2010 Carroll Shelby exhibit
2010 Carroll Shelby exhibit. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Paul Williams

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Carroll Shelby: Man of Many Cars

Toronto, Ontario – According to attendees of the 2010 Canadian International Auto Show’s Carroll Shelby Gala, the guest of honour became teary-eyed at the sight of so many Shelby vehicles on display. Apparently, it was the first time that these special vehicles — many of them driven in competition by Mr. Shelby and representing over 60 years of Shelby motorsports history — had been assembled in one place.

Mr. Shelby’s induction into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame was a fine tribute, but for the lucky Gala attendees, seeing the man and the cars was, as they say, priceless.

1949 MG TC
Allard J2X
1949 MG TC (top); Allard J2X. Click image to enlarge

The vehicles remained on display as a special feature of the 2010 Toronto auto show, and these truly important cars were surely a must-see for visitors.

Among them was an example of an MG-TC, the model Mr. Shelby drove to his first race victory in 1952. Although this car is commonly cited as representing the beginning of sports car racing in America, it must be observed that simply fitting the lanky Carroll Shelby into such a diminutive vehicle should have garnered him an award by itself. Should you have the occasion to sit behind the wheel of a TC, you’ll know what I mean.

Perhaps better suited to his physique, an Allard J2X with Cadillac power (also present at the show) gave him some room in the cockpit, and a taste for lightweight British cars with American V8 grunt.

During the 1950s, Mr. Shelby drove a succession of vehicles on both sides of the Atlantic, including an Austin Healey 100S in the Carrera Pan America Mexico cross-country race, and an assortment of Ferraris, Aston Martins and Maseratis. In 1957, he made his Formula 1 debut in the Monaco Grand Prix, and was named “Driver of the Year” by Sports Illustrated magazine.

Just a bit more background on Mr. Shelby: In 1959, co-driving with Roy Salvadori, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a works Aston-Martin DBR1/300, a car that Gala organizer Richard Pickering tried unsuccessfully to bring to Toronto from England. Word has it that the significant insurance required to cover the car for the event was the stumbling block.

Cobra Daytona Coupe CSX 2299
Shelby Cobra 427
Cobra Daytona Coupe CSX 2299 (top); Shelby Cobra 427. Click image to enlarge

Mr. Shelby retired from racing at the conclusion of the 1960 racing season after winning the United States Auto Club (USAC) Championship at the wheel of a 1961 “Birdcage” Maserati.

Following his storied racing career, Mr. Shelby operated a school of high-performance driving and a Goodyear racing tire distributorship, but the idea of building his own car by fitting a lightweight British vehicle with a powerful American V8 had been germinating since his experience with the Cadillac-powered Allard.

Interestingly, Mr. Shelby approached General Motors about the prospect of using one of their engines in an Austin Healey, but neither Donald Healey nor GM was interested. Ford, however, was keen, as was England’s AC Cars, and the result turned out to be historic.

Along with the Shelby Cobra roadsters and the super-rare Shelby Daytona Coupe on display in Toronto, Mr. Shelby was front-and-centre in the development of the Ford-powered Sunbeam Tiger, the Shelby Mustang program, the Ford GT40 Le Mans program, the Hertz GT350 cars, and was involved in the full array of major races, both domestic and international, featuring various examples of Shelby American vehicles. The majority of the vehicles on display in Toronto represented that busy period from the 1960s.

During the 1980s, Mr. Shelby contracted with Chrysler to develop high-performance Dodge vehicles, and began work on what would become the Dodge Viper.

Shelby Cobra barn find
Shelby Cobra barn find. Click image to enlarge

During the 1990s, Mr. Shelby was inducted in to several motorsports “halls of fame,” began production of the CSX4000 Series 427 Cobra S/C Roadsters, and by the early 21st Century was back with Ford for a productive collaboration that has produced the Ford GT and several Shelby Mustang variants.

Now 87 years old, Carroll Shelby has enjoyed a long and distinctive career in motorsports and the automotive industry in general. Despite lifelong health issues (he is a two-time heart transplant recipient), Mr. Shelby has “lived the dream” of countless car enthusiasts. The Toronto exhibit featured some of the finest examples of vehicles bearing the Shelby name. If you couldn’t be there in person, our photo gallery recalls the event.

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