The True Story Behind The Shelby Cobra 427

Anyone who knows anything about American sports cars and/or the 24 Hours of Le Mans has surely heard of Carroll Shelby before. He was instrumental in getting the US into the motor sports scene, both domestically and overseas. Though that would be far from all that Shelby would accomplish.

Other than winning race after race and attaining several “world champion” titles, Carroll Shelby also built cars, too. When driving became problematic, the next best thing was to make the race cars he loved so dearly. Eventually, that would lead to one of America’s greatest sports car; the Shelby 427 Cobra.

To truly grasp how outstanding the 427 Cobra was (and is), as well as its back story, there’s a ton of history to go through; spanning decades with many dramatic twists and turns, as if from a Hollywood film.

Allow us to take you through the true story behind Carroll Shelby’s 427 Cobra…

From Zero To Hero

The Shelby 427 Cobra’s story starts way before its inception in 1965. In fact, it all starts with Carroll Shelby himself in his early-life. Although Shelby was sheltered as a child (due to a heart condition), he proved to be a skilled driver when given the chance to race.

Shortly afterwards, Shelby garnered a reputation among racers, enthusiasts, and automotive manufacturers worldwide. He was on the up-and-up for many years following his initial debut, yet, his then-current standing would be short-lived. Carroll Shelby’s heart problems made a comeback, at some point ending his racing career in 1960.


However, Shelby wouldn’t let some medical issue get in the way of his passion: cars. As such, he took the next natural step that any sane man in his position would take; challenging (and beating) Ferrari at their own game. Remind you of something?

RELATED: The Real Story Behind The 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona 427 Super Coupe

The Shelby 260 Cobra

Shelby knew that, to compete with the likes of Ferrari, Jaguar, and Austin-Healey, his cars couldn’t be ‘boats.’ Rather, they had to be as lightweight as the others, which would be difficult because of Shelby’s insistence on using an American V8. Instead of building it from the ground-up, Carroll acquired a pre-existing manufacturer’s design from AC Cars.


AC Cars (officially named Auto Carriers Ltd.) was the ideal starting-point for Shelby’s intentions. To be more specific, AC Cars’ “AC Ace”: a two-passenger, tiny, British sports car. The Ace wasn’t perfect by itself, though. Shelby still wanted a big V8 and that small car could barely hold its basic 2.6-liter engine.

Needless to say, the Ace needed modifications. Shelby asked AC Cars for their help and, since the Ace had already been discontinued, they happily accepted his proposal. The next step was getting the engine, which Shelby sure as hell wasn’t going to make on his own. He approached Chevrolet for the opportunity to source him the Cobra’s heart, but they declined. As history has it, Ford stepped up to the plate.


Using a Ford 4.3-liter (260 cu) V8, the first Shelby Cobra rolled out of their garage. The title for the original was the CSX2000, commonly referred to as the 260 Cobra; the first of its kind.

The Final Iteration

A few years later and a couple race loses, Shelby/Cobra caught lightning in a bottle yet again. No, not with the 427 Cobra, but the Shelby Daytona Coupe. The Coupe was Cobra’s problem-solver, for lack of a better term. The problem was Ferrari, and the Daytona was the solution. With its American V8, state of the art aerodynamics, and feather-weight chassis, the Daytona put Shelby back on top.

Though this showed Carroll Shelby something. In reality, the Daytona would have never needed to have been built if the original Cobra was still almost enough, so Shelby went back to the drawing board. The plan was to make a bigger, better, and badder AC Cobra with a new body and a larger engine.

The original Cobra was wide-bodied, given a massive front-grill, another hood-scoop, and swapped with Ford’s massive 428 cubic-inch, 7.0-liter, V8 (although non-production models had different power sources).

To add to that, the new Cobra would have coiled suspension, similar to the coilovers we use today. With all the upgrades and testing completed, Shelby unveiled the sports car that would withstand the test of time: his 427 Cobra.

NEXT: 10 Times GM Made A Sick Sports Car (5 That Just Fell Apart)

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