Once-in-a-lifetime collection honours work of Carroll Shelby - Metro US

Once-in-a-lifetime collection honours work of Carroll Shelby

When it comes to American sports car racing and sports car manufacturing during the heady days of the 1960s, one man stands out — Carroll Shelby.

The 2010 Canadian International Auto Show celebrated his extraordinary life by hosting a gala in his honour last night, and will be showcasing more than 40 of the most important cars of his career.

In case you’ve missed the memo, Shelby was a Second World War bomber pilot, a fearless amateur driver, and a celebrated professional driver, winning Le Mans in 1959 and going on to F1 in 1960.

Heart issues soon forced him out of the driver’s seat. He started making phone calls. He convinced Ford he had a neat sports car chassis to take its newly minted small-block V8. He convinced AC Cars of Britain that he had a neat American V8 for its sports car chassis. He set up shop in California and began to produce the legendary Shelby Cobra.

His race team, Shelby American, built and raced a succession of Cobras and other Ford-powered screamers, like the Mustang-based Shelby GT 350 and Ford GT 40 sports racers, beating Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari at major races around the world.

He continued to work with Ford, and other makers, to develop unique Shelby models — the latest being the 2011 Ford Shelby 500 GT. His company, Shelby Automobiles, continues to build a modern version of the Cobra.

“I’m standing in the middle of about $40 million worth of historic vehicles,” said Richard Pickering over the phone, a day before the gala. It was Pickering’s job to find these rare cars and convince their owners to display them at this auto show.

The centerpiece is the Cobra Daytona Coupe, one of only six built, and the actual car that Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant drove to class victory at Le Mans in 1964. How much is it worth?

“I’m guessing $8 million,” Pickering says.

The Shelby display is not something that will happen every day. Show manager, Tom Tonks, puts it this way: “The exhibit itself is really a moment in time… a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these cars together.”

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