Welcome to the continuing Shelby Weekend Special. This time, I thought I would chronicle Carroll Shelby’s accomplishments throughout the 60s, where performance really hit the road. This was a time in which America introduced the compact, when Ford introduced the Mustang, and was the birth of the American Musclecar.
Early in 1961 and out of racing as a driver, Shelby pursues another career and opens his “Shelby School of High Performance Driving”. A $90 ad in Sports Car Graphic returns $1400 in request for literature. Pete Brock, a talented automotive designer, stylist, and driver prepares the curriculum and helps with the teaching duties.
When AC Cars of Thames Ditton, England, loses the source for its six-cylinder Bristol engine for its two-seat roadster, Carroll Shelby airmails 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. This was September of 1961, and Shelby knows nothing of a new lightweight, thinwall-cast, small-block Ford V8, then in development. A month later Charles Hurlock, owner of AC Cars, returns Shelby’s letter stating 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 221-cube Ford small-block and dispatches a letter to Dave Evans explaining his idea for a sports car and his need for a V8.
The first 260 Roadster, minus engine and transmission, is air fraighted on February 2, 1962, to Shelby’s shop in Southern California. Carroll has a dream revealing 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 are installed. Shelby and friend Dean Moon test drive the new Cobra, looking to bait Corvettes but none are found.
In March Shelby-American begins operations at a shop on Princeton Drive in Venice, California, and hires Ray Geddes, a Ford finance business school graduate who comes aboard at Shelby-American to coordinate the program whith Ford. Among his first duties are his efforts to keep Ford’s involvement at a low profile due to Ford’s liability concerns. By April the first Cobra, CSX 2000, is painted a pearlescent yellow by Dean Jeffries and shipped to the New York Auto Show where it appears in the Ford display. Dealers begin ordering and with deposits in the bank, Shelby-American formatly commits to building its new Cobra.
By May of 1962, Shelby promotes his Cobra by offering test drives to the automotive press, who respond with supertatives. The May 1962 issue of Sports Car Graphic describes its acceleration as explosive. CSX 2001 (the second Cobra built) is shipped by air from England (minus engine, transmission, and rearend) to New York and is prepared by Ed Hugas in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. CSX 2002 is air freighted to Los Angeles and built into the first competition Cobra. By June of 1962 production problems occur as Shelby-American wrestles with start-up problems due to the fact that the AC chassis requires extensive engineering. Meanwhile, CSX 2000 is repainted a different color each time a different magazine test drives it, giving the appearance of many cars in production. The production Cobra has a 2,000# advantage over the Corvette.
That August Shelby-American submits papers to homologate the Cobra as a GT III car in the eyes of the FIA, the Federeation Internationale de L’Automobile. On August 6, the FIA homologates 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, just eight Cobras had been completed. According to Carroll, he comtemplated switching the chassis and body to an alternative due to continued problems.
On October 13, Shelby-American enters the Cobra in its first race, a three-hour contest with Bill Krause behind the wheel, opening the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix. Krause, with a poor start, falls back, then takes the lead at lap nine, but breaks 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 blands from Halibrand.
In January of 1963 Dave MacDonald and Ken Miles sign to drive Cobras for Shelby-American and place first and second at Riverside, beating the Corvette Stingrays. Miles is so confident, he pits for a drink of water and relaps the Corvettes to finish behind MacDonald. At the same time Ian Garrad, an Englishman living Southern California, feels he could imitate the Cobra with a 260 Ford version of the little four-cylinder British Sunbeam Alpine roadster. Ken Miles is first hired to build a prototype “Tiger,” a job that is lster handed over to Shelby-American.
1963 also proves to be a banner development year for Shelby-American, and they arrive at Daytona in February for their first international competition. The Ferrari GTO triumphs and after Daytona, Chevrolet drops out of racing. Shelby-American enters four cars at Sebring, Florida, in March. Two of the four have the new rack-and-pinion steering -driven by Dan Gurney and Phil Hill. Although Hill sets the fastest GT lap, the Ferraris win.
By June of 1963, Shelby-American completes its first 125 Cobras. Because Ford refuses to finance a Cobra Le Mans effort, Shelby puts together a deal with AC Cars and Ed Hugus, who prepare one car each. The top Cobra finishes seventh.
In September, Shelby begins the Daytona Coupe project, because the roadster lacks the aerodynamics necessary for 200mph down the Mulsanne Straight. Pete Brock is the designer. The first Cooper Monacos -King Cobra- are ordered. Dan Gurney, in winning the Bridgehampton 500KM in a Cobra, becomes the first American driver to win an FIA race in an American car. Cobra production passes 170.
The Cobra does not beat Ferrari in international competition in 1963, it dominates the Corvette and wins the SCCA A-production national championchip, and by December, The Cobra wins the USRRC (United States Road Racing Championship).
On to February of 1964, and Shelby-American completes the first FIA roadster and the first Daytona Coupe, as they both enter the Daytona Continental. Bob Johnson and Dan Gurney finish fourth in an FIA Cobra roadster, and although the Cobra coupe sets the fastest lap time, it is a DNF due to a damaged differential and a fire.
By March Shelby-American enters a 427-engine leaf-spring Cobra, CSX 2166, at Sebring to the prototype class. Ken Miles spins off course in practice and hits the one tree in sight, but the 427 test mule is fixed 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 a big-block Cobra.
April of 1964 was a watershed moment for Shelby-American. After Sebring, Cobra led Ferrari in FIA points for the GT III championship, and Shelby-American decides to go to Europe to race. Two months before Le Mans, the Sarthe circuit is closed off for testing. The Cobras and Ford’s new GT-40 are tested at Le Mans. Later, on April 26, the Cobra compete at the Targa Floria. Oddly, the new Porsche 904s truimph over Ferrari, followed by the Cobra. By June of 1964, The Cobras and Shelby-American win the biggest race of all in Europe, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Cobra is fourth overall and first in GT, defeating Ferrari.
By August of 1964 Ford asks Carroll Shelby 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 score in Europe at the Freiburg Hill climb in the Black Forest, at the Tourist Trophy in Goodwood, England, and at Sierre-Montana Grand Prix De La Montagne in the Swiss Alps.
The first ’65 Shelby mustang GT350 race cars and street cars are built by September of 1964, and by October, The prototype 427 Cobra, under development, is tested at Silverstone in England and later in the States. By November, Shelby-American completes the 427 Cobra prototype. The 289 Cobra Roadster again wins the SCCA A-production national championship.
The big news for December was the fact that the SCCA accepts the GT350 in the B-production road racing class, as cars are being completed at the Venice, California shop of Shelby-American. But even bigger news was that 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 of 1965 saw the dawn of the 427 Cobra, featuring a tube frame, aluminum body, and coil spring chassis. It is unveiled at a press introduction at Riverside International Raceway. Shelby-American begins its move to Los Angles International Airport facility. Meanwhile, Ford turns its GT-40 project over to Shelby-American, and the Mustang based 1965 GT350 debuts.
Competition begins in February of 1965 and with Shelby handling the racing program, Ford’s GT-40, painted in Shelby Guardsman Blue with two white stripes, wins its first race at Daytona. The Shelby Mustang GT350 also wins its first race, at Green Valley, Texas. Shelby-American begins production of its Ferrari-beating missle, the coupe version of the 427 Cobra Roadster. At Daytona, the Cobra Daytona Coupe, with Jo Schlesser and Harold Keck driving to a first place finish in the GT class.
Production of the GT350 moves to Los Angeles International Aiport after the first 250 cars are completed in March. The GT-40 Mark II (427 big-block) is under development. Jo Schlesser and Bob Bondurant pilot the Cobra Daytona Coupe to first overall in the Sebring 12-Hours. By April, the Cobra team flies to Europe to continue its winning season. With team Ferrari out of the picture, Shelby-American dominating. Bondurant and Grant are first at Monza, Italy, in the Daytona Coupe. Meanwhile, the FIA denies the 427 Cobra certification because 100 cars are not finished. The first 427 street Cobra is finished. By May, the race at Oulton Park, England, Sir John Whitmore takes first in the GT class in a Cobra Daytona Coupe. Bondurant is second in a Coupe at Spa, Belgium. Back home, the first GT350 drag car is built.
Shelby-American and Ford stage an assault on Le Mans in June, with two 427 GT-40 Mark IIs, four 289 GT-40 Mark Is, five Cobra Daytona Coupes. The GT-40s all drop out, while one Daytona Coupe finishes. In July Shelby-American, racing Cobras at the 12 Heures De Reims in France, scores enough points to assure the FIA World Championship of GT cars, wrestling the title virtually owned by Ferrari for more than a decade. The Paxton supercharger GT350 prototype is completed.
Late Summer of 1965, Production of the ’66 GT350 is underway, and the first 15 competition 427 Cobras are delivered to customers for SCCA A-production racing. By October, The brand-new ’66 GT350 Shelby fastbacks go on sale, and Shelby-American proposes a special Hertz racer. A prototype GT350H is built, and Hertz likes the GT350H and gives Shelby-American a contract for 200 cars. Meanwhile the FIA certifies the 427 for the 1966 racing season, and the ’66 GT350 again wins the national B-production road racing championship in the SCCA.
By December 1965 Hertz ups its contract for GT350H models to 1000 units. Overall, 1965 was a banner year for Shelby-American Racing, and it all started again for the 1966 racing season with the Ford GT-40 Mark II winning at Daytona. Shelby-American builds a Mustang notchback prototype for the brand-new Trans-Am racing series. That June, Henry Ford II watches proudly as a trio of GT-40 Mark IIs cross the finish line at Le Mans, 1-2-3. The specifications for the ’67 GT350 and new GT500 are finalized. This would be the high point for Shelby-American.
1967 production begins at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) in September of 1966 with the first units delivered to dealers in November. Jerry Titus wins at Riverside and Ford wins the Trans-Am Manufacturer’s title.
The last 427 Cobra Roadster is built in March of 1967, but by June there is news that Ford again wins at Le Mans with its Mark IV GT-40. By August, Shelby-American loses the lease on its LAX facility, and production of the ’68 Shelby Mustang moves to Ionia, Michigan, and the A.O. Smith Company. The Lone Star, to be the successor to the Cobra, constructed in England by John Wyer’s JW Automotive Engineering. By October, Shelby-American takes the ’67 Trans-Am Manufacturer’s title for Ford. Shelby-American completes construction of a Cougar-Cobra Can-Am racing car.
Shelby-American racing moves to Torrance, California in November, as ’68 Shelby production begins. The ’68 Shelby Mustang convertible joins the lineup. On a side note, Carroll Shelby holds his first Chill cook-off.
The ’69 Shelby GTs are finalized by July of 1968, and again, a GT-40 takes first place at Le Mans. By August, the last brand-new 427 Cobra Roadster is sold by Shelby. In September of 1968, Carroll Shelby opens a Ford dealership in Lake Tahoe, California. The Lone Star prototype is offered for sale for $15.000, the price it was to retail for if it had made production.
By November of 1968 the 1969-model year Shelby Mustang production begins, but by September of 1969 the Shelby Mustang project is ended as sales slow dramatically. The leftover ’69 models are updated to ’70 specifications and production ends.
Racing during 1969 was curtailing. At Lime Rock, In the Trans-Am racing series, Sam Posey pilots a Shelby team car to the company’s last Ford victory. At Riverside, in the Trans-Am, Shelby fields his last Ford team race car. And by December of 1969 Shelby Automotive Racing Company closes. Ford finally put the venture to an end when in February of 1970 Ford ends its longterm racing agreement with Carroll Shelby. And so ends the partnership between Ford and Carroll Shelby. Later, Shelby and Ford would reunite, but that would be much, much later.