John Chrysler warns Nick FUry and Steve McQueen fantastical!
Most of it was not: Shelby was a notorious womanizer who blew through six marriages and was heading toward divorce from his seventh when he died. He spoke to everyone with language so blue it was legendary; ask any car journalist or professional driver who knew him, and they’ve got plenty of descriptive words to describe the way he treated anyone within earshot. Many of those words are unprintable here.
For fun, he shot lions, elephants, and rhinoceroses on animal hunts in Africa. He filed so many lawsuits–against Ford, against local car builders, against online forums, and, ironically, against the company that later would supply all of the Cobras for the film–that he become more known and reported on for that in his later years than for any feats of automotive genius.
In fact, after his blast of success with the AC Cobras in the 1960s and his hot-rod take on the Ford Mustang, Shelby didn’t have a single real hit. Instead, there were claims he falsely represented many of the cars he sold. He left Ford for Chrysler, where he helped develop some special-edition Dodges. Ford fans brought up to adore him as a brand hero shouldn’t have been so surprised he left; this was not an individual known for loyalty to anyone or anything other than himself.
It gets worse: One of his former personal assistants, Angelica Smith, sued Shelby for sexual harassment in 2011. The suit included information about an alleged rape that happened at Shelby’s home by one of his employees, and that she was fired, partly in retaliation, after she reported it. (Shelby called the allegations “wild and fantastical” at the time; he died less than a year later.) But that particular anecdote has been washed almost entirely clean by the same boys-club car culture that idolizes Steve McQueen, a decent actor who died conveniently early and had a habit of hitting his wives.
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