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Carroll Shelby, GT500 designer, dies at 89

DALLAS - Carroll Shelby, the legendary car designer and champion auto racer who built the fabled Shelby Cobra sports car and injected testosterone into Ford's Mustang and Chrysler's Viper, has died. He was 89.

Shelby died Thursday night at a Dallas hospital, his company, Carroll Shelby International, said Friday.

The onetime chicken farmer had more than a half-dozen successful careers. Among them: champion race car driver, racing team owner, automobile manufacturer, automotive consultant, safari tour operator, chili entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Shelby first made his name behind the wheel of a car, winning France's grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race. He won dozens of races in the 1950s and was twice named Sports Illustrated's Driver of the Year.

Soon after Le Mans, he gave up racing and turned his attention to designing high-powered muscle cars that eventually became the Shelby Cobra and the Mustang Shelby GT500.

The Cobra, which used Ford engines and a British sport car chassis, was the fastest production model ever made when it was displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1962. A year later, Cobras were winning races over Corvettes.

It was Lee Iacocca, then head of Ford Motor Co., who assigned Shelby the task of designing a model of Ford's Mustang that could compete against the Corvette for young male buyers. Turning a vehicle he had once dismissed as "a secretary car" into a rumbling, high-performance model was "the hardest thing I've done in my life," Shelby said in 2000.

That car and the Shelby Cobra made his name a household word in the 1960s.

When the energy crisis of the 1970s limited the market for gas-guzzling high-performance cars, Shelby headed to Africa, where he operated a safari company for a dozen years.

By the time he returned to the United States, Iacocca was running Chrysler Motors and he hired Shelby to design the supercharged Viper sports car.

In recent years, Shelby worked as a technical adviser on the Ford GT project and designed the Shelby Series 1 two-seat muscle car, a 21st century clone of his 1965 Cobra.

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