No single person did more to build America’s high-performance reputation from the 1960s through the 21st century than Carroll Shelby, whose 50 years of super-fast vehicles will be celebrated with a display of nearly three dozen automobiles during the Sept. 20-23 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

To celebrate the many achievements of the automotive icon, who passed away May 10 of this year at the age of 89, a display will pay tribute to the special Cobras, Mustangs, Dodges and other cars he created or developed.

The fall Food Lion AutoFair features more than 50 car club displays and more than 7,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In addition, up to 200 cars will be auctioned by Dealer Auctions Inc., and kids can enjoy face-painting, bounce houses and other games and entertainment in the huge POWERADE Play Zone.

Shelby’s company, Venice, Calif.-based Shelby-American, was founded a half-century ago when the ‘59 LeMans winner from Texas put two unrelated pieces of news together in his mind to create a motorsports masterpiece.

Shelby knew that British company AC was stopping production of its aluminum-bodied Ace roadster because the supply of low-powered six-cylinder engines was drying up. He also learned Ford Motor Co. was developing a new generation of small V-8 engines. With a burst of inspiration that would launch a legend, Shelby crammed the American V-8 into the British-built roadster.

The high-revving 260-cid V-8 made the AC lightning fast, and Shelby’s 1962 “Cobra” competed successfully against Corvettes and Ferraris, playing perfectly into Ford’s plans to dominate international road racing. The first 75 Cobras left the Shelby-American factory with the 260 engine, but a more powerful 289-cid version soon went into service. Less than two years later, Shelby engineers stuffed Ford’s monstrously powerful 427-cid V-8 into the Cobra’s tight engine compartment. The job required making the chassis five inches wider, but the effort was worth it. Although the last new 427 Cobra was sold in 1968, it is still considered one of the fastest cars ever unleashed.

Ford asked Shelby-American to work the same magic on its new-for-1964 Mustang created by Lee Iacocca’s development team. Shelby’s first specially modified, racetrack-bred version of Ford’s pony car was the ’65 GT-350. Evolution led to more incredible Mustangs in the following years, including the GT-350H (a special model sold to Hertz for its rental fleets in ’66), the GT-500 and GT-500KR (“KR” unofficially stands for “King of the Road”). Final production year for Shelby’s Mustang line was 1969.

For most of the ‘60s, Shelby spent his time producing Cobras and Mustangs, and he acted as developer for other projects, such as Sunbeam’s V-8 Tiger and the super-exotic Ford GT (also known as the “GT-40” because of its 40-inch height), which was built in Slough, England. The GT-40 became another weapon in Ford’s arsenal against Ferrari on the world’s racetracks.

The ‘70s were a vacation for Shelby from the public eye. He went to South Africa, started a business producing his own blend of chili and pursued other personal interests. In 1982, with his friend Lee Iacocca reviving Chrysler Corp., Shelby lent his name and expertise to a series of high-performance Dodge cars, including the Charger 2.2, Daytona, Shadow CSX, Omni GLH, Lancer, and even a convertible hot rod version of the Dakota pickup.

Although his name does not appear on the product, Carroll Shelby assisted in development of what became the 1992 Dodge Viper V-10 supercar, Chrysler’s performance flagship and one of the fastest production vehicles in the world. The Viper designers’ inspiration? Shelby-American’s 427 Cobra.

In 1999, Shelby-American developed a low-slung roadster with an Oldsmobile V-8 engine known as the “Series 1” and produced 249 copies at its Las Vegas Motor Speedway facility. In 2007, Shelby’s involvement in the new car world came around full circle with the release of a 500-horsepower GT-500 Mustang developed with Ford’s Special Vehicle Team. A retro-nostalgia line of Mustang-based high-performance cars followed, including the Hertz GT-H, which was available only as a rental. The latest evolution of Shelby’s 21st century Mustang – the 2013 Shelby GT-500 – produces 662 horsepower through its 5.8-liter supercharged V-8 and can reach 200 miles per hour.

Fans and automotive enthusiasts can relive the history of many of these legendary cars and learn more about Shelby’s five decades of work in the auto industry during the four-day Food Lion AutoFair, Sept. 20-23. Hours for the event are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit