I love what I do. Why else would I be doing it at 85 when it’s a full-time job tough enough to wear-out somebody half my age? Maybe it had to do with growing up in Texas then having to prove myself in all those early races I drove where the cars, most of them short on horse power, were only as good as how fast they could be run into a corner and whipped out again for the next straight.
That’s what racing sport cars in the early 1950s was and it gave me what I could take away from it to go on and do other things.
It wasn’t just cars that lit the fire in me to win. All the people in my life that I’ve known and loved have given me the strength to go for the top. So many of them will remain priceless friendships that are always with me and stay in my mind every day. I couldn’t ask for anything better than that.
In 1956, around the time I was winning a bunch of races in John Edgar’s 410 Ferrari, I met a wonderful man from Albuquerque named Dick Hall who, like John, was an out-and-out enthusiast. I’d been talking of having a dealership in Dallas, and with Dick’s financial backing we opened Carroll Shelby Motors there, from which a lot of very good things came and awakened the eyes of Texas to sport car racing.
What happened was — I went to England to talk to Brian Lister and I bought ten Lister chassis. Instead of the Jaguar engine, in my opinion underpowed at the time, we put in Chevrolet V8s and the Lister-Chevys turned out to be very, very successful.
At the same time we took on the distributorship for Maserati, and I ordered five 2-liter Maseratis with 2.5-litre engines, five 4.5-litre Maseratis, and a couple of 3-litres, as well as starting a Firestone tire distributorship. I was up to my ears in it all and having the time of my life.
Things were rocking along well when Dick Hall developed a terrible eye problem that eventually caused him to lose his sight. Dick said his younger brother, Jim, had just graduated from Cal-Tech with honors and was interested in coming into the business. Their father was a wealthy oilman who’d been killed in an accident, and Dick had the responsibility of settling the estate. So Jim came into the business and immediately got very involved as a driver and had the resources to be a car owner, and that was the initiation of Jim Hall and probably the start of where the Chaparral came from. I’d had connections with Ed Cole, the president of General Motors, and I began building those three Scaglietti Corvettes that, when Ed told me to pull out of it, went to Gary Laughlin and to Jim Hall, and I sold mine to a doctor in Houston.
In 1959, after winning Le Mans, I decided to think about making my own race cars. I looked around Texas and didn’t see any opportunity, so I reckoned that the only place to do it was California where Lance Reventlow had been successful with his Scarab.
I moved there and took on the Goodyear distributorship and, after we got my Cobras going and were winning races, I became a Ford man. This left things open at General Motors and Hap Sharp and Jim Hall went over to General Motors and put their deal together to build the GM-powered Chaparral. Both of those cars, Chaparral and Cobra, stemmed from my relationship with Dick Hall and Hap Sharp.
I’d always wanted to build my own — just driving race cars was not my top priority. If it had been, I’d have probably driven for Enzo Ferrari when he asked me to several times, but instead I choose to stay with John Wyer because it was always peace and contentment in the Aston Martin team, whereas at Ferrari it was, well, a little difficult at times. Sometimes the difficulties turned fatal.
What Dick Hall financed never made any significant money, but it almost certainly initiated what turned out to be the Chaparral and the Cobra. I want to give Dick Hall this credit no else ever has.
Unfortunately we lost Dick years ago, but what a wonderful friend he was.
All of the rest of this story is history. But I thought you might want to know where the Chaparral came from, and where the Cobra came from, a long time ago.
I still spend some time in California, some time in Texas, and a lot of time in Las Vegas building the Shelby Mustangs. We just signed a new five-year contact, and I’m looking forward to a lot of affordable new performance cars in our relationship with Ford. Like I’ve said, I love doing this