This car is the first of just 6 built and is the only one left in original, unrestored condition. In 2014 it was named IHMA “Car of the Year”, and was the 1st car on HVA’s National Historic Vehicle Registry.
After his Le Mans victory with an Aston Martin DBR1 in 1959, Carroll Shelby stopped race driving, but he soon discovered that the AC Factory in England was left without a suitable engine in its sports car. He convinced them to try a Ford Fairlane engine, with modifications he made, and with a beefier suspension.
These AC Cobras were very successful and, in fact, in 1962, they made their debut simultaneous with GM’s new Corvette Stingray. The Cobra lapped over four seconds faster and although the Stingray won its first race at Riverside; the handwriting was on the wall. Later, Cobras won the first U. S. manufacturers championships, but the infrangible Ferrari GTO’s dominated the FIA World Championship run for GT cars.
It would be foolish for me to outline the history and the development of the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. This is described by Pete Brock in the classic book he authored along with Dave Friedman and George Stauffer, “Daytona Cobra Coupes: Carroll Shelby’s 1965 World Champions.”
Brock writes the early chapters concerning the motivation behind and the creation of the first Daytona Coupe. Being such a young man and given a fascinating responsibility, the enthusiasm in his words are still vital although written some 30 years later. The motivation behind the development of a world beating GT race car was to quash the all reigning Ferrari.
Both from a historical perspective, but in addition a very definite personal perspective, the desire for Shelby and his team to win was stimulated on many fronts. Carroll Shelby felt snubbed by Ferrari in the past and he thought Enzo treated his drivers poorly. Others here in America shared some of these sentiments. The well-known story of how Ferrari and Ford tried to align, and how the deal never came about, only polarized the relationship further on other fronts. By 1964, when Shelby had decided to build a coupe, he had already been out of sports car racing for about four years, having already won Le Mans in 1959 with Aston Martin and many races of all types throughout his robust career.
It is said some of his health problems were beginning at this time. Successfully building the Cobra roadster he recognized that it was the easiest platform on which to build a world championship GT car quickly. Pete Brock recalls that there was a sense of urgency about getting this done and, as Mr. Shelby’s first employee, much of the responsibility both in and out of the design room fell on him. To reiterate the design process, its complexities, and its pure artistry, is foolish when the above-mentioned book devotes over 100 pages to the development of this magnificently streamlined and effective car. And I enthusiastically refer the reader to this book.
Brock’s initial drawings were developed, tested, and a car built around his ideas. A graduate of the famed Art Center School of Design, he already had the fundamental knowledge to understand and successfully execute a magnificent plan.
Dave Friedman, hired as a more-or-less company photographer, captured the development of this car, with Brock overseeing every aspect. After the design process was complete, and a satisfactory coupe built, in this case our car, five chassis were delivered to Italy for five more to be made, which are now recognizable by certain external differences such as the roofline, windscreen, ect. but basically the same roadster underneath. Pete philosophically recalls how the whole thing fell together almost providentially because the quality of the small team which put this all together.
Because of Brock’s design the streamlined coupe on a roadster chassis went 20 miles per hour faster.
In 1964, Ferrari barely won the GT Championship over the Cobra Daytona Coupe, but, in 1965, Shelby won the Constructor’s GT World Championship. In addition, the Daytona Coupes had class victories in the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, and a variety of other important races.
The Daytona Continental was a 2000 kilometer grand touring race, was the first leg among the 13 races for the 1964 FIA World Manufacturers Championship. The formula was rather arcane given different weighted numbers for the complexity of the race (Le Mans being the most important) and the position achieved by the car, and so on. During practice Ken Miles told Pete Brock, “We’re much faster than the Ferrari’s, Pete, much faster.”
With Bob Holbert at the wheel, the Viking blue coupe took off! While Holbert was proceeding successfully, he was called into the pits to have a differential oil change because incorrect fluid were inserted. Preceding a recent pit stop, they had filled the gas tank, but Shelby ordered it filled again. The difficulty is pouring fuel into a nearly full gas tank and although there were two filler caps opened, the pressure of the fuel flowing through an almost full tank created a surge of which came out from the opposite side, down over the body, and vaporized on the hot disc brakes and differential.
In an instant, the back of the car was on fire. Fortunately, fire crews immediately snuffed out the flame and more extinguishers on the car stopped the devastation within a few seconds. However, the differential was damaged, the wiring was ruined, and the race was over for the Daytona.
They treated mechanic John Ohlsen, who was changing the differential oil for first and second-degree burns. Although the mechanics thought they could repair the damaged wiring within the hour and still finish the race, they shifted their efforts to the remaining cars when Shelby announced, “It’s over.” They never challenged Shelby’s commands.
The subsequent history of the race car is a matter of historical record. In 1964 Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert drove it at Sebring where it was first in the GT class. At the subsequent Le Mans test it was the fastest GT; at Spa with Hill driving it set a lap record of 4:04.4. They disqualified it at Le Mans because of an illegal restart during the 10th hour. At Reims it did not finish because of a broken half shaft and at the Oulton Park TT it came in 11th with Hill driving with a smashed oil cooler from an errant rock. It later raced at the Tour de France and the 1965 Le Mans was its last competitive race where it did not finish because of a head bolt failure.
The most interesting part of its history, however, revolves around a November 6, 1965 when the car, now somewhat retired, was called back into action. A detailed chapter in the Daytona Cobra Coupe book is worth reading. Entitled “The Salt: Last Dance for a Champion”, it dramatizes the details of the famous Bonneville record set by CSX2287.
It turns out that Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America jet car was at the Bonneville Salt Flats waiting for a test during a period that Goodyear had the Salt reserved for four days. USAC and the Bonneville officials required that Goodyear use the facility for a continuous period or give it up for other record attempts.
Goodyear’s Director of Racing, Tony Webner, did not want to relinquish the position on the Salt because it may not be available before the weather changed negatively. And so to create a legitimate reason to stay on the Salt until Breedlove could run again, they called Carroll Shelby and asked for a coupe. The reason, if the Goodyear group could use the car to attempt endurance records, they could hold on to the Salt for their allotted time and reduce the heat from USAC. “Some records had been on the books since the 1930s,” said Webner. “USAC surveyed the official distances including a 12 mile circuit, so the opportunity was wide open—he felt that the Daytona should be able to set several new marks.” (It is noteworthy that some of these records to which Webner referred were set by the same Bugatti Tank in our collection some 30 years prior.)
Initially Carroll Shelby questioned the request because they had not used the car since Le Mans in the preceding June. Precipitously, Shelby found Tom Greatorex, a former crew chief who had transitioned to the Shelby operation and credited for keeping the Gurney-Johnson Snake running during Daytona in 1964. Someone told him there was a rebuilt engine in the shop ready to run, and the Le Mans engine removed and the new one installed while Greatorex was on his way.
The 2.88 Le Mans rear axle gearing was still on the car so all that was left to do was to apply a new set of racing tires slightly larger, on the rear, and after a washing the car was on its way. They drove all night and arrived with no sleep in 30 hours but with a good running car. Greatorex found a place to test the car and soon it was running at 6000 RPM in top gear, approximately 188 miles an hour. He said the car felt motionless, with only the tach needle sound determining its speed.
They soon discovered that the Goodyear officials had not made provisions for refueling the car. So the crew had to go back to town and get two 50-gallon drums of gasoline and a hand pump because 12 hours of refueling was required. When it came time for Breedlove to test the car, a man who the previous week had driven over 500 miles per hour in his jetcar, they discovered that he had never driven a car with a four speed stick shift transmission, but this learned easily.
There were some significant adjustments made during the test to keep the car running properly, but finally optimum conditions were approaching, considering the negligible preparation time available. The USAC officials did not believe the Goodyear’s endurance record attempt was serious, and they doubted that the “little motor” could run that fast for 12 hours. There was no spare engine. It also worried them that with no refueling rig the time it would take to fill the huge tank by a hand pump would ultimately affect the overall record.
As described by those in attendance, retrospectively, “the whole effort was so spontaneous that it almost failed for lack of preparation.” In fact, the USAC officials didn’t expect the car to last until lunchtime, they therefore did not bring victuals. It seemed they were waiting for Firestones record contenders trial.
The result is no better stated than in “The Salt,” chapters,
“At dusk it was over, Breedlove and Tatroe had clocked over 1931 miles, averaging 150 miles per hour and breaking the record set by Bugatti in the 1930s by some 200 miles.” It also set 23 national and international speed records. Because the USAC officials had not expected the car to last, they did not bring the tools needed to verify the engine’s displacement, so they drove the car back to the motel for the final verification the next morning.
The history of this car after that great Bonneville event, which we honor in our exhibit, is strange. After one or two brief owners, including the likes of record promoter Phil Spector, the car ended up in the possession of Spector’s bodyguard’s daughter, who, mysteriously, put it away in storage in 1971. She dutifully paid the storage bill every month, and refused to let anybody see the car, even Mr. Shelby himself.
On one occasion someone took pictures of it which showed the front-end had been pushed in and that there were blotches of a clay-like material on various parts of the body, but it was complete, though very dirty. By the 1990s she apparently knew that the value of these cars had increased but, though she had a working class life, making $18,000.00 a year as a Sears warehouse worker, serious monetary offers for the car were always refused.
One suspects that the offers might have been lower than she knew the car was worth, although there was some issue about trading the car for some property, but the swaps never materialized. In several previous conversations, working with Santa Barbara resident and high-end collector car dealer Martin Eyears, I told him that this car was definitely on my hit list.
The reasons were obvious: number one; it was an American sports racing car, needed in a collection populated by many foreigners; it was a large displacement winner and participant in many of the great races of all time; and finally, it was in decent unrestored condition.
Martin and his secretary worked their magic and convinced car owner Dorothy Brand to sell the car. In an odd arrangement which I didn’t understand, after we made the sale, we exchanged monies, and everything was proper, she ultimately willed the car to her mother and committed suicide.
When this all came to light there was anger and perhaps resentment by the Cobra crowd, who seemed to consider themselves a distinct population independent of the rest of the car collector world. I sensed they purportedly deemed that the car should go to one of them rather than some East Coast collector.
They started litigation to put the car on the market. A court carefully reviewed the details, and the judge ruled that we had made a perfectly commercially viable purchase. The paperwork was correct, the California pink slip properly transferred, and there was no reason to suspect that anything unusual about the sale of an automobile.
When the news surfaced in the Los Angeles Times, among other places, somehow an individual claiming to be Dorothy Brand’s boyfriend claimed that he had been promised the car by Dorothy, although there was no convincing evidence, according to the judge, that this had happened. Unfortunately for Mr. Eyears, the litigation required to prove that this was a commercially viable sale and to come to a settlement with the boyfriend, ended up in substantial costs which he did not expect.
When we had the car back in Philadelphia we set about deciding what to do with it. First, we removed the incorrect writing on the car’s door, made with house paint by using a fine surgical blade which easily dissected the house paint off of the original Guardsman Blue.
The chalky white caulk material, which I never defined, at certain places on the body, easily came off. Underneath these areas, the paint wasn‘t oxidized, and this produced an irregular appearance. By compounding these areas we discovered that there were, in fact, several layers of Guardsman Blue, apparently all put on at the Shelby factory, since there was no evidence that the car being repainted after being sold. Going over the whole car with medium compound, we brought out the uniform finish, careful not to polish the paint, after which we would lose some uniformity in the reflections.
We set about to deal with the front of the car which had been pushed in, and I had to recall a rule I made to myself which mentions that if a car part were damaged or negatively influenced by time if it destroys the car’s appearance and affects the identification of the car’s true lines, then this part may be selectively repaired as long as the original aspects of the car is maintained and the repair should be in keeping with the rest of the car so it does not stand out as a repair. We did this, and we could match the paint that so that the finishes are indistinguishable among the repaired and the non-repaired sections.
Next, we set about the rest of the restoration. Fortunately, we were invited to the Collier Connoisseurship Conference at Miles’ museum in February 2004. A group discussion about what to do with the car included not only Miles, but Phil Hill, Doug Nye, and a group of knowledgeable enthusiasts all of whom we asked to render an opinion about what to do.
We agreed that the car should be mechanically restored without changing any of its finishes; that all parts should put back into commission unless this would be dangerous, and that we should make the car to run as effectively as it did in its heyday as long as it would not be consumed through the process. The cosmetic restoration we performed was approved of by all.
After this conference I invited Pete Brock over to examine the car. We had a wonderful time going over the car. I recorded his conversation, and then he sent a beautiful note describing what he thought of the car. The difficulty for me was this man, whose talents and design skill I admired, whose ability to create a form which led to a world beating vehicle, was in disagreement with the other individuals who had inspected the car and myself. Pete thought we should bring the car back to its original configuration, that is when it first went to Daytona in 1964, painted in its first color, Viking Blue, and made to look as good as it did when it left the factory. (You will recall this is when he bemoaned it leaving his hands.)
There was no doubt in my mind, and I believe the members of the Connoisseurship agreed, that the person to do this job was Bob Ash. Bob is a self-effacing but competent historian and restorer. We had a wonderful working relationship during which Bob and I detailed what we expected from the restoration.
What Pete probably did not recognize, is that to bring the car back to 1964 would require many technical and cosmetic changes such as removal of later added body fitments, removal of added mechanical changes, a variety of details which require a rebuild of significant proportions, each time incorporating newly gained material to replace what had been replaced or changed in the past.
One of my criteria has always been, “as found,” condition. As long as we found the car in a condition reasonably similar to the last time it performed for its intended purpose, in this case, racing. Spector put carpeting in it which were easily removed, and he extended the exhaust pipes out the rear, but Bob easily removed the extensions when he did his magnificent rotisserie preservation of the entire car.
Bob has detailed this work with many photographs and we agreed essentially on every aspect of the restoration in question. The result is that we have the car we wanted. It’s as close as to the car Shelby sold in 1966, and if modifications made in its short history before it went in storage, these are not major.
The car now runs perfectly, capable of the same 150 miles an hour it did when it set records over 40 years ago. It remains a highlight of the collection, and I hope that future generations will recognize the efforts of Bob Ash. The many details he could discover, through his knowledge of Shelby manufacturing principles, parts, supplies, etcetera, are a tribute to his restoration skills and there can be no one, ever, to have more first-hand knowledge of the construction of these cars.