Carroll Shelby

Art goes fast

The smell was the first thing I noticed. Orange blossoms are pleasant, but they soon overwhelm. As I approach my goal, the air gradually gives way to the unmistakable aroma of tires, burning asphalt, exhaust from super-fueled engines, and exotic motor oils. For three days each year, Sebring, Florida, becomes the epicenter of the automotive world. It's the 12 Hours of Sebring, and I'm on assignment to cover the event.


The night before the race, I decided to do some exploring. My press pass gives me access anywhere, and the Ford pavilion draws my attention. The lights are on, and the door is unlocked. I decide to enter.


I didn't know at the time that the Ford Mark IV  would go on to win tomorrow's race, shattering records and creating automotive history. I did know this was one of the most beautiful objects I had ever experienced.

I looked at the car with intense detail, examining every angle. Then, after at least 45 minutes, I turned to see someone standing behind me.

              "Hello. I'm Dick Ainsworth, and I was just admiring this incredible machine."

              "Hi Dick, I'm Caroll Shelby. May I show you around?"

As we examined every part of the car in detail, I noticed something exciting and consistent. Every component was created to a level of excellence beyond what is necessary. The exhaust manifold was a perfect example.

As Caroll pointed out, free-flowing exhaust is critical, and well-polished tubing helps the engine "breathe" more efficiently, producing increased power. He and his engineers had gone a step further. The exterior of the manifold was also polished to perfection. This beautiful creation looked like it was sculpted from a solid block of chrome, without a single mark or seam. Caroll explained...

"This is the art part, and art goes fast. A driver in this car knows we've done everything possible to keep him safe and well equipped with the best engineering support in the business.

"The dashboard instruments are designed and calibrated precisely for this car/engine combination. The engine monitoring dials point straight up if the engine is performing within specs. If all's well, a glance is all it takes to stay informed and confident. 

"Do I think a driver will decide to win the race for us because we've added some really cool gages? No, but he knows we've delivered a cockpit that can't be improved further. And a car to challenge and maximize his skills."

Caroll would later win the even more impressive 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-driver Roy Salvadori. When his heart condition ended his driving career, Caroll focused on a different quest. While only a few drivers ever experienced his exotic creations, the Shelby Cobra emerged as perfect transportation for the rest of us. I like to think this was Caroll's other triumph. Or, as he put it, " leave those Corvettes smoking in the weeds."

first cobra
Cobra 2

I've enjoyed sharing this personal side of Caroll that not many people see. For a more inclusive view, you might like the film Ford v Ferrari or The Caroll Shelby Story.

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