What was Special About Carroll Shelby?

Carroll Shelby was not the first car builder to take an American V8 and stuff it into a small English car chassis, but he was arguably the most successful. His Ford-powered AC Cobra became an American Icon and a racing legend, going so far as to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.

What was Shelby American?

Shelby American was founded in 1962 to build high-performance parts and cars. In 1961, Shelby contacted AC Cars in England and asked it to provide him an AC Ace modified to accept a V8 engine. Ford, looking for a car to compete with Chevrolet's Corvette, signed on to provide a 260-ci V8 engine for the project, and the prototype was born. While a lightweight race car was the predominant force behind the build, Shelby also needed to build street cars to pay the bills. Cobras were soon fitted with Ford's 289-ci V8, as well as the monster 427-ci side-oiler, resulting in performance that was more than a match for nearly all sports racers of the 1960s. Built in limited numbers, they were extremely successful on the track.

What's the Difference Between Mustangs and Cobras?

Thanks to the success of the Cobra, Ford again turned to Shelby in 1965 when it needed a high-performance image for its recently launched Mustang. The GT350 was the result, consisting of a fastback Mustang with a 306-hp 289-ci V8. Built by Ford and completed by Shelby, each featured a unique Shelby paint scheme, optional hood stripes, and suspension modifications that made them more track-worthy than basic Mustangs were. The GT500 debuted in 1967, fitted with a 428-ci big-block Ford engine. 1968 saw the introduction of the GT500 KR model, with KR standing for "King of the Road." A total of 6,847 GT350s and 6,938 GT500s were built from 1965 through 1970.

How Do You Recognize a Shelby?

While there are several different Shelby models over a 50-year period, there are some styling cues that are common to the majority of them:

  • Paint: Most Shelbys feature two wide painted stripes along the hood and on top of the vehicle.
  • Cobra: Shelby Mustangs also feature a cobra emblem rather than the typical horse logo.
  • Scoops: Look for both hood and rear quarter-panel scoops on the classic Shelby design.

What About the Return?

Recently, Ford has teamed up with Shelby again to build Shelby Mustangs, starting with the new GT-H in 2006. The GT500 returned in 2007, with a 500-hp supercharged 5.4L V8, six-speed manual, special suspension, and 18-inch wheels. The KR also returned in 2008, with a 540-hp version of the 5.4L V8 and special high-performance calibrations. For 2011, the GT350 returned to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the original with a supercharged 5.0L V8.