Carroll Shelby is a certified legend, not only within our Mustang universe where he is the top celebrity, but also within the racing community and the automotive genre as a whole. Among his many accomplishments, he was a successful race car driver in the '50s, created the legendary Cobra in 1962, turned Mustangs into GT350 and GT500 musclecars from 1965 to 1969, and won LeMans as a team owner in 1966 and 1967. That's not a bad resume, even if you don't count his days with Chrysler in the '80s and what he's doing today, including his renewed relationship with Ford to build GT500s and with Shelby Automobiles, a thriving company that churns out Shelby GTs, GT500KRs and Super Snakes, CSX Series Cobras, and a line of performance parts for new Mustangs. That doesn't include the fact that, at 85, he's the oldest surviving double-transplant patient, having received a heart in 1990 and a kidney in 1996.
By anyone's account, Carroll is a successful man. However, with success comes criticism and the need to protect what he has created. Even as early as 1968, he was astute enough to trademark "King of the Road" for the GT500KR before Chevrolet could grab it for a Corvette. In the '80s, Carroll found himself in a lawsuit with Ford when "GT350" was used on the '84 20th Anniversary Mustang. These days, it seems he spends more time in the courthouse than at his beloved Shelby Automobiles facility in Las Vegas. Recent wranglings include lawsuits with manufacturers of Cobra kit cars and Denice Halicki, widow of "Gone in 60 Seconds" creator H.B. Halicki, over the use of the name "Eleanor." Carroll has also been sued by Unique Performance customers who didn't get the cars they paid for when the company was shut down during a criminal investigation for title washing.
Carroll is also currently embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Shelby American Automobile Club, a national organization that has promoted Shelby and Shelby vehicles for the past 30 years. Unhappy with the way the club was being operated, he terminated SAAC's license to use his name and other trademarks when the licensing agreement came up for renewal earlier this year. SAAC has filed a lawsuit against Shelby Licensing, saying the agreement was "void and unenforceable because it was procured by fraud." In the following interview, Carroll provides his side of the story. You can find SAAC's views on the situation at www.saac.com.
We asked Carroll if he would like to clear the air on a number of controversial subjects, which have Web site forums buzzing throughout the Mustang universe. And he did just that on a Sunday afternoon in April.
Mustang Monthly: You just had your 85th birthday. How is your health these days?
Carroll Shelby: I'm doing as well as any 85-year-old with a heart and kidney transplant, and I look forward to getting up every morning and building some more Mustangs with Ford.
MM: Speaking of that, in your wildest dreams, did you ever expect to be building Mustangs in 2008?
Shelby: No, I didn't. I thought when I stopped building Mustangs in 1968 that performance was over in this country because of emissions and safety and all the things the government found necessary to straighten out. I went to Africa and spent most of 12 years there. I never dreamed I would be back with Ford to the extent that we are today, but I'm very pleased we are. I'm a lucky man that, at 85, I have such a wonderful partnership with Ford.