Written by independent automotive journalist Tom Jensen
Carroll Shelby was a giant in American motorsports, a larger-than-life legend whose myriad accomplishments are still being celebrated today.
A one-time chicken farmer, Shelby was at various times a champion race car driver, race team owner, automotive consultant, safari tour operator and founder of the International Chili Festival. He survived heart and kidney transplants and created some of the most desirable sports cars of all times.
Shelby and teammate Ray Salvadori were the winning drivers in the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, and less than a decade later, Shelby led the Ford Motor Co. effort to successfully triumph over Enzo Ferrari at the world’s most famous endurance race.
A Texas native, Shelby created the original Cobra sports car, which was the fastest production model ever made when it was displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1962. Three years later, he turned the original Ford Mustang into a winning road racer called the Shelby GT350, which is still in production today.
In 2007, an 800-horsepower 1966 Cobra 427 “Super Snake” that was once Shelby’s personal car sold for $5.5 million at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, at the time a world-record price for any American car.
At the 49th Annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale event in January, someone is going to go home with another of the cars Shelby owned: a 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite (Lot #1019.1), better known among aficionados of British sports cars as simply a Bugeye Sprite, which will be selling with No Reserve.
This one was one of three training cars owned by Shelby himself and used at Carroll Shelby’s School of High-Performance Driving, which in the early 1960s was located at the old Riverside International Raceway road course in Southern California’s Inland Empire region.
Shelby’s Bugeye Sprite has a rich and detailed provenance that enhances the desirability and charm of the car. According to the consignor, it was used for about five years to teach the nuances of road racing to young Hollywood movie stars and other students at Shelby’s school. Peter Brock, manager and driving instructor at the school, wrote that the car was the “workhorse” training vehicle of the school.
Carroll Shelby bequeathed the driving school to fellow road racer Bob Bondurant in 1965, selling the Bugeye Sprite to the manager of the Algar Porsche Dealership in suburban Philadelphia. This car competed in SCCA events in the Northeast until it was damaged and went into storage. In 1973 it was repaired and resumed racing, before being retired again in 1992.
There is extensive documentation regarding the former Shelby car; it has been the subject of numerous magazine articles, and photos of the car from its racing school days car are on display at the Austin-Healey Museum, along with a letter from Shelby himself.
This car has had a professional restoration and is race-ready. With its known history and prior ownership from Carroll Shelby, this is a one-of-a-kind sports car that cannot be duplicated anywhere.