Where have all the heroes gone? That question popped into my mind Friday when I learned that Carroll Shelby had died at age 89.
To automotive fanatics like myself, Shelby was the hero of performance cars, starting in the mid-1960s when the Mustang, Camaro and Barracuda dominated our imaginations. Shelby took the Ford Mustang to a level never even considered with the Cobra and Cobra GT models.
While most of his fame came from his modifications of Mustangs, Shelby also shared some of his genius with Chrysler for a few years. While there he took an Omni and converted it from a commuter car to a fire-breathing monster that nearly went airborne when pushed to the limit.
Shelby was more than a gearhead and racer. He was a visionary who put an American-designed, American-built muscle car on a global platform. His appeal was more than mere mechanics and was clearly demonstrated a few years ago when Ford unveiled the latest version of the Mustang on the eve of the Los Angeles Auto show.
Rather than a traditional reveal, the event took place in an airplane hangar at the Santa Monica airport. Instead of crowd of jaded automotive reporters, the stands were filled with Mustang enthusiasts who had been gathering all day for the event. The parking lot was filled with their cars, fully restored, polished to perfection and displayed like new children at a family gathering.
As the new cars thundered onto the floor, the faithful cheered until their lungs hurt. But the biggest cheer was reserved for Shelby, who was greeted as a near-deity when he rode in seat in the latest Mustang. Afterwards he patiently signed autographs, answered questions in a soft Texas drawl and walked among the rows of Mustangs parked in the lot.
Shelby was also a fixture at the Barrett Jackson auction of Classic Cars in Arizona. His presence on the stage there was considered the automotive equivalent of a papal audience. His touch on a vehicle was like rubbing against a saint.
Where have all the heroes gone? Mine is somewhere smiling and trying to figure out how to make an angel’s chariot do zero to 60 in less than 4.8 seconds.