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Fans of performance and racing worldwide know a handful of names seemingly without fail: Enzo Ferrari, Henry Ford, Ayrton Senna, and so many more. However, one name should hold special reverence in nearly every petrolhead’s heart. That name is Carroll Shelby, and it’s not an understatement to say that he changed the face of motorsport and the American performance car market. However, there are some things you may not have known about the Le Mans legend, car-building master, and man, Carroll Shelby. 

Carroll Shelby: the bomber pilot, the veteran, the romantic

Carroll Shelby, former Le Mans winner, drives a classic Cobra, one of the vehicles he innovated.
Carroll Shelby in an early Cobra | Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)

You probably heard that Mr. Shelby was a pilot, but you might not have known he was an Army Air Corps pilot during WWII. He flew bombers, everything from the B-18 to the B-25 to the B-29 Superfortress. Better yet, Petrolicious says that he used to drop love letters over his fiancé’s farm while he was stationed near San Antonio, Texas. What a romantic. 

Carroll Shelby may have had a hand in the first celebratory champagne spray after a race

After the American duo A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney won the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans battle against Ferrari, Gurney involved Carroll Shelby in one of the most beloved post-race traditions. Gurney sprayed Shelby, Henry Ford II, and bystanders with the well-shaken beverage bottle. Nowadays, you can’t watch a major race without the celebratory champagne spray. Shelby was right in the middle of what may have been the very first one. 

He built two Supersnakes; one for him and the other for Bill Cosby

A blue Shelby Cobra, CSX3303, shows off its fat tires and roadster shape.
Shelby Cobra CSX3303 | Barrett-Jackson

Over the years, Carroll Shelby built his Cobra design into one of the most recognizable American cars ever. He put a 427 cubic inch motor in it and made one of the fastest cars of the 1960s. However, he created two of the wildest Cobras after a duel with a Ferrari. His twin supercharged 427 Supersnakes, CSX3015 and CSX3303, were absolute beasts. 

CSX3015 went to Shelby’s personal collection, and the CSX3303 Cobra went to then-comedian Bill Cosby. Although here’s where things get wild; Cosby returned it, and the following owner died by driving it off a cliff.    

Shelby had a hand in developing the Dodge Viper 

You know about Carroll Shelby’s long relationship with Ford Motor Company, but you might not know that, after a sabbatical in South Africa, Shelby went to work for Chrysler. He started working with Chrysler and Dodge in 1982, first working on little gas-sippers like the Dodge Omni GLH. However, in the late 1980s, Shelby took part in the design of what would become the venerable Viper.

It’s an appropriate partnership, given the long tradition the Texan had with serpents. Shelby claims that the first time “Cobra” registered with him was in a dream. Years later, the performance car icon would take part in giving the world the Viper. Snakes on the brain.

He not only won Le Mans, but he was also the first American to do so


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Shelby drove on a team with Ray Salvadori in an Aston Martin DBR1/300 to win the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was undoubtedly a personal victory for the Texan. However, it also represented the first time an American would win at Le Mans. Carroll Shelby won Le Mans and then went on to put his own cars in the winner’s circle just seven years later. 

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