Carroll Shelby, the car racer and designer who built the Shelby Cobra sports car and injected testosterone into Ford’s Mustang and Chrysler’s Viper, has died at 89.
Shelby’s company, Carroll Shelby International, said he died at a hospital in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday.
Shelby was one of America’s longest-living heart transplant recipients, having received a heart on June 7 1990, from a 34-year-old man who died of an aneurism. Shelby also received a kidney transplant in 1996 from his son Michael.
The one-time chicken farmer had more than half a dozen successful careers during his long life. Among them: champion race car driver, racing team owner, car manufacturer, safari tour operator, raconteur and philanthropist.
“He’s an icon in the medical world and an icon in the automotive world,” his long-time friend, Dick Messer, executive director of Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum, once said of Shelby.
Shelby first made his name behind the wheel of a car, winning France’s gruelling 24 hours Le Mans sports car race with teammate Ray Salvadori in 1959. He was already suffering serious heart problems and ran the race “with nitroglycerine pills under his tongue”, Messer once noted.
He had turned to the race-car circuit in the 1950s after his chicken ranch failed. He won dozens of races in various classes throughout the 1950s and was twice named Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year.
Soon after his win at Le Mans, he gave up racing and turned his attention to designing high-powered “muscle cars” that eventually became the Shelby Cobra and the Mustang Shelby GT500.
The Cobra, which used Ford engines and a British sports car chassis, was the fastest production model made when it was displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1962.
A year later, Cobras were winning races over Corvettes, and in 1964 the Rip Chords had a Top 5 hit on the Billboard pop chart with Hey, Little Cobra.
In 2007, an 800-horsepower model of the Cobra made in 1966, once Shelby’s personal car, sold for 5.5 million dollars (about £3.4 million) at auction, a record for an American car.
“It’s a special car. It would do just over three seconds to 60 (mph), 40 years ago,” Shelby told the crowd before the sale, held in Arizona.
When the energy crisis of the 1970s limited the market for gas-guzzling high-performance cars, Shelby weathered the downturn by heading to Africa, where he operated a safari company for a dozen years.
Later he returned to the United States, and was hired by Chrysler Motors to design the supercharged Viper sports car.
In recent years, Shelby worked as a technical adviser on the Ford GT project and designed the Shelby Series 1 two-seat muscle car, a 21st century clone of his 1965 Cobra.
“I just wanted to see if I could do it one more time after a heart transplant and a kidney transplant,” he once said.
He created the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation in 1991 to provide assistance for children and young people needing acute coronary and kidney care. According to its website, the foundation has helped numerous children received needed surgery, as well as provided money for research.