You may have heard of Carroll Shelby, the one time US race driver turned even more famous sports car tuner, but you probably haven’t heard of the Cobra Daytona Coupe.
Even more interesting to anyone from down under, is the fact that the designer of the body was a…Peter Brock!
Of Course that wasn’t our famous Brocky, but what is strange, is that the Aussie legend was killed while driving a replica Daytona Coupe.
Shelby was first and foremost a successful racer, but shortly after his Le Mans win in 1959 driving an Aston Martin, he suffered heart problems and was forced to retire from behind the wheel. This gave him time to realise his dream, to build the world’s fastest sportscar.
The Shelby Cobra was born out of a small UK based company AC Cars who made small numbers of a great looking 2-door roadster, sold under the AC Ace badge.
When Bristol phased out their successful 2-litre six-cylinder engine, which was actually derived from BMW’s 328 engine, which dated back to 1919, Ace Cars was all but finished.
That’s when Carroll Shelby came to the rescue and convinced his mates at Ford to supply him the V8 engine from the Fairlane 500, which they agreed to. But Shelby obviously knew the right people, because the engines had been tweaked by Ford to deliver 260 bhp with ‘hot’ cams and larger ports.
This was twice the output of the Bristol unit, but it actually weighed less. But that still wasn’t enough for Carol Shelby, so he tuned the competition cars to deliver over 335 bhp and rev to an astonishing 9000-rpm.
Shelby also designed modifications to the chassis, so that the car would be driveable, and flew to the UK to supervise initial production.
On the track, the Shelby Cobra was invincible, with crushing victories in the GT class over Chevrolet’s Sting Ray and Ferrari’s 250 GT SWB cars.
The Cobra’s utter decimation of the competition produced six wins out of the seven race series.
While the Cobra had easily conquered GT racing in the United States, Shelby wanted Ferrari’s scalp in the more prestigious FIA World Championship for GT cars.
But there was one big problem, these races were mostly on high-speed tracks and the Cobra with its brick shape body, wasn’t going to cut it. So Shelby hired a gifted young designer named Peter Brock who had worked at General Motors, to draw up an aerodynamic, low drag Coupe body for the AC chassis.
Brock’s understanding of aerodynamics came largely from a technical paper, written by German Dr. Wunibald Kamn in 1919, who recommended shallow closure angles to keep the air flowing along the rear body’s surface.
It worked, legendary US race drivers Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney claimed their first win at Le Mans in 1964 when they smashed all competitors in their GT class and claimed fourth outright. The Cobra Daytona was a winner.
Ferrari resorted to dirty tactics when it was clear that they would never beat the Cobra Daytona in Europe, and tried desperately to get their 250 LM Prototype homologated as a GT car.
The FIA flatly refused and then as payback, Ferrari pressured the Monza organisers to cancel the event, thus depriving the Americans of a certain series victory.
Only six Cobra Daytona Coupes were ever built and are worth millions more than the US$4000-$5000 they were sold for in Los Angeles after Ford and Shelby abandoned the car in favour of the Ford GT-40 program.
If you’re lucky enough to have a few million US dollars lying around the mansion, and you want to own one of these great American race cars – then start bidding at the Dana Mecum Original Spring Auction from May 13-17 in Indianapolis, USA.