Film Review: Shelby American

Following the release of Ford v Ferrari in theaters, filmmakers Adam Carolla and Nate Adams decided to honor Carroll Shelby and his life story in a new documentary titled Shelby American.

While Ford v Ferrari highlighted the two automotive companies in battle, the documentary borrows much of its research from Carolla and Adams’ 2016 documentary The 24 Hour War, a film about the Le Mans showdown between Ford and Ferrari. 

According to Adams, while working on The 24 Hour War, he and Carolla learned so much about Shelby that they wanted to do another film with the Shelby family, focused on Carroll’s story. 

Adams said, “The more research we did, the more we learned Carroll Shelby was an amazing character. It wasn’t just him; it was Phil Remington, Peter Brock, Charlie Agapiou, and the others he surrounded himself with. They were all incredible. We knew we had to devote an entire documentary to him.”

Shelby American tells the story of the automotive icon, Carroll Shelby, who started from humble beginnings as a chicken farmer in East Texas and went on to become one of the winningest drivers in the history of motorsports and the only American to win the World Manufacturers Championship. A tragic heart condition sidelined his racing career in 1960, and Shelby reinvented himself as a manufacturer, creating the Shelby Cobra, which immediately dominated American sports car racing. 

“Shelby was one of the best American race drivers that ever lived, which most don’t know,” said Adams. “What he and Phil Remington did with a group of hot-rodders in their late-teens and early-20s (win Le Mans and the World Manufacturers Championship) will never be repeated.”

He noted that everyone he interviewed about Carroll Shelby still loved him, “even the people he may have cheated or been dishonest with, they still loved him. That’s how incredible of a character he was.”

Shelby’s real goal was always to win internationally and beat Enzo Ferrari, with whom he had a personal vendetta. With his revolutionary Shelby Daytona Coupe, Shelby became the first American manufacturer to beat Ferrari in the GT class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the biggest race in the world. Henry Ford II noticed Carroll Shelby’s success and hired him to run Ford’s new GT40 prototype program, which was also trying to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. This war of speed became the most legendary battle in automotive history. Ford and Ferrari spared no expense in this arms race to win. And Shelby was center stage for all of it.

“Shelby was an amazing guy. The Cobras and the GT40 are cars that will go down in history as the most iconic in racing. He really knew how to put the right people together to win championships. He was an amazing driver and team owner — his guys were the ones winning the major races and Le Mans. He knew how to deliver, and he did it repeatedly throughout history. Carroll Shelby is a name that everyone should know,” Carolla said. 

Carroll Shelby was a rare combination of a fierce competitor, charismatic salesman, and visionary entrepreneur, and to this day, the only man in history to win Le Mans as a driver and a manufacturer.

The filmmakers spent 18 months with Shelby’s family to obtain more in-depth insight into his life. Carolla and Adams documented interviews with Shelby’s colleagues and competitors, including Ferrari’s Le Mans team, including Piero Ferrari, Mauro Forghieri, and John Surtees.

The Shelby American film is two hours long. It features vintage racing footage, interview clips with Henry Ford II, Edsel Ford II, Dan Gurney, longtime Ford executive John Clinard, and Bill Krause, who drove the second-ever race-ready Shelby Cobra. 

“Carroll Shelby is truly a character for the ages. His enigmatic Southern charm, hustle, and ability to sell himself produced a racing driver and manufacturer that will never be equaled in any time period — past, present, or future,” Adams said. 

The documentary is available to stream on Netflix

About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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