Road and Track - December 1979

Although Carroll Shelby's main competition were the other international sports car teams, he was also competing to some extent for Ford's patronage with Holman & Moody, who were preparing cars for NASCAR events. It was a political situation, and Dan Gurney says he steered well clear of it because, in those days, he was trying to make a career for himself as a driver and didn't want to get involved in politics. Holman & Moody's cars were powered by Ford's 427 competition engine and it was natural Ford should want these engines in the Shelby program.

Presumably because he had learned fairly early on in life that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Carroll and his men did a fast shoehorn job with a 427 engine into a normal Cobra chassis. Ken Miles, who was one of Shelby's employees and a driver of considerable repute, did most of the work and it was Ken who, while practicing for Sebring in 1964, managed to stuff the 427 car into about the only tree growing in that part of Florida. The car was repaired for the race but it suffered a number of ailments before finally retiring on the back of the course.

Phil HillHowever, the effort was not in vain because it was the predecessor of a series of some 350 427 Cobras, which were the fastest production sports cars ever built and were radically different under the skin, and considerably more sophisticated than what had gone before. The frame was bigger and stronger, being constructed of 4.0-in. tubes. Texas-size driveline components were used throughout. the suspension used coil springs and upper and lower A-arms front and rear and Halibrand magnesium wheels were standard equipment.

Some competition versions of the 427 were built and I asked Dan and Phil what they were like to drive. Both agreed that they much preferred the 289 cars because the 427 wouldn't really do anything the 289 couldn't do and some things it really didn't seem to do as well. However, they did mention that the 427 might have a slight advantage at a circuit such as Spa, which was tremendously fast with a very smooth surface. Of course, the difference between the street versions of the cars was much less subtle because the stock 289 engine put out an advertised 270 bhp and the 427 about 425 bhp, depending on whom you asked.

Shelby's operation in Venice, California attracted a lot of talented people from the southern California area and among them were Pete Brock and Phil Remington. Remington has been around race cars most of his life and he now works for Dan Gurney, who describes him as "a one-man army." It was probably because of the influence of these two that six competition coupes were built on the 289 HA chassis. The first coupe was built in Venice to. Pete Brock's design and today it is still one of the best looking and cleanest competition coupes ever built. It retained much of the mean look of the roadsters but the windshield was more steeply raked, blending into a long, sloping fastback ending in a chopped off Kammback tail. The cars were called Cobra Daytona Coupes, because the first car made its initial appearance at Daytona in 1964.

One day back in 1964, while they were testing at Riverside International Raceway, Ken Miles took me for a ride in the coupe. which was an interesting experience because not only did it give me an impression of what the coupe itself was like, but also it gave me a good impression of the handling characteristics of the competition Cobras in general, and altogether it was a fairly hairy ride.

For a start, Ken was grinning from ear to ear throughout, because he thought he was scaring the hell out of me (which he was). Then, there was more noise inside the car than out, which meant it was absolutely deafening inside, and also very hot and rather oily. On the back straight we were probably hitting about 150 mph. but it was coming up through the esses that was disconcerting because Ken held the car in a series of classic 4-wheel drifts in which the car was pointing at 45 degrees to its general direction of travel. This, of course, was the classic method of getting a car which underwent considerable camber changes while cornering through a turn as quickly as possible. It wasn't a slow method of cornering, but it was different from what you see today and you had to be strong and courageous to do it..

As far as driving the Cobras in a long-distance race was concerned, Phil and Dan agreed that the cars were very effective but very tough to drive. Phil remembers them as being exceptionally stiffly sprung and much stiffer than the Ferraris he had been driving. On circuits such as the Targa Florio. Phil recalls the cars using up what suspension there was and bottoming all the time, so it was a question of hanging on rather than driving.

Dan's feelings were that you had to he fit to drive them and you had to roll up your sleeves and really go to work. Dan recalled a tense moment at one race during a pit stop. Jerry Grant was about to get in the car and Carroll Shelby was shouting at him to just get in and get going. So Grant did and took off without fastening his seatbelt. but the ride was so wild he was practicably being thrown out of the car and had to stop' and fasten the belt.

The records show that Mike Shoen's roadster was campaigned as a team car in 1964 at the Targa Florio, Spa and the Nürburgring. It also won the Freiberg Hillclimh and the Sierra Montana Hillclimb in Switzerland in the GT class driven by Bob Bondurant. In 1965, which was the year in which Shelby took the HA GT championship from Ferrari, it won the Tourist Trophy in the GT class and was 4th overall, driven by Sir John Whitmore. and was then used as a practice car at Spa and the Nürburgring. It finished the season by winning the GT class at the Rossfeld Mountain Hillclimb in Germany driven by Bondurant.

At the end of the season, the car was shipped back to California and sold. It remained in storage for nine years until 1974 when it was taken out, lubricated, tuned. washed and waxed and it has remained that way ever since.

One could describe the Cobras as being relatively unsophisticated, but tough and very fast and they were a source of embarrassment to people with much more sophisticated machinery. When Carroll Shelby set out to campaign his Cobras in the classic European road races, it was an exciting time for everyone and it proved that a bunch of guys from L.A., many of whom had gained their early experience in hot Ridding, could take on the sophisticated European racing establishment and beat them at their own game.  Tony Hogg


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