Industry Mourns Death of Automotive Legend Carroll Shelby

May 15, 2012

Motorsports industry icon Carroll Shelby died Thursday at a hospital in Dallas, Carroll Shelby International Inc. announced Friday morning.

Shelby’s career in the motorsports industry spanned over 50 years.

The champion race car driver and racing team owner is probably best known as designer of the Shelby American Cobra and for founding Shelby American Inc., which manufactures and markets performance vehicles and related products. (The company later became a subsidiary of Carroll Shelby International Inc.)

“He was incredible innovator, entrepreneur, marketing guy and salesman who produced one fantastic product that will be cherished for generations to come,” Buddy Pepp, executive director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Despite all of his achievements in the motorsports industry, Shelby said that he considered his greatest achievement to be the establishment of the Carroll Shelby Foundation in 1992.

The foundation provides medical assistance for those in need, as well as provides educational opportunities and training programs for young people wishing to join the automotive industry.

Shelby, who underwent both a heart and a kidney transplant during his life, remained active in the companies and his charity until his death.

“Today, we have lost a legend in Ford Motor Co.’s history, and my family and I have lost a dear friend,” Edsel B. Ford II, member of the board of directors of Ford Motor Co. and great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Co., said in a statement. “Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognized names in performance car history, and he’s been successful at everything he’s done. Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene or building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him. He was a great innovator whose legend at Ford never will be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

Shelby was inducted  into International Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.

At the 2003 Hotrod & Restoration Trade Show, Shelby became the second recipient of the Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2008 Shelby was awarded the Automotive Executive of the Year Award.

“I look forward every day to building cars, to being a part of the industry,” Shelby told Hotrod & Restoration contributor Charles Phoenix in 2003. “I’ve been in it since its infancy. I’m 80 years old, and I’m just lucky to be here and be a part of it.” Companies associated with the racing and hot rod industries sent condolences to the Shelby family through Twitter.

“RIP Carroll Shelby, sad news that we lost yet another legend in the automotive hobby,” Carlisle Events tweeted. “Thank you for building one of the baddest American Muscle Icons ever – RIP Car[r]oll Shelby,” Race Deck tweeted. “We lost a legendary gearhead today. RIP Carroll Shelby,” tweeted Warn Industries.

The news of Shelby’s death comes a few weeks after he cancelled an appearance at the New York International Auto Show, where he was set to debut the new 950-horsepower Shelby 1000 and 1,100-horsepower Shelby 1000 S/C.

He later used his Facebook page to reassure his fans that he was in good health, and revealed that he had been suffering from a long bout of pneumonia. No cause of death was released. He was 89. Shelby is survived by his three children, his sister and wife, Cleo. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Carroll Shelby Foundation. To read more about Shelby’s life and career, visit