Shelby's History of the Cobra

Petersen's Kit Car

The Wonder Years

Driver's Meeting

Nov. 1986

Peter V. Mills

Recalling the birth of the Cobra

To the race fan of the fifties, Carroll Shelby was that decade's outstanding road racer. Sports Illustrated twice named him its Driver of the Year and the New York Times honored him with a similar title. In 1959, he and Roy Salvatori co-drove an Aston Martin to victory in the LeMans 24-hour race.

Although Shelby was a skilled driver, racing wasn't his ultimate goal. "It was always my dream to build a car. Racing was only a means to that end," he says in a soft east Texas drawl.

1960 marked Shelby's last year of road racing. Heart trouble slowed him down: There were times when he was racing with a nitroglycerine tablet under his tongue. Yet he still managed to win the U.S. Auto Club's road racing championship that season.

"I'd been planning a sports car using a powerful American V8 coupled with a lightweight roadster," he continues. "I went to Chevrolet and their management was interested. But I got turned down. They already had their Corvette and I think the engineers shot down my proposal.

"When I retired from racing, I set up operations in Southern California." Shelby started a racing school at Riverside International Raceway and hired his first employee, a driving instructor by the name of Pete Brock. He also wrote a column for the old Sports Car Graphic magazine and met with the ed9itorial staff regularly for lunch.

One of those noon meetings started Shelby on a course that's now history. During lunch, on of the journalists mentioned that the AC sports car was probably going to cease production. The reason: Bristol Aeroplane Company was going out of business, and that firm had been supplying AC Cars, Ltd., with the powerplants for its two-seat roadsters.

Following his rejection by Cheverolet, Shelby talked to the people at Ford about installing that company's new 221 V8 in a sports car. The AC seemed an ideal candidate.

The production line of the AC factory in Great Britain in 1963

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