May 11, 2012 / 10:54 PM / 7 years ago

Carroll Shelby, father of Cobra sports car, dies at 89

DETROIT (Reuters) - Carroll Shelby, designer of the Shelby Cobra and other sports cars that placed him in the pantheon of auto industry legends, has died at age 89, his company said on Friday.

Automotive designer and race car driver Carroll Shelby (L) walks to his seat at the Ford press conference at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles November 16, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

He died on Thursday at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, according to the company, Carroll Shelby Licensing. The firm did not disclose the cause of death.

A post on his Facebook page last month revealed he had been hospitalized for pneumonia.

Shelby was one of the few prominent designers to work with all three major American car companies, starting with Ford Motor Co in the 1960s. His last collaboration with Ford was on the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500.

“My name is Carroll Shelby and performance is my business,” he said in an early Cobra commercial.

Shelby was born in Leesburg, Texas, in 1923. He started racing cars in the 1950s, and in 1959 he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a marathon race held in France.

But he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that forced him to quit racing. In 1960 he drove one race with nitroglycerin pills under his tongue. He complained that he would have won if not for the pills.

Shelby had a heart transplant in 1990 and a kidney transplant in 1996.

In 1962 Shelby test-drove the AC 260 roadster, the car made with a Ford engine that would become the Shelby Cobra. His company built the first Cobras in Venice, California. Two years later, Ford asked Shelby to develop a high-performance Mustang.

“Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene or building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him,” said Edsel Ford II, grandson of the No. 2 U.S. automaker’s founder Henry Ford.

His contract with Ford ended in 1970, and he then worked with Chrysler and General Motors Co. In 2001 Shelby was working with Ford again.

Shelby is survived by three children and his wife, Cleo.

Reporting By Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Xavier Briand

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