DALLAS -- Decades after a heart condition forced him to retire from racing, Carroll Hall Shelby still loved to drive muscle cars. Well into his 80s, the legendary car designer spent hours testing his last Mustang Shelby GT500, which sets a record for horsepower and hits a speed of more than 200 miles per hour.
A one-time chicken farmer, Shelby had more than a half-dozen successful careers during his long life: champion race car driver, racing team owner, automotive consultant and safari tour operator. His fabled Shelby Cobra sports car became an automotive and cultural icon, and he was later credited with injecting testosterone into Ford's Mustang and Chrysler's Viper.
When Shelby died Thursday night in a Dallas hospital, he also was one of the nation's longest-living heart transplant recipients, having received a heart on June 7, 1990. Shelby also received a kidney transplant in 1996 from his son, Michael.
"What made him so unusual is he developed, literally, hundreds of cars," said Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. "This guy was 89 years old and he was still developing cars."
Shelby first made his name behind the wheel of a car, winning France's grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race with teammate Ray Salvadori in 1959. He had turned to the race-car circuit in the 1950s after his chicken ranch failed. He won dozens of races in various classes throughout the 1950s and was twice named Sports Illustrated's Driver of the Year.
He already was suffering serious heart problems when he won Le Mans and ran the race "with nitroglycerin pills under his tongue," his longtime friend, Dick Messer, executive director of Los Angeles' Petersen Automotive Museum, once noted. Soon after his win at Le Mans, he gave up racing and turned his attention to designing cars that eventually became the Shelby Cobra and the Mustang Shelby GT500.
"He's an icon in the medical world and an icon in the automotive world," Messer said.
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.
In 2007, an 800-horsepower model of the Cobra made in 1966, once Shelby's personal car, sold for $5.5 million at auction, a record for an American car.
Inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1992, Shelby worked in recent years 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.
His 2013 Shelby GT500 has the most powerful production V-8 engine in the world -- at 662 horses -- and a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour. It is arriving in dealerships now. The model that Shelby test drove sold for $350,000 at a charity auction in January.
"I've always been asked, 'What is my favorite car?' and I've always said 'The next one,' " Shelby said, according to Ford's website. "I'm going to take that back tonight. This is my new favorite car."
During World War II, he was an Army Air Forces flight instructor who corresponded with his fiancee by dropping love letters stuck into his flying boots onto her farm. After leaving the military in 1945, he started a dump truck business, then decided to raise chickens. A friend then invited him to become an amateur racer and his success led to his joining the Aston-Martin team and competing in races all over the world.