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Does Ford Own Shelby?

The iconic Ford Shelby models draw ample attention and have attracted masses of fans over the years. From the Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500 Ford Mustang GT models introduced in the 1960s to the more recent Ford Shelby F-150 pickup truck, Shelby’s relationship with Ford has produced some amazing models. But does Ford own Shelby?

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 seen at the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York
The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 | Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Who is Carroll Shelby?

A fellow Texan, Carroll Shelby was born in Leesburg, Texas in 1923. According to the Shelby website, he entered the Army Air Corps in 1942 after graduating high school. Being one of the best pilots, he never went into combat. Though he requested to go into combat, the practice was to keep the best pilots home to train more Army pilots to fly.

Naturally, Shelby’s favorite aircraft was the B-26 bomber. It was the fastest plane in a straight line. The aircraft produced by German, Japanese, and Italian engineers fell a little short of the B-26 in terms of speed.

Following his time spent in the Army, Shelby went on as an entrepreneur. But he still wanted to go fast. His racing career took off after his first winning race in 1952. That first win was in a MG-TC. However, he continued his racing career and drove Ferrari and Maserati sports racing models. Winning 12 races in just two years, his obvious skill was recognized and he was asked to join up with the Aston Martin factory race team in 1954.

Carroll Shelby in the winning MG-TC he drove for his first race
Carroll Shelby in the MG-TC | Shelby American

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At the height of his career, Shelby won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. But when he was diagnosed with a heart condition, Shelby had to turn elsewhere. He retired from racing in 1960.

The Shelby Cobra

With all that racing experience, Shelby had learned a lot. He loved the fast cars he drove as a race driver. But he found the engines to be less that reliable. Constant mechanical repairs and maintenance in the cars he drove inspired him to create something better.

Ford Motor Company appreciated the idea of a reliable American sports racing model that could not only keep up with but beat the foreign competition. Plus, Ford wanted something to compete directly with the Chevrolet Corvette. Shelby wanted to race the Cobra against the Corvette in the U.S. Then, take on the Ferrari in Europe. Ford was behind the idea and his ambition to win the World Manufacturers’ GT Championship.

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Shelby American became a company under which Shelby, always a racer at his core, could build his Cobra. This car became a huge success for Ford dealers. But it was also doing great in races across the globe. The Cobra dominated races across the U.S. and beat countless Corvettes. Shelby’s Cobra defeated Ferrari at the World Manufacturers’ GT Championship on July 4, 1965.

“Shelby American is the only American vehicle manufacturer to win the prestigious championship, before or since.”

Shelby American

Does Ford own Shelby American?

Because of his close friendship with Lee Iacocca, Carroll Shelby also shared a working relationship with Dodge through the 1980s. But the Shelby name remains ultimately synonymous with the Ford Performance Division. However, Shelby American remains its own entity. The headquarters are located in Enterprise, Nevada.

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In 2005, Ford Performance reintroduced the Shelby Mustang. Soon after, The GT badge was also revived. Although Carroll Shelby passed away on May 11, 2012, he managed to ensure a future for his company.

Shelby American produces true American performance models with deep roots in Carroll Shelby’s history that date back to his dad’s two-door Ford sedan and a love for going really, really fast in the legendary B-26 bomber. The Shelby story isn’t over, and it is sure to continue collaborations with Ford Performance although Shelby American isn’t technically owned by Ford Motor Company.