A Quiver of Cobras
Lord March has, over the years, been responsible for some amazing automotive events from the Festival of Speed to the Goodwood Revival. For over 20 years we have been treated to some of the best ingredients in the motoring universe and the 2015 Goodwood Revival followed that grand tradition.
However, some of us wonder just what he will pull out of the hat next year, metaphorically speaking that is. For in 2015 there was a once-in-a-lifetime experience when the six Shelby Daytona Cobras were gathered together in the same location for the first time. In a motoring sense, this is equivalent to the alignment of the planets; if it happens at all it will be about every 3,000 years... Not only did the Cobras meet, they ran together (sort of) around the track.
It is 50 years since the Daytona Cobra became the first American car to win an FIA World Championship - this was an Independence Day to remember.
Carroll Shelby and his team had come a long way in a short time, the project did not start till February 1962 when Shelby had the notion of combining an English sportscar chassis with American muscle. Rebuffed by Chevrolet he tried his luck with Ford, and the legend was born. By October in the same year the first Cobra went racing when Bill Krause ran at Riverside, February of 1963 marked the first win for Shelby, once again at Riverside.
However as Carroll Shelby, a former winner at Le Mans, knew from his experiences across the Atlantic, there was a big difference between racing on the shorter North American tracks and running at the classic European venues. The aerodynamic disadvantages of the Cobra Roadster would be too great a handicap to overcome. A coupé would be the solution to this problem.
For 1964 there was a full scale attack on the FIA World Championship, taking on Ferrari - and to achieve this young designer Peter Brock was given the task of creating a streamlined coupé for Shelby, which has become known as the Daytona. Just six of these wonders of the automotive world were built contesting the World Championship in ’64 and ’65. As Shelby had already constructed over 100 Roadsters there was provision within the FIA GT Homologation rules to rebody a current car, thus enabling the Daytona Cobra, and, incidentally, the Ferrari 250 GTO, the weapon that Maranello would use in the contest with the Daytona...
So Shelby took on Ferrari for the FIA World GT Championship in 1964 and 1965. It was an automotive equivalent of a heavyweight title fight with the unfavoured upstarts taking on the established champion. Indeed in contemporary boxing such a contest had just taken place, with Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) confounding the experts by beating Sonny Liston to grab the title. As Clay yelled in his moment of triumph “I shook up the World!” – that declaration could have acted as a mission statement for Shelby and his crew. There was no love lost between Carroll Shelby and Enzo Ferrari, who had shown the Texan scant respect as a driver and had underestimated him as an opponent, this contest had a personal edge that would make success even sweeter.
Arguably the greatest of these Daytona Cobras is CSX 2299, with class wins at Le Mans 24 and the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood in 1964 and more success at Daytona and Sebring the following year.
It was purchased in 1969 from Shelby by Mike Schoen for $5,100. When he came to dispose of it 25 years later he is said to have achieved a price a thousand times greater than his original investment, a bit like being an early shareholder in Apple today.
Perhaps an even more checkered history surrounds that of the CSX 2287 – the original prototype. Its race record included a class win at Sebring in ’64 and setting 23 USAC/FIA World Records at Bonneville Salt Flats at the close of ’65. It then passed into several hands including the renowned record producer Phil Spector, who used it as a street car. The car disappeared for 30 years being stored by a reclusive lady who got the car as part of a divorce settlement with the next owner, her former husband. It was then the subject of legal action over the title in a disputed estate after she committed suicide.
It is the only Daytona Cobra that was entirely built at Shelby American, located at the time in Venice, California. All the others had bodies that were built by Carrozzeria Gransport of Modena, the city that has Maranello as a suburb. I doubt that Enzo Ferrari happily considered the irony of his defeat on the GT front with assistance from local artisans. I also doubt that they were welcome at the Ferrari factory thereafter.
The Daytonas were not just paraded at Goodwood, one of the six was entered in the feature race of the weekend, the RAC TT Celebration. Nic Minassian and Luis Pérez Companc raced against a top class field of GTs dating from 1960 to 1964. CSX 2601 was the Daytona that Bob Bondurant and Jo Schlesser used to grab the FIA World Championship at Reims in 1965.
Each of the half dozen Shelby Daytona Cobras is special, each with a tale to tell, they were part of a great motor sport tidal wave in the mid-'60s from Ford that took the Detroit giant to victory in every form of motor racing, from NASCAR to the Indianapolis 500 to Le Mans and Grand Prix, even rallying.
“I shook up the World” indeed.
Article by John Brooks. Photography copyright and courtesy of Simon Hildrew.