Carroll Shelby: Mustang Magic

Carroll Shelby's Mustangs

The Cobra engines Shelby used in the Mustang and elsewhere boasted that they were "powered by Ford".

Ford Division chief Lee Iacocca suspected his new creation, the 1965 Ford Mustang would be popular, but believed a true "Total Performance" aura would cinch its success. What better than a racing Mustang capable of trouncing Chevy Corvettes in big-league sports-car competition?

To build it, Iacocca sought out Carroll Shelby. The marketing-minded Iacocca was well aware that Shelby's Cobra sports car were festooned with "Powered by Ford" logos, and knew Shelby had the racing experience and mechanic talent needed to make a winner of Mustang.

Shelby's first high-performance Mustang was the 1965 GT-350. Like the Cobra, the GT-350 was all business and tough to beat, even in street tune. Racing R-models fulfilled Iaccoca's hopes by running away from Corvettes in the Sports Car Club of America's B-Production class, winning the national championship in 1965, '66, and again in '67. But then Ford and the stock Mustang began changing in ways that Shelby didn't like, and he parted company with Dearborn in 1970.

For the next 10 years, Shelby tended to various businesses, almost all of which succeeded by dint of his fame. Notable among these ventures was marketing a spicy Texas chili mix and, believe it or not, an underarm deodorant called -- what else? -- "Pit Stop."

Meanwhile, a slew of imitation Cobras had cropped up. Not surprisingly, Shelby took the counterfeiters to court, putting many out of business even though some cases ran on for years. In the early 1980s, Shelby again teamed with Lee Iaccoca, this time at Chrysler, where the former Ford exec had become chairman. There, Shelby brokered a string of coarse but potent turbocharged Dodges, then served as the "spiritual conscience" for the Cobra-like 1990 Dodge Viper.

©2007 Publications International The 1968 GT-500 came toward the end of Shelby's first stint with Ford.

Despite a subsequent heart transplant, Shelby would keep going strong. Shrewd, colorful, and feisty as ever, he set up a modern new shop in Las Vegas to build the capable, though ultimately star-crossed, Series I "new Cobra" of 1999, as well as more "continuation" Cobras assembled from new-old-stock parts and even a few "new" GT-350s converted from 1960s Mustangs.

Then, in 2003, Shelby officially returned to Ford as a consultant on high-performance models. Announcing his return was the exciting 2004 Shelby Cobra concept based partly on the midengine Ford GT supercar. And in 2005, the relationship was once again infused with Mustang magic when the Texan helped Ford unveil the 500-horsepower 2006 Shelby Cobra GT500.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • Mustang thundered onto America's automotive landscape like no car in history. 1965, 1966 Ford Mustang tells how the initial models captivated the nation to capture more than a million sales.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.
  • Ford muscle cars were among the top performers of the muscle car era. Check out profiles, photos, and specifications of some tough Ford muscle cars.