Born in Leesburg, Texas on 11 January 1923, Carroll Shelby started out in competition with the British marque MG after having served in the American Air Force as a test pilot and flying instructor during World War II. After the war, he set about raising poultry.
At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Shelby knew three careers. As a driver, he participated in the race only twice, with Aston Martin. Along with Belgian driver Paul Frère, he was forced to retire in 1954, then five years later, he reached the top step on the podium at the wheel of a DBR1 shared with the Brit Roy Salvadori. The duo took the lead on Sunday morning shortly before 11:00 after the Ferrari of Phil Hill-Olivier Gendebien was forced to retire with engine problems after leading the race for nine hours.
In late 1959, Shelby retired as a driver, founded a driving school and became a constructor with Shelby American, Inc. He joined forces with AC chassis and Ford engines to produce one of the most stunning sports cars of the 1960s: the Shelby Cobra. As a constructor, he fielded the Shelby Cobra in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as one of Ferrari's tougest adversaries. In 1964, Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney finished fourth overall, beating the iconic GTO in their class!
So, Ford called on Shelby to lead its great offensive against the Italian marque, and as a team owner, he gave the American manufacturer its first two wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1966, Shelby American, Inc. scored a one-two thanks to Chris Amon-Bruce McLaren and Dennis Hulme-Ken Miles, rounded out by third place for Ronnie Bucknum-Dick Hutcherson representing Holman & Moody (covered in the movie Le Mans 66 directed by James Mangold to be released on 13 November). In 1967, American duo A.J. Foyt-Dan Gurney reached the top step on the podium and set the first 5,000 km+ distance record.
Not only did Shelby make his mark at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, but also in Hollywood. In 1968, he prepared the Ford Mustang Fastback and the Dodge Charger used in the famous chase scene in Bullitt, the first film released by Solar, Steve McQueen's production company, two years before the cinematic adventure Le Mans.
PHOTO (COPYRIGHT - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SUNDAY 21 JUNE 1959. Shelby sported a special style of coveralls in 1959, a nod to his years as a poultry farmer perhaps? He is pictured here with the future Miss France 1960.