Friday, January 21, 2011
Why are all those Shelby Mustangs and Cobras worth so much at Barrett-Jackson? The story of Carroll Shelby
One name that pops up regularly, both at our auction and the event in Scottsdale, is “Shelby”. It’s almost like every other car is either a Shelby Mustang, a Shelby Cobra, or some kind of fake Shelby (the experts like to call these “tributes”, “clones”, or “recreations”, but let’s just call a spade a spade here). And one thing you quickly realize when watching these events is that tacking that word to a car is similar to selling it with a briefcase full of money in the trunk. Shelby cars tend to bring the big bucks. But why? What makes a Shelby Mustang, for example, worth exponentially more than a basic Mustang? What is the appeal?
In the 1950s, Shelby was a racer. He was good enough behind the wheel to find success in sports car and open-wheel racing. His crowning achievement as a driver was most likely his 1959 win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Maserati.
But Shelby’s real claim-to-fame came as a car builder. It all started in the early 1960s, when Henry Ford II made it his personal quest to dominate Ferrari on the racetrack. Ford tried unsuccessfully to purchase Ferrari, and the negotiations between Ford II and the dictatorial Enzo Ferrari fueled a fierce rivalry.
Meanwhile, Shelby was working on the car that would seal his name in racing lore—the Cobra. Shelby wanted to build a car that would be competitive with Corvettes and Ferraris in the GT III class of the FIA.
A small two-seater built by the English company AC Cars, became the target of Shelby’s ambitions. AC had lost the contract to put the modest six-cylinder engine built by Bristol into their little sports cars, so Shelby used this opportunity to use them for his own demented purposes. Ford’s lightweight new 289-c.i. V8 was eventually selected to power the newly named Cobra, and after struggling through a few teething problems, the feather light sledgehammer became a fierce competitor on the track.
All of the success with the GT40 and the Cobra led to the construction Ford-contracted Shelby Mustangs to run in the SCCA B-Production Class, as well as a line of beefed-up Shelby Mustangs for the street. Shelby Mustangs were built up-to the 1969 model year, and these are the cars we typically see during these collector car auctions.
In the following years, the Shelby name has been applied to more than just Mustangs. In the 1980s, Chrysler made several cars that had vaulted Shelby performance enhancements. Even the Dodge Viper benefited from Shelby's influence. Shelby American has also made their own cars over the years, including later-model iterations of the 427 Cobra.
At 88-years-old, and in spite of health problems that have included a full heart transplant, Carroll Shelby continues to be the face for Ford’s extreme performance cars. And judging by the response his cars received at the auction this weekend, the Shelby name will be synonymous with top dog Mustangs for years to come.
The slideshow below has all kinds of pictures from Shelby's racing and product history. Many are from the Ford Motor Company media archives. You've seen some, maybe not others, but they're all pretty interesting. One thing's for sure, Carroll Shelby has posed by many a car in his day. Enjoy.