- Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Biography by Rinsey Mills
Carroll Shelby was a native Texan who gained fame as a race car driver, automotive designer, and entrepreneur. He is best known for having developed the high performance Shelby Cobra and Shelby Mustang sports cars of the 1960s, but his career and life were notable for more than his namesake cars. He also pioneered the sale of sports cars in Dallas, operated car plants in California, worked closely with Ford and Chrysler, ran a safari business, ranched in his native East Texas, and [End Page 113] created the Terlingua chili cook-off. Shelby died in Dallas in May 2012, shortly after the release of this authorized biography by automotive writer Rinsey Mills.
Carroll Shelby chronicles its subject’s career in exhausting detail. The author apparently had substantial access to Shelby and his records, and it shows. The bulk of the 552-page volume is detailed accounts of races in which Shelby participated as a driver (up until 1959) or as an automotive developer or sponsor (for the remainder of his life). His most celebrated accomplishment as a driver was winning the 1959 “24 Hours of LeMans” while driving an Aston Martin. After that win, the thirty-seven year old Shelby gave up racing. Between recounting Shelby’s victories, losses, crashes and narrow escapes, which took place across Europe, the United States, and Latin America, the author covers Shelby’s prodigious appetite for risk taking, attractive women, alcohol, flying, Texas chili, and new business ventures.
Mills writes in great technical detail, and with apparent expertise, about the design, engine specifications, and performance characteristics of cars that Shelby drove, designed, or built. The author’s passion for his subject matter will likely exceed that of all but the most devoted race car buff. In the hands of a skilled narrator and judicious editor, lap-by-lap accounts of races that took place in the 1950s and detailed descriptions of popular 1960s sports cars might not become formulaic. In Carroll Shelby, they do, unfortunately.
The author provides less detail about Shelby’s colorful personal life. Mills briefly discusses Shelby’s series of wives and makes passing reference to dalliances with Dallas Playboy Club bunnies and “Scandinavian housekeepers,” but one senses that he really wants to get back to the pit crew and the Cobra factory. The reader is exposed to all one could conceivably want to know about Carroll Shelby’s automotive and business careers, but likely will gain only a general sense of him as a person.
As an authorized biographer, Mills occasionally and somewhat incongruously inserts himself into the narrative, a technique best reserved for an introduction or afterword. The book would have benefited from a proofreader, who might have caught jarring errors such as “bearing his soul” (530). By the end of this biography, which was completed with the ailing eighty-nine-year-old Shelby doggedly planning his next automotive ventures, the reader is likely to conclude that its remarkable subject would have been better served by a more gifted and less authorized storyteller.