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COBRA

 

From the A.C. CARS.com website

A special chapter in the Cobra's history is it's racing career. Racing driver Carroll Shelby conceived the Cobra with the intention to win races with it to generate good publicity for the car and kindling sales. These days the popular myth is that the Cobra dominated GT racing in its days, but this is, like all myths, not completely true.


In the US the Cobra roadsters did particularly well in local races for practically a decade. There it took full advantage of its favorable power to weight ratio and its sprinting capacities on the relatively short tracks. In international production car races however it was less than successful. During the 1960s the time that open roadsters were competitive in top level racing had passed and high maximum speeds and therefore aerodynamics became more important. The cars to beat were all coupes with much better shapes to slice trough the air.


This became very clear during Shelby's first attempt at the Le Mans race with the Cobra in 1963. Two Mk II Cobras were entered, one prepared by Ed Hugus and one by AC Cars, both fitted with hardtops to reduce drag on the long Mulsanne straight. Only the right hand drive AC entry (resembling the car you see below) survived at the end and finished 7th, beaten by 6 Ferraris. The conclusion was that the roadster lacked top speed to win races on the longer international circuits.


The Cobra is a high powered, hand crafted aluminium bodied sports car of the 1960's . Its creation, production and ongoing development being the result of joint Anglo American co-operation between Carroll Shelby, AC Cars Limited and The Ford Motor Company. The AC/Shelby/Ford Cobra was a huge success. The combination of British craftsmanship, Ford Power and Carroll Shelby's foresight, determination and racing successes made the Cobra famous and today ranks among the most collectible and valuable of classic motor cars. Today's AC Cobra is still entirely hand made by the same traditional British coach-building methods used by AC Cars in the 1960's and utilising the same original Cobra tooling. Each part is painstakingly hand crafted to the highest possible standards from the aluminium outer body to the leather trimmed interior. The Cobra name and Trademark were sold to Ford Motor Company by Carroll Shelby in 1965 and AC Cars are the only Company in the world licenced by Ford to use the famed Cobra Trademark and name on their product.


AC COBRA ENGINE SPECS

 

Manufacturer

Ford

Configuration

V8

Capacity

4942 cc (302 cu in)

Bore

101.6 mm (4.0 in)

Stroke

76.2 mm (3.0 in)

Compression ratio

9.0:1

Valve gear

OHV

Aspiration

Electronic fuel injection

Power (DIN/rpm)

225 bhp @ 4200 rpm

Torque (DIN/rpm)

300 lb ft @ 3200 rpm

Power to weight ratio

200 bhp per ton

 

The AC Cobra / Shelby Cobra

After the disappointing finish at Le Mans Ford and Shelby decided to concentrate their international racing efforts on the Lola based GT40 project. The GT40 still needed a lot of development and to fill the gap until the GT40 could be entered competitively Shelby agreed to a proposal by young designer Peter Brock to create an aerodynamic coupe body on the chassis of the Cobra 289. This option had occurred as a result of a recent change in FIA homologation rules for GT racing cars. 

Now it had become possible to either change the body or the chassis of the car without making another 100 examples of it to qualify it as a GT car. The intention of this was to make slight enhancements possible for small manufacturers taking part in the series, like fitting wider tires or extra air intakes, but there were no exact boundaries defined. This made fitting the sleek GTO body on the 250 GT berlinetta chassis possible for Ferrari and Brock envisioned something similar for the Cobra 289.


A small development team was formed by Brock, racing driver and engineer Ken Miles and mechanic John Olsen and in September 1963 work on the Cobra coupe started. The objective was to wrap an aluminium body as tightly as possible around the Cobra's underpinnings to reduce frontal area, to make it cut through the air and yet to meet FIA regulations regarding windows, windshield, spare tire and so on.

 

AC Cobra Le Mans Replica 1964

Then a winning spree of almost 2 years started with a successful 1964 Le Mans race. Two Daytona coupes were entered and they were so quick that they left all competition behind and ran with the cars in the faster prototype class. Drivers Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant took 4th overall and 1st in the GT class, defeating the magnificent Ferraris 250 GTO. More victories followed but after cancellation of the Italian Monza race the Cobra Daytona coupe just nearly missed the GT World Championship crown which was snapped up by Ferrari's 250 GTO.


Ferrari didn't compete in the 1965 GT World Championship, lacking a car to beat the mighty Cobra Daytonas. The Daytona coupes, entered by Alan Mann racing from Britain as Shelby was busy with the GT40 programme, then dominated on the international circuits, scoring victories in 8 of the 10 championship races. The 1965 Manufacturers Championship was easily won.


After the 1965 season Ford and Shelby lost all interest in the Cobra Daytona coupe, since they were moving on with the GT40 effort and didn't want in-house competition from the Daytona coupe. The coupes were left in England with Alan Mann but under a threat of a large tax fine (the cars never being officially imported) they were flown back to Shelby in the US who had a hard time selling them. It took a few years to get rid of them at prices of around 5000 US Dollars.

 

AC Cobra Daytona Coupe 1964

That last bit is hard to believe nowadays. The Daytona coupes are the most valuable of all original Cobras, each of them worth over a million US dollars, at least ten times as much as a Cobra roadster. And rightfully so, it's a beautiful beast looking like it is all coiled for a huge jump forward and it's packing an enormous punch. The Daytona coupes are largely responsible, certainly outside the US, for the Cobra's fabled racing heritage in which the "regular" Cobra roadsters played a minor part. In that respect it's a pity that there wasn't a street version developed of the Daytona coupe, sort of like a reinvented AC Aceca, at the right time it might have rendered the Cobra an image similar to that of Ferrari instead of being a specialty car. (As a side note, in a recent Mecum Auto Auction held in May 2009, one of the original winning Shelby Daytona Coupes co-driven by Bob Bondurant & Jo Schlesser had a high bid of $6,800,000 before the bidding was stopped because the owner would not take off his reserve).


Never the less, the Cobra became an icon. It may have its flaws, like being impractical, difficult to control (especially the 427) and lacking chassis rigidity, its uncompromising nature, appealing looks and unsurpassed dynamic sensations more than make up for that. There are far more enthusiasts than original Cobras, so expect a substantial price if you want to obtain one.

Information taken from "The Timeline History of Carroll Shelby"  by Jerry Heasley, as it appears on
the official Carroll Shelby web site

During February of 1960, while staying at a friend's apartment in Dallas, Shelby experienced chest pains and began slipping nitroglycerin pills under his tongue for relief. His doctor incorrectly diagnoses the problem (as unrelated to the heart). Carroll moved to La Mirada, California, and separated from his wife, Jeanne, who stayed in Dallas with their three children. Shelby then opened his Goodyear Racing Tire distributorship. In May 1960, doctors diagnosed Shelby's chest pains as "angina pectoralis," in which the coronary arteries are starved for blood. June 27, 1960. Carroll Shelby, drove a Scarab (Lance Reventlow's famous car) to first place at Continental Divide Raceways, breaking a course record. He then set his sights on the USAC driving championship. On December 3-4, 1960, Shelby competed in his last race, the Third Annual Los Angeles Times-Mirror Grand Prix for Sports Cars. he drove a Type 61 Birdcage Maserati, and finished fifth. Overall, he won the USAC driving championship for 1960.

Out of racing by doctors orders in 1961, Shelby pursued another career and opened his "Shelby School of High Performance Driving". A $90 ad in Sports Car Graphic returned $1400 in requests for literature. Pete Brock, a talented automotive designer, stylist, and driver prepared the curriculum and also helped with the teaching duties.

(Editors note: The 1961 Palm Springs Sports Car Race was held on the main airport runway. I was on the SCCA Flag Team at the time, and the Race Director was non-other than Carroll Shelby. About 12:30 P.M. we had to "undo" two turns so the Commercial Airliner could land, unload, reload, and take off again. This gave us about an hour and a half break in racing. When we put the course "back together", Carroll came over in his street Maserati Coupe and directed the operation. Afterwards, he asked me if we should "check out the corners" to see if we had a "fair line" in the course. I said "sure", so we got in his 'Maser' and did two hot laps! The course was fine, and I got a ride with Carroll). 

AC Cars (Auto Carrier) of Thames Ditton, England, lost the source for the six cylinder Bristol engine for its two-seat roadster in September 1961. Carroll Shelby airmailed a letter of proposal to the company to keep building the chassis for a special Shelby sports car to be powered by an American V8. At that time, he knew nothing of the new lightweight, thin wall cast small-block Ford V8 that was later to be utilized in the Cobra. Charles Hurlock, owner of AC Cars, returns Shelby's letter in October 1961, stating that he would be interested in Shelby's plan as long as a suitable engine replacement could be found in the States. The same month, Shelby finds out about the new 260 cid Ford small-block and dispatches a letter to Ford's Dave Evans and explained his idea for a sports car and his need for a V8 engine.

The first (soon-to-be Cobra) 260 Roadster, minus engine and transmission, was air freighted, on February 2, 1962, to Shelby's shop in Southern California. Carroll had a dream which revealed to him the name 'Cobra' appearing on the front of his car. In Carroll's words, "I woke up and jotted the name down on a pad which I kept by my bedside, a sort of ideas pad, and went back to sleep. Next morning when I looked at the name 'Cobra,' I knew it was right." In less than eight hours, a 260 HiPo and Borg-Warner four-speed were installed and Shelby and his friend, Dean Moon, test drive the new Cobra. They were looking to blast some Corvettes, but none were to be found.

Shelby-American began operations in March 1962. The shop was on Princeton Drive in Venice, California and Carroll hired Ray Geddes, a Ford finance business school graduate to come aboard to coordinate the program with Ford. Among his first duties were Ray's efforts to keep Ford's involvement at a low profile due to Ford's liability concerns. April 1962, CSX 2000, the first Cobra, is painted a pearlescent yellow by Dean Jeffries and shipped to the New York Auto Show for debut. It appeared in the Ford display. Dealers began ordering, and with deposits in the bank, Shelby-American formally commits to building its new Cobra. May 1962, Shelby promoted his Cobra by offering test drives to the automotive press, who respond with many superlatives. The May 1962 issue of "Sports Car Graphic" describes the acceleration as explosive. CSX 2001 (the second Cobra built) was shipped by air from England (minus engine, transmission, and third member) to New York and is prepared by Ed Hugas in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. CSX 2002 was air freighted to Los Angeles and built into the first competition Cobra. Production was slow as Shelby-American wrestled with start-up problems. It seemed that the AC chassis required some rather extensive re-engineering. Meanwhile, CSX 2000 was repainted a different color every time a different magazine test drove it, which gave the appearance of having several cars in production. The Cobra had a 1-ton advantage over then current Corvette Roadster.

In August 1962, Shelby-American submitted papers to register the Cobra as a GT III car under the FIA, (the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile). On August 6, the FIA placed the Cobra in the more-than-2-liter class for the FIA Manufacturers' Championship. At least 100 cars had to be built within 12 months, but at the time of approval, only eight Cobras had been completed. According to Carroll, he contemplated switching the chassis and body to an alternative due to continued problems encountered with the AC. On October 13, 1962, Shelby-American entered the Cobra in its first race, a three-hour contest with Billy Krause behind the wheel, opening the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside Intern'l Raceway. Krause, with a poor start, fell back, but later took the lead on lap nine only to break a rear hub and does not finish. The Cobra, however, is definitely lighter and faster than the new Corvette Stingray. Phil Remington at Shelby-American goes to work building stronger rear hubs starting with forging blanks from Halibrand.

Dave MacDonald and Ken Miles signed up to drive Cobras for Shelby-American and placed first and second at Riverside, beating the Corvette Stingrays in January 1963.  Miles was so confident, he pitted for a drink of water and then eventually lapped the Corvettes to finish behind MacDonald. Ian Garrad, an ex-Brit living in Southern California, felt he could imitate the Cobra with a 260 Ford version of the little four-cylinder British Sunbeam Alpine roadster. Ken Miles was first hired to build a prototype "Sunbeam Tiger," a job that was finally handed over to Shelby-American. Shelby-American arrives at Daytona for its first international competition in February of 1963. The Ferrari GTO triumphed in that race, and after Daytona, Chevrolet dropped out of racing. In March 1963, Shelby-American entered four cars at Sebring, Florida which was an FIA race. Two of the four had the new rack-and-pinion steering. They were driven by Dan Gurney and Phil Hill. Although Hill set the fastest GT lap, the Ferraris won the race.

In June 1963, Shelby-American completed the 125th Cobra. Because Ford refused to finance a Le Mans effort, Shelby put together a deal with AC Cars and Ed Hugus, and they prepared one car each. The top Cobra finished seventh that year. September 1963 sees Shelby begin the Daytona Coupe project, since the roadster lacked the aerodynamics necessary for the needed 200mph+ speeds down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans. Pete Brock was the designer of the Daytona Coupe Cobra production passed 170 mark. The first 'Cooper Monaco King Cobra' was ordered. Dan Gurney, won  the Bridgehampton 500 KM race in a Cobra and became the first American driver to win an FIA race in an American car in Europe. The Cobra did not beat Ferrari in international competition in 1963, but it dominated the Corvette and won the 'SCCA A-Production National Championship'. In December 1963, The Cobra won the USRRC (United States Road Racing) Championship.

February 1964, Shelby-American completed the first FIA roadster and the first Daytona Coupe, both entered the Daytona Continental Race. Bob Johnson and Dan Gurney finished fourth in an FIA Cobra roadster, Although the Cobra coupe sets the fastest lap time, it was a DNF due to a damaged differential and a small fire. Later in March 1964, Shelby-American entered a 427-engine leaf-spring Cobra, CSX 2166, at Sebring in the prototype class. Ken Miles spun off the course in practice and hit the one tree in sight, but the 427 test mule was repaired for the race the next day. The Cobras, for the first time, beat the Ferrari GTOs. At Sebring, Carroll Shelby meets with the Hurlock Brothers from AC Cars and Ford design engineer Klaus Arning to develop the "big-block" Cobra. April 1964, after Sebring, Cobra led Ferrari in FIA points for the GT III championship, and Shelby-American decided to go to Europe to race. Two months before Le Mans, the Sartre circuit is closed off for testing. The Cobras and Ford's new GT-40 were tested at Le Mans. Later, on April 26, the Cobra competed in the Targa Floria in Italy. Oddly, the new Porsche 904s triumphed over Ferrari, followed by the Cobra in third. In June of 1964 the Cobras and Shelby-American won the biggest race of all in Europe, the '24 Hours of Le Mans'. The Cobra was fourth overall and first in GT, defeating Ferrari. August 1964, Ford asked Carroll to develop a high-performance Mustang fastback for street and track. Basically, the new car would challenge the Corvette in SCCA B-production road racing. The Cobras scored in Europe at the Freiburg Hill climb in the Black Forest, at the Tourist Trophy in Goodwood, England, and at Sierra-Montana Grand Prix De La Montagne in the Swiss Alps. In September of 1964, the first '65 Shelby mustang GT350 race and street cars are built. The prototype 427 Cobra, under development, was tested at Silverstone in England and later in the States in October 1964.
Shelby-American completes the 427 Cobra prototype in  November 1964. The 289 Cobra Roadster again won the 'SCCA A-Production National Championship'. By December 1964, the SCCA accepted the GT350 in the B-Production Road Racing Class. As cars were being completed at the Venice, California shop of Shelby- American, Enzo Ferrari held his annual press conference and announces he will not contest the GT III championship without his LM Ferrari, in effect, giving no factory Ferrari competition to the Cobra team for the upcoming 1965 FIA season.

January 1965, The 427 Cobra, featuring a tube frame, aluminum body, and coil spring chassis, was unveiled at a press introduction at Riverside International Raceway. Shelby-American began its move to the Los Angles International Airport facility. Ford turned its GT-40 project over to Shelby-American and The 1965 GT350 debuts. February 1965, with Shelby handling the racing program, Ford's GT-40, painted in Shelby Guardsman Blue with two white stripes, won its first race, at Daytona, Florida. The Shelby Mustang GT350 also won its first race, at Green Valley, Texas. Shelby-American began production of its Ferrari-beating missile, the coupe version of the 427 Cobra Roadster. At Daytona, the Cobra Daytona Coupe, with Jo Schlesser and Harold Keck driving, was first in the GT class. March of 1965 production of the GT350 moved to the new Los Angeles International Airport plant just after the first 250 cars were completed. The GT-40 Mark II (427 big-block) was under development also at that time. Jo Schlesser and Bob Bondurant piloted the Cobra Daytona Coupe to first overall in the 'Sebring 12 Hours'. In April 1965, the Cobra team flew to Europe and continued its winning season. With team Ferrari out of the picture, Shelby-American dominated the circuit. Bondurant and Grant were first at Monza, Italy, in the Daytona Coupe. Meanwhile, the FIA denies the 427s Cobra certification because 100 cars had not been finished. The first 427 street Cobra was built at the plant in Los Angeles. May 1965, at Oulton Park, England, Sir John Whitmore took first in the GT class in a Cobra Daytona Coupe. Bob Bondurant was second in a Coupe at Spa, Belgium. Back home, the first GT350 drag car was built. In June of 1965 Shelby-American and Ford staged an assault on Le Mans with two 427 GT-40 Mark IIs, four 289 GT-40 Mark Is and five Cobra Daytona Coupes. The GT-40s all dropped out, and only one Daytona Coupe finished the 24 hour race.
On July 4, 1965, Shelby-American, raced Cobras at the '12 Heures De Reims' in France, scoring enough points to assure the FIA World Championship of GT cars, wrestling the title away from Ferrari. Ferrari had held this title for more than a decade. Next, the Paxton supercharger GT350 prototype was completed at the factory. In August of 1965 production of the '66 GT350 was underway. The first 15 competition 427 Cobras were delivered to customers for SCCA A-Production Racing.

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