By Drew Hardin
Photography Courtesy: Eric Dahlquist, Petersen Publishing Company Archive
2023 marks the 100th anniversary of Carroll Shelby’s birth. The milestone will be celebrated in a number of ways, from a Centennial-Edition Mustang by Shelby American to a tribute to his life and cars at the Goodwood Revival in England this fall.
Volumes have been written about Shelby’s life, from the successful ’50s racing career cut short by a heart condition to the organ transplants that kept him alive far longer than his OEM parts would have sustained him. There were the Cobras, Mustangs, Omnis, Chargers and other cars—and trucks—that bore his name. There were SCCA championships and the Le Mans efforts that would ultimately see Ford win the “Ford vs. Ferrari” battle put on film a few years ago. He was funny and charming but also litigious, using a scorched-earth strategy to protect his name from countless Cobra imitators and others.
Type the word “Shelby” into the search field of the digitized Petersen Publishing photo archive and the result is nearly 3,000 images, from photos of magazine editors testing the first Cobra in 1962 to a snapshot of him at the 2010 SEMA Show sitting on a sofa joking with Speedy Bill Smith and Linda Vaughn. Only a fraction of those results are photos of the man himself; the majority are shots of cars taken during vehicle road tests, for build-up or restoration articles, and at vintage races, Shelby club conventions and other events. To get an accurate count of how many photos of Shelby himself are in the archive would take a fair amount of sleuthing. He was a prolific racer in his prime, driving sports and Formula 1 cars, earning Sports Illustrated magazine’s Driver of the Year in 1956 and winning Le Mans in an Aston Martin in 1959. We recently, and by accident, found a photo of him at the wheel of a 4.9L Ferrari at the 1957 Daytona Speedweeks.
So why choose this photo of Shelby for his 100th birthday tribute? We found the image, taken by Motor Trend’s Eric Dahlquist at a November 1968 press preview of the ’69 Mustang GT350 and GT500, remarkably prescient. By this time Shelby had little to do with his namesake Mustang. Production of the ’68 models had moved from Shelby American’s LAX-based facility to Michigan; and the ’69 models, as Shelby historian Greg Kolasa described them, were becoming less “Shelby” and more “Ford.” Just a few months after this photo was taken, Shelby brought an end to the Mustang program. The ’69 cars were the end of the era, though several hundred unsold ’69 models were retagged with new VINs and marketed as ’70 models.
In Dahlquist’s photo, Shelby seems distracted, disinterested in the Mustang he’s sitting on, instead looking off in the distance to a future yet to be written.