Carroll Shelby, famous for his forward-thinking in sports car racing, has passed away at the age of 89, ShelbyAutos.com has announced.
Shelby, a Texan whose father was a mail carrier, made a name for himself by becoming, in 1959, the second American-born racer, after Phil Hill, to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"Unlike so many racers, he didn’t come from a rich family[.] When I was a kid, American cars were big, clunky things, until Carroll used his ingenuity to make them compete with European cars," Jay Leno told the NY Times.
That's why most remember Shelby better as car builder. His idea of fitting big and true American V8s together with light and nimble British chassis was ground-breaking. In no time, his Shelby Cobras were rivals to the likes of Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar.
"In the history of our company there are a handful of men who have stamped their imprint on the heart and soul of what we do at Ford Racing and Carroll Shelby is definitely one of them," Ford racing director James Allison said to Autosport.com.
Before entering racing, Shelby was a fighter plane pilot during World War II. After the war, he went on to work in oil fields and farming, as well as racing, before starting in the 1960’s a close relationship with Ford.
Shelby's legacy with the blue oval extends to today, many modern Fords bearing his name – the 2013 Shelby GT500 being one of them.
"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," Edsel Ford II, grandson of Ford's founder Henry Ford, told the Chicago Tribune.