The Shelby Cobra is a legend in the automotive industry. Built between a collaboration of British and American companies, it would go on to have a legacy that inspired the muscle car era of the ’60s and ’70s, the way that race cars were built during those times, and pretty much every small block V8 roadster built since then.
The first Cobra was built in 1962 and denoted with the chassis number CSX2000. Carroll Shelby is the man responsible for putting the car together, by combining the body and chassis of an AC Ace from Britain’s AC Cars, and the small-block V8 engine from the Ford Motor Company. Shelby would obviously go on to have a fruitful and accomplished collaborative history with Ford, more than any other motor company.
In 1962, the CSX2000 was the only Cobra in existence for the first five months after being built. It managed to endure grueling tests to showcase its speed and resilience, even after having multiple breakdowns and failures. But since it endured, the car’s legacy was cemented in automotive history, and now it’s frequently one of the most expensive vintage sports cars sold at auctions.
Even as recently as 2014, Shelby America announced a limited-edition run of 50 original 427 Shelby Cobras to commemorate the car’s 50th anniversary (dubbed the CSX8000). And, of course, they sold like hotcakes. Other companies can also build you “continuation cars,” or replicas, and even those can sell for high prices.
Below, we’ll discuss the story of the first Shelby Cobra in its entirety, from its beginnings in the early ’60s, to its growth as a racing legend, to its record-setting sale on the auction block back in 2016.
Transforming The AC Ace Roadster
In 1961, Carroll Shelby wanted to put a V8 engine into a small two-seater sports car to give it ultimate power. He wrote to AC asking if he could modify one of their AC Ace cars, and they accepted. Shelby then asked Chevy if they would make the V8 engine, but they saw it as competition to the Corvette and declined. Otherwise, we might have seen a Chevrolet Cobra.
Ford, however, wanted a car that could compete with the ‘Vette, and they had a brand new engine to do it: a Windsor 221-cu-in 3.6-liter, lightweight, small-block V8. By January 1962, modified the Ace with the help of AC Cars’ mechanics, and thus the “AC Ace 3.6” prototype, chassis #CSX2000, was born. It was the first Shelby Cobra.
Back in the 1960s, typical Shelby Cobras were sold for $5,995. But Carroll Shelby wisely kept his intact and held onto it all the way until his passing. It belonged to his family until 2016, which we’ll comment on below.
The Genesis Of A Racing Legend
Carroll Shelby was always a racer at heart. He studied European GT racing for years, and had a brief but brilliant racing career, in which he won the 1959 24 Hours of LeMans behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. He retired due to a health issue, but his legacy was only beginning. Just 10 years after he first started racing, he built the first Cobra.
The CSX2000 was built on a very small budget, and test runs showed it had a 4.2-second 0-60 mph time and a top speed of 153 mph. Shelby didn’t stop there. He had his sights set on the FIA World Manufacturers Championship, and the next early Cobras were all designed as race cars, with roll bars, racing windshields, competition belts, quick jack pickups, cooling scoops, safety wired fasteners, and armored hoses.
The new Cobra outpaced the Corvette Stingrays. In 1963, Cobras finished 1St and 2nd at the SCCA Divisional race in Riverside, CA. Then six cars raced at 12 Hours of Sebring, then 24 Hours of LeMans. An AC Cars/Stirling Moss-managed Cobra found victory in the 4-5 liter class at LeMans, which convinced Shelby to make more Cobras with rack-and-pinion steering. In 1964, a more aerodynamic coupe called the Cobra Daytona Coupe managed to outclass Ferrari and win the GT class at LeMans.
Between 1962 to 1965, 654 small-block Cobras were built—579 with 289-CID powered cars, and 75 earlier models with 260-CID powerplants.
At the age of 37, and with little money to his name, Carroll Shelby created the CSX2000. Within five years, he had a World Championship title to his name, as well as a company that employed more than 500 people.
Record-Setting Auction Sell ($13.75 million in 2016)
In 2016, the first ever Shelby Cobra, CSX2000, set an all-time auction record at an RM Sotheby’s auction for an American car, selling for $13.75 million including auction fees. The “most expensive American car ever sold at auction” record would be broken in 2018 by the 1935 Duesenberg SSJ ($22 million), but it’s clear that these cars are seriously sought after by collectors.
The car that held the record before the Cobra took over was a 1968 Ford GT40, which sold for $11 million plus fees in 2011. The GT40 is another Carroll Shelby-managed operation, which just shows how important and revolutionary the relationship between Ford and Shelby truly what.
References: autotrader.com, conceptcarz.com, bestcarmag.com
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