Shelby's History of the Cobra

Petersen's Kit Car

Nov. 1986

Peter V. Mills

The Wonder Years
page 3

As soon as the engine and transmission were installed in the metal-colored roadster, Shelby began asking magazine editors to try the car out. Then the original car saw more coats of paint (all different colors, of course) than most vehicles will see in a lifetime.

Years before his Cobra venture - in fact, before he started racing - Shelby had lost most of his money in a chicken ranch venture. When that happened, I thought to myself, 'If I can lose everything, I can't lose any more than I already have.'" From that point on, Shelby's business career blossomed.

Undoubtedly, as Kopec suggests, Shelby wanted to go racing. He wanted to beat the Corvette executives and show them that they had made a mistake. And he wanted to beat Ferrari, too. Years before, Enzo had offered Shelby a position as a race driver but wouldn't pay him enough to feed his family. Shelby never drove for Ferrari's factory team.

The AC Cobra was only the beginning of the Shelby racing legend. The 221-cubic-inch Ford grew2 to 260 and then 289 cubic inches in the old transverse leaf-sprung AC Roadster. That car won many national road racing championships. It was followed by the fire-breathing 427-cubic-inch AC Cobra, sporting rounded flares at the wheelwell openings and a coil spring suspension. The Corvettes that raced in Sports Car Club of America events never stood a chance.

Race cars lined up
Shelby strikes a pose alongside the 1963 Sebring cars prior to departing for Florida

In 1964, Shelby set his sights on the FIA World Grand Touring Championship for enclosed production cars - a class dominated by Enzo Ferrari's prancing horses. The Shelby American team almost won that title the first season racing the Pete-Brock-designed Cobra Daytona Coupe.

The first Daytona Cobra Coupe takes shape at the Venice, California shop in December 1963.

A year later, Shelby's crew took the GT championship away from Ferrari in convincing fashion, the first and last time an American car has won the crown. "That was one of the proudest moments of my career," says Shelby. "We took a bunch of California hot rodders and beat old man Ferrari."

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