-1959).

By 1959, Shelby's leaking heart valve put him out of the driver's seat, but that was far from the end of the story. That year, he founded Shelby-American, and soon he had imported an AC Motors roadster, and stuffed a Ford V-8 into it, birthing the Cobra.

Since then, his exploits have become very well-known indeed, including innumerable high-performance versions of the Ford Mustang, and other cars, including one of our personal favorites, the Dodge Omni-based Shelby GLH-S.

The company he founded, Shelby American, continues on, as will his name.

For all of us that love fast cars, driving them, and everything that goes with it: Farewell, Mr. Shelby. And thanks.

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