Bron; Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
After his Le Mans victory with an Aston Martin DBR1 in 1959, Carroll Shelby decided to stop 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 that he made, and then beefing the suspension as well.
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. Subsequently, Cobras won the first U. S. manufacturers championships, but the FIA World Championship run for GT cars was dominated by the infrangible Ferrari GTO’s.
It would be foolish for me to outline the history and the development of the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. This is so clearly and personally delineated 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 at the time, and given a fascinating responsibility, the enthusiasm in his words are still vital although they were written some 30 years later. It is clear that the motivation behind the development of a world beating GT race car was, among other things, 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. Very simply Carroll Shelby felt snubbed by Ferrari in the past and he thought that Enzo treated his drivers poorly. Some of these sentiments were shared by others here in America. 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 made his decision 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 as well as numerous races of all types throughout his robust career.
It is said that some of his health problems were beginning as well. 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, modified, and a car was basically 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 completed, and a satisfactory coupe was built, in this case our car, five chassis were sent to Italy for five more to be made, which are now recognizable by certain external differences such as the roof line, windscreen, etc., but basically the same roadster underneath. Pete very philosophically recalls how the whole thing fell together almost providentially because the quality of the small team which put this all together.
After testing the car at Riverside it went off to Daytona for its first race. He said a temporary goodbye to the coupe,
In many ways I felt the coupe was gone for good when it went to Daytona without me. It had reached the point of transition from R&D project to a team racer. The race crew had taken over and all future development would be based on experience in competition, not design refinement and testing. But there was so much more I had wanted to do with the car – and I felt our small R&D team was just getting warmed up.
As a result of Brock’s design the streamlined coupe on a roadster chassis went 20 miles per hour faster.
In 1964 GT Championship was barely won by Ferrari 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 ’64 and ’65, as well as 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) as well as 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, incorrect fluid having been inserted. Preceding a recent pit stop, the gas tank had been topped off, but Shelby ordered it to be topped off again. The difficulty, of course, 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 but fire crews immediately snuffed out the flame and more extinguishers on the car ceased the holocaust within a few seconds. However, the differential was damaged, the wiring was ruined, and the race was over for the Daytona.
Mechanic John Ohlsen, who was changing the differential oil at the time, was treated for first and second degree burns. Although the mechanics were convinced that 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.” Shelby’s commands were seldom challenged.
The subsequent history of the race car is a matter of historical record. In 1964 it was co-piloted by Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert 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. It was disqualified 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 subsequently 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 recalled into action. A detailed chapter in the Daytona Cobra Coupe book is worth reading. Entitled The Salt: Last Dance for a Champion, the details of the famous Bonneville record set by CSX2287 are dramatized in a fascinating manner.
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 of time that Goodyear had the Salt reserved for four days. USAC and the Bonneville officials required that Goodyear use the facility for a continuous period of time 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 some endurance records, they could hold onto the Salt for their allotted time and reduce the heat from USAC. “Some of the records had been on the books since the 1930’s,” 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 very Bugatti Tank in our collection some 30 years prior.)
Initially Carroll Shelby questioned the request because the car had not been used since Le Mans in the preceding June. Precipitously, Shelby found Tom Greatorex, a former crew chief who had transitioned to the Shelby operation and who is credited for keeping the Gurney-Johnson Snake running during Daytona in 1964. He was told there was a rebuilt engine in the shop ready to run, and the Le Mans engine was 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 that 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 indicating 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 a couple of 50 gallon drums of gasoline and a hand pump because, clearly, during 12 hours refueling would be 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 was easily learned.
There were some significant adjustments which had to be made during the test in order 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. By the way, there was no spare engine. They were also worried that with no refueling rig the time it would take to fill the huge tank by hand pump would ultimately affect the overall record.
As was 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 long enough for lunchtime, they therefore did not bring victuals. It seemed they were waiting for Firestones record contenders trial.
The end result is no better stated than in the, “The Salt,” chapters, “At dusk it was over, Breedlove and Tatroe had clocked more than 1931 miles, averaging 150 miles per hour and breaking the record set by Bugatti in the 1930’s 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 the car was driven 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 in itself. 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 sometime 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 some pictures of it which showed that the front-end had been pushed in and that there was blotches of a clay-like material on various parts of the body, but it was essentially complete, though very dirty. By the 1990’s she was apparently aware that the value of these cars had increased but, though she was paid $18,000.00 a year as a Sears warehouse worker, offers were refused.
One suspects that the offers might have been lower than she knew the car was worth, although there was some issues 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 managed to work their magic and convinced car owner Dorothy Brand to sell the car. In an odd arrangement which I didn’t understand, after the sale was made, monies exchanged, and everything was proper, she ultimately willed the car to her mother and committed suicide.
When this all came to light there was some 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 proprietarily deemed that the car should go to one of them rather than some East Coast collector.
Litigation was actually started in an effort to put the car on the market. The details were carefully reviewed and the judge indicated that a perfectly commercially viable purchase had been made. 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 had been effected.
When the news surfaced in the Los Angeles Times, among other places, somehow an individual claiming to be Dorothy Brand’s boyfriend indicated that he was told that Dorothy promised him the car, although there was no convincing evidence, according to the judge, that this had actually happened. Unfortunately for Mr. Eyears, the litigation required to prove that this was a commercially viable sale as well as to come to a settlement with the boyfriend, ended up in substantial costs which he did not anticipate.
With the car back in Philadelphia we set about deciding what to do with it. First of all, we removed the incorrect writing on the car’s door, made with house paint, simply 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 was not oxidized and this produced an irregular appearance. By simply 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 was repainted after it was sold. Going over the whole car with medium compound, we brought out the very uniform finish, careful not to try to polish the paint after which some of the uniformity would be lost 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 has been damaged or negatively influenced by time to the extent that 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 are maintained and, of course, the repair should be in keeping with the rest of the car so that it does not stand out as a repair in and of itself. This was done and we were able to match the paint that so that the finishes are indistinguishable among the repaired and the non-repaired sections.
After solving this problem we set about the issue of the rest of the restoration. Fortunately, the car was invited to the Collier Connoisseurship Conference at Miles’ museum in February 2004. At that time, 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 were asked to render an opinion about what to do.
It was 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 the car should be made to run as effectively as it did in its heyday as long as it would not be consumed in the process. The cosmetic restoration that we performed was approved.
Sometime after this conference I invited Pete Brock over to examine the car. We had a wonderful time going over the car in detail. 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 greatly, 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 as well as myself. Pete thought that the car should be brought 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.)
At this time 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 incredibly competent historian and restorer. We had an absolutely wonderful working relationship during which time Bob and I detailed what was to be expected from the restoration.
What Pete probably did not recognize, is that to bring the car back to 1964 would require a large number of technical and cosmetic changes such as removal of subsequently added body fitments, removal of subsequently added mechanical changes, a variety of details which essentially require a rebuild of significant proportions, each time incorporating newly acquired material to replace what had been removed or changed in the past.
One of my criteria has always been in the, “as found,” condition, as long as the car was found in a condition reasonably similar to the last time it performed for its intended purpose, in this case, racing. Spector did put some carpeting in it which was easily removed, and he did extend the exhaust pipes out the rear, but the extensions were easily removed by Bob when he did his magnificent rotisserie preservation of the entire car.
Bob has detailed this work with numerous photographs and we agreed essentially on each and every aspect of the restoration that was in question. The result is that we have the car that we wanted. It’s as close as can be to the car that was sold by Shelby in 1966, and to the extent that modification were 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 that 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 that he was able to discover, through his knowledge of Shelby manufacturing principles, parts, supplies, etcetera, are a tribute to his restoration skills and there can be no one in the future, ever, to have more first-hand knowledge of the construction of these cars.
In the recently published World Registry of Cobras and GT40s (4th Edition), editors Rick Kopec and Ken Eber They write,
The first Cobra Daytona Coupe was always something of a mystery ever since it dropped out of sight in the early 1970s. The combination of its being the first Coupe built in the U.S., the first Coupe to win a race, and the now-famous Daytona pit fire (photos of which were splashed everywhere after it happened in February 1964) has established CSX2287 as arguably the most valuable of the six. The fact that it was hidden away for about 30-odd years by a female owner who was, at times, described by a paranoid, a recluse, an eccentric, and a ‘kook’ by Carroll Shelby himself only added to the car’s mystique