An original 1964 Shelby Cobra is next-to impossible to find… so Shelby American has launched a limited edition 50th Anniversary Special.
The AC Cobra is one of the most iconic sports cars of all time, with many imitations, replicas, kit cars etc following on. The Cobra came out of a union between the small British car maker, AC, who were searching for a bigger engine for its 2-litre sports car, and Carroll Shelby, one of the most famous names in motorsport, particularly in the US.
Shelby took the AC, inserted a tuned Ford V8 engine and transformed the car. At first he used a 260 cubic inch (the way Americans measure engine capacity) but very soon changed this for a 289 cubic inch (4.7-litre) Ford V8 – the so-called ‘Short Block’ Ford. Somewhere along the way, the car gained the name ‘Cobra’, various tweaks to the chassis transformed the handling, and a car that became the stuff of legends was born.
The Shelby Cobra FIA 289 was introduced in 1964 to compete in the World Manufacturers Championship sports car racing series against marques like Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Lancia. ‘FIA’ stands for Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body of motorsport. In that first year (’64) the Shelby Cobra came second in the championship, narrowly losing to Ferrari. The following year, the Shelby Cobra came out on top.
An original Shelby Cobra 289 from that period is now worth a million dollars – literally. One changed hands last year at the Monterey Classic Car Auction for $924,000, complete with all documentation including letters between Carroll Shelby and the first owner. Not only are original cars rare, but they don’t very often come up for sale.
So, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Shelby Cobra FIA 289, the current Shelby American company is offering 50 limited edition cars. Each will be painted ‘Viking Blue’ with FIA stripes and roundels, and will have a black FIA interior, special billet anniversary badges, original style wheels and a variety of additional options.
What it won’t have is an engine and transmission – Shelby is leaving the choice of powertrain up to the buyers. There is no shortage of engine and transmission builders and installers across both the US and Europe, and you could go for an original 289 with about 270 bhp, or opt for a more highly tuned and bigger Ford V8. Stick with the original for both driveability and investment potential is most experts’ advice.
“The 289 FIA Shelby Cobras were among the most important cars in American racing history,” said John Luft, president of Shelby American.
“The FIA Cobras built during that period were piloted by racing legends including Ken Miles, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill and Bob Bondurant. Thus, some of the most revered drivers in the sport put the 289 FIA Cobra into the winner’s circle. Combining a robust, powerful American engine with a lightweight chassis was sheer brilliance. Shelby’s formula still resonates today and is followed by automakers worldwide.”
Shelby American built the original 289 FIA Cobras for racing. Modifications included a new dash, widened front and rear fenders, cut-back doors, new dampers, racing wheels featuring the pin-drive hub, oil cooler scoops and a competition spec 289 small block engine.
Today, the CSX7000 Continuation Shelby Cobra 289 FIAs are component vehicles that can be fitted with a proper drive train by a customer or automotive professional. Each car is built to order and delivered as a rolling chassis, less drive train, with a Shelby American issued MSO (Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin – required for road registration and for export/import).
“Our CSX7000 cars incorporate safety and performance improvements, without sacrificing driving excitement or originality,” added Vince LaViolette, senior designer and head of R&D at Shelby American.
“With a small block V8 pushing only 2,100 lbs, it’s the lightest Cobra ever built with an incredible power-to-weight ratio. This allows the small block Cobra to dive deep into corners and pull through with incredible precision and accuracy.”
There you have it – another good reason to stay with the original 289 engine.
The Continuation Shelby Cobra 289 FIA vehicles retain everything from the authentic style suspension to the graceful body lines, but are upgraded to contemporary standards, says Shelby American. Modern disc brakes are used plus a stronger frame. The bodyshell can be made from either aluminium or fibreglass. The 50th Anniversary Edition also features a complete exhaust for a small block Ford V8, a special fitted car cover and optional detachable steering wheel.
“The importance and historical significance of these cars was the fact that they brought a small shop in Southern California to the forefront of international racing on two continents within the same year,” said Shelby expert Jeff Gagnon.
“Shelby American took it to Ferrari, Corvette and other well-supplied, well-funded and established race teams and manufacturers. That was no small feat, even in those simpler times.”
Price of the 50th Anniversary CSX7000 FIA Continuation Cobra will begin at $94,995 for a fibreglass or $159,995 for an aluminium bodied car, excluding drive train. Each will be documented in Shelby American’s ‘World Registry’.
Pilot, racer, businessman: Carroll Shelby
Carroll Shelby was by all accounts a ‘mover and shaker’. Born in Texas, USA in 1923, he suffered heart problems from the age of 7, something that stayed with him right up until his death in 2012 at the age of 89. He was heading for an aeronautical engineering school when World War Two intervened and he was enlisted into the Army Air Corps. He must have been a pretty good pilot because he was soon made an instructor and test pilot.
Racing took hold after WW2, with many successes during the 1950s. The highlight was victory at the 1959 Le Mans 24-hour race in an Aston Martin with British driver Roy Salvadori. Folklore has it that Carroll drove with a nitroglycerine pill under his tongue to restart his heart should it stop.
He retired from racing at the end of the ’59 season and started Shelby American, as a racing and tuning company. The AC Cobra was an early project but he went to work with Ford, notably on the Mustang, and Chrysler with the Dodge Viper.
Top Driver: Bob Bondurant
One of the top drivers for Carroll Shelby’s Cobra team was Bob Bondurant. He hot off to a great start winning his first race. For the 1964 FIA season Bob was in Europe racing the new 289 FIA Cobras at the Targa Florio, Spa and Nurburgring. Bob’s best-known victory was winning the GT class at Le Mans 24 Hours in 1964 in Shelby’s new Cobra Daytona Coupe with Dan Gurney co-driving.
In 1965 Bob won the FIA Manufacturers’ World Championship for Shelby American and Ford, winning seven out of ten races against the class dominating Ferrari 250 GTOs in Europe. In the same year he drove a works Ferrari Formula 1 during the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, and handled a Lotus 33 for Reg Parnell at the following Mexican race.
In 1966 Bob Bondurant served as a technical consultant for John Frankenheimer’s epic film Grand Prix and trained the film’s lead actor James Garner to drive Formula cars in the race sequences. However, the following year he had a monster accident at 150 mph – the car flipped eight times – leaving him with serious injuries.
While recuperating, Bondurant had the idea for a high performance driving school and in 1968 The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving opened. It’s still going, training drivers for all forms of track motorsport and offering driving experiences for mere mortals, at the wonderfully named Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona.
First published in P1.