Shelby's History of the Cobra

Petersen's Kit Car

Nov. 1986

Peter V. Mills

The Wonder Years
page 2

As Shelby tells it: "I went to AC and told them I had Ford interested in supplying motors for their chassis, then I went to Ford and told them that I had a chassis lined up for their engine and transmission if they'd provide them [to me] on credit."
Ken Miles in the original prototype
The beginning of the coupe project saw Shelby, Ken Miles and Pete Brock sharing a laugh as they begin measuring for the wood buck.

The final decision on whether or not to go with the brash Texan went to an executive in Ford's marketing and sales department - Lee Iacocca. Shelby continues, "Lee told [his associates] to pay [me] and get [me] out [of there] before I bit somebody."

"I only hit Ford [up] for $25,000 in cash to finish the project. I knew they'd come up with the money later. Just like a poker game, they'd want to be sure to cover their bets," Shelby says with a grin.

An English chassis builder faced with going out of business or shipping cars on credit to a small garage in Santa Fe Springs, California, sent an AC roadster to Shelby. Ford supplied its V8 and a four-speed transmission, and famed hot rodder Dean Moon helped Carroll put the pieces together.
The original Shelby AC was unpainted aluminum. "I got the name Cobra one night in a dream," says Shelby. "I woke up and wrote the name down before I forgot it."

According to Shelby historian Richard Kopec's Shelby American Guide (Motorbooks International, Osceola, WI), "Carroll Shelby's true goal in building the Cobra was to produce a winning race car - one that would outrun the Corvette and Ferrari production cars. He never wanted to build a lot of cars and make a lot of money. He just wanted to go racing."

Aluminum car

This polished aluminum Cobra bears the number CSX 2000.  It was the firs Cobra to be built and came to life in the late Dean Moon's shop.

Rear view of bare car However, to go racing Shelby had to sell at least 100 Cobras a year to have the car qualify as a production vehicle.

Kopec continues: "Shelby knew that there was no way that he was going to sell 100 race cars a year, so the Cobras were sold as street cars. They were, in effect, detuned race cars."

Some have said that Shelby isn't a car designer. Whether or not that contention is true, he certainly is a "car conceiver," one who envisions what he wants and brings that conception to market.

He proved that with the Cobra. He followed his dream, and when the opportunities to exploit his idea arose, he jumped on them. And no one who knows Carroll will ever say he doesn't know how to promote a vehicle, starting with the original Cobra.

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