Without a shadow of a doubt, Carroll Shelby is the greatest American racing car constructor of the 20th century and the story of his road to 1966 Le Mans victory was recently turned into an A-List blockbuster, Ford v Ferrari.
But, before the GT40, there was the Shelby Cobra Daytona, a true subject of the Shelby vs Ferrari war. The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé was a result of incredible talent, dedication, experience, and a tiny bit of luck. Its story is a complex real-life parable of triumph against a formidable, then-undefeated adversary.
Before Carroll Shelby turned to construct his own sports cars, he was an accomplished racer himself. Over the course of his short career, Shelby raced both in the Americas and in Europe in various cars, from MGs and Austin Healey’s to Porsches, Ferraris, Maserati’s, and Aston Martins.
Bravely piloting some of the greatest racing machinery of the 1950s, Shelby competed in Grand Prix, endurance, and road course racing,
and the crown of his career came in 1959 when Shelby and Roy Salvadori triumphed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in an Aston Martin DBR1.
Photo Credit: Hagerty on Twitter
Soon after, Shelby’s racing career was cut short due to a heart condition, so the American turned to sports car construction and founded Shelby American Inc. in Venice, California. In 1961 Carroll Shelby famously contacted British marque AC to provide him with a V8-powered variant of the Ace roadster. The Thames Ditton, Surrey-based company agreed and in sourcing the engine, Shelby first went to Chevrolet.
Chevrolet heads refused the proposal as they saw the car as a competition to the upcoming second-generation Corvette, so Shelby went to Ford. There, the car was also seen as the new Corvette’s competitor, so the heads gladly accepted the proposal.
Photo Credit: RM Sotheby’s
Soon, the modified AC was tested with a 3.6-liter Windsor 221 V8 and introduced in 1962 as Shelby Cobra Mk1, powered by a 260 or 289 small block V8. The Cobra debuted simultaneously with the C2 Corvette, and it soon proved to be quite a capable race car, outpacing the Stingrays throughout the American racetracks in SCCA Sports Racing Class and the U.S. Road Racing Championship.
In 1963, Shelby American Inc. entered the more demanding SCCA Can-Am series in a modified Cooper Type 61M fitted with a 4.7-liter Ford 289 V8. This Anglo-American mid-engine race car was modestly referred to as Cooper Ford until a Car and Driver journalist Steve Smith came up with King Cobra, a more fitting name for such a fantastic car. This showed Ford that Carroll Shelby and his team in Venice are the right people for the Ferrari-beating prototype race car.
Encouraged by the success of both the Cobra Roadster and the King Cobra, Carroll Shelby wanted a larger bite of racing glory, deciding to go against Enzo Ferrari, the undisputed king of GT racing. For Shelby, going after The Old Man was a matter of personal vendetta as he believed that Ferrari treated his drivers badly among other things. Moreover, as a proud American, Shelby also wasn’t fond of the fact that Enzo snubbed Henry Ford II and his buyout proposal.
Development of the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe
The biggest hurdle Shelby American Inc. faced was time. The 1964 season was starting in February and the development began in late 1963, meaning that the team had around four months to layout, test, build and perfect the Ferrari GTO beater.
Moreover, Ford already committed to beating Ferrari in prototype class at the Le Mans, meaning that Shelby couldn’t count on factory support from the Blue Oval.
But, while it lacked the time and big-time financing to speed up the development, Shelby American Inc. really had everything else: all employees had trackside experience and near-endless enthusiasm.
The Ferrari-beating team comprised Carroll Shelby himself, experienced British racer Ken Miles, engineer Bob Negstad, Phil Remington, Dave MacDonald, John Collins, John Ohlsen, and Peter Brock.
Brock was a young and incredibly talented Art Center School of Design who became Shelby’s first employee after leaving Chevrolet where he was included in designing the Corvette C2. Aged just 27 in 1963, Peter Brock already had a phenomenal career, and his background and experience had an immeasurable impact on this project.
Photo Credit: MyCarQuest
The main issue of the Cobra roadster was in its aerodynamic properties, as the car had troubles with stability on long straights. While that didn’t pose a problem on short American tracks, Cobra was losing valuable seconds in long sections on European soil where modestly powered, but lighter and aerodynamically efficient cars had the upper hand. Some rudimentary hardtop designs didn’t work out, so a ground-up redesign was much needed for the Cobra to be on par with Ferrari.
The 1960s were still dark ages when it came to aerodynamics and Peter Brock greatly relied on Dr. Wunibald Kamm’s studies he dug up in GM’s archives while still young. Kamm was a famed pre-war German engineer, a pioneer in many fields who challenged the idea of teardrop shapes being the most aerodynamically efficient ones.
In his sketchbooks, Brock came up with the design of a flattened and lowered hood continuing into a compact cabin and ending with a Kamm-tail.
The design instantly faced opposition from Phil Remington who believed that this unusual design based on 30-year-old theory couldn’t work in real life. Fortunately, Brock had both Ken Miles and John Ohlsen on his side and Shelby trusted the young designer and just wanted the car to work no matter the looks.
Photo Credit: Rare Car Network
Brock, Miles, and Ohlsen soon created a wooden buck on Skip Hudson’s crashed Cobra CSX2014 and sent the rolling model to Cal Metal Shaping to hand build the car out of aluminum. During the early development process, Miles and Brock repositioned the engine, the steering rack, and the seat for better weight distribution and designed an all-new windshield.
The body of the first Cobra Daytona was hand-built in aluminum according to Brock’s design and under his close supervision in California. Other five cars were shipped across the Atlantic to Modena where Carrozzeria Gransport was commissioned to build the bodies and complete the final assembly.
CSX2287: The first Daytona
In the meantime, Carroll Shelby acquired funding from Goodyear and was able to buy two chassis from AC, numbered CSX2286 and CSX2287. The chassis number CSX2287 was the first completed Daytona Coupé, also the first car completely built in the United States.
Ken Miles soon tested the CSX2287, recording incredible results in Riverside. Thanks to Brock’s design, the aerodynamic Daytona was faster than the King Cobra by 3.5 seconds, a huge margin on a relatively short track.
At first, Ken Miles was in disbelief about the 183 MPH top speed at the straight, but after opening the differential and counting the gears, everyone on the team was certain that they had built a winner.
Two weeks after testing, the CXS2287 had its debut at the Daytona International Speedway. The 1964 Daytona Continental 2000km started great for drivers Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert. Driven by MacDonald, the Cobra set a new track record and topped the results during practice and even though the car wasn’t considered fully ready, the team was positive about the outcome of the race.
Yet, during a pit stop on lap 209, the car caught fire, crushing all hopes for a triumphant debut. Still, the CSX2287 could be repaired and fine-tuned for the upcoming 1964 12hrs of Sebring event. There, Daytona recorded its first-class victory and 4th overall, behind Ferrari prototypes, but in front of N.A.R.T. Ferrari 250 GTO.
Besides MacDonald and Holbert the first Daytona was driven by Jo Schlesser, Phil Hill Jochen Neerpasch, Chris Amon, André Simon, Maurice Dupeyron, Innes Ireland, Bob Johnson, and Tom Payne. In its illustrious racing history, it was driven at 1964 Le Mans, where it was disqualified, but it also set 25 different speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, courtesy of Craig Breedlove.
Photo Credit: Rare Car Network
In 1966, Carroll Shelby sold the car to Jim Russell of Russkit slot car fame, who later sold it to Phil Spector. The Cobra miraculously survived Spector’s reckless driving yet was lost until 2001 when it was found in a barn of Donna O’Hara. O’Hara herself inherited the car from her father George Band, Phil Spector’s bodyguard who allegedly bought the car for $1,000 in the 1970s.
There’s where the story got a darker turn. For years, O’Hara had been turning down offers from numerous buyers, allegedly even Shelby himself, finally settling down to sell a car to Dr. Frederick A. Simeone. Before the deal got through, O’Hara ended her own life, triggering a lengthy legal battle for ownership.
Photo Credit: Hagerty
Finally, O’Hara’s mother sold the car to Dr. Simeone who put it on display in Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum is partially restored, mostly in original condition.
Chassis CSX2286: The ‘Secret Weapon’
Carroll Shelby had an even more ambitious plan for the CSX2286 chassis as he originally intended to race it on the Le Mans.
With the intention to install the all-aluminum 427 V8 Ohlsen, Miles and Brock lengthened the chassis by three inches and Shelby requested the powerhouse from Ford. The engine was seen as a more powerful, more lightweight solution that could propel the Shelby Daytona to speeds of over 200 MPH, a speed to challenge the Ferraris from prototype class.
Instead, Ford refused to construct such an engine and Shelby got a 390 V8 which Ohlsen installed in Italy. Facing the fact that the car won’t be assembled in time to compete at the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, Shelby covered up the fact that the car was incomplete by saying the car suffered an accident while en route to France.
Ultimately, Shelby got to Le Mans in a regular small-block CSX2299 Daytona Coupé, winning fourth overall and beating Ferrari. During the remainder of the season, Shelby had high hopes for the CSX2286, believing that Ford would eventually deliver all necessary parts for the car to compete in Monza, the last race of the season, but that didn’t happen because Ford saw the upgraded Daytona as a competitor to its flawed GT40.
The unfinished car was returned to the States for the team to convert it to 289 V8 regular wheelbase configuration. Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant actually raced this car at the Le Mans in 1965, but it failed to finish due to clutch issues.
The Secret Weapon Daytona now resides in Walmart heir Rob Walton’s private collection and is campaigned in vintage racing, famously crashing in 2012 at Laguna Seca.
Chassis CSX2299: The Le Mans Winner
Since the CSX2286 Daytona Coupé wasn’t complete for the 1964 Le Mans, Shelby entered the race with the CSX2299. John Ohlsen managed the team as the crew chief and the CSX2286 was driven to victory by Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney.
Photo Credit: Flickr
The car finished the 24-hour race fourth overall, beating Ferrari in GT class in the most famous race in the world. Marking the stellar success, this car had Dan Gurney for President stickers at the next event in Remis.
The car competed throughout the 1965 season, winning in its class again at the 24 Hours of Le Mans thanks to an Anglo-American duo of Jack Sears and Dick Thompson as the only Cobra which finished the race.
It was the last one sold by Shelby in 1966 and was owned by Larry H. Miller (Larry H. Miller Group upon Miller’s passing), and it sits at the Miller Motorsports Park Museum in Tooele, Utah.
Chassis CSX2300: Carroll Shelby’s Daytona
The Daytona Carroll kept for himself raced only once in 1964, at Tour de France. There, it was driven by Bob Bondurant and Jochen Neerpasch. As Enzo Ferrari urged FIA not to make the 1964 Coppa Inter-Europa event at Monza count for the championship, Ferrari was in the lead in the 1964 GT championship and the Tour de France was the decisive round for the championship.
The Cobra fought well, picking up pace in the opening rounds, but then faced problems during the second day of the race and ultimately had to quit during Day 3 of the race. As a result, Ferrari finished the season with 84.6 points over Shelby’s 78.3.
The CSX2300 was one of four Daytonas that raced throughout the 1965 World Sportscar Championship. At the 1965 1000km of Nürburgring, the car was raced by Ford of France, with André Simon and Jo Schlesser sitting in its cockpit. For the occasion, the Cobra was painted white with a French tricolor flag running through the middle.
This Cobra’s final run was at Reims 12 Hours where it finished second in its class and ninth overall, driven by Jack Sears and John Whitmore for Alan Mann Racing.
Photo Credit: Endurance-Info
After its competing years, the CSX2300 Daytona was sold to Japan, only to be bought back by Shelby for his personal collection. In 2000, it was sold by RM Auctions for $4.4 million and it now resides in Germany.
Chassis CSX2601: The Championship Car
The CSX2601 Daytona was one of two cars built for the 1965 season, where it entered a total of eight races. Piloted by Bob Bondurant and Jochen Neerpasch, it scored an important class victory in GT class at Nurburgring 1000 km followed by a championship-decisive triumph at 1965 Reims 12 Hours with Bob Bondurant and Jo Schlesser.
Apart from clinching the championship title for Shelby, this car famously featured in a 1965 racing flick Red Line 7000 and was owned by Bob Bondurant until 1969. The car changed hands a few times and when it sold for $7.25 million at the Mecum’s Monterey Auction in 2009, this Daytona Coupé set the record for the most expensive American car ever sold at auction. The buyers were members of the wealthy Argentinian Perez Companc family.
Chassis CSX2602: The Filipinetti Daytona
The last Cobra Daytona entered five events and is perhaps the most famous for being loaned to Scuderia Filipinetti for the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driven by Peter Sutcliffe and Peter Harper, the CSX2602 sadly did not finish the race.
Still, the CSX2602 Daytona scored valuable points throughout the season, thus helping Shelby beat Ferrari for the championship title. After its racing career, the car was sold to Japan.
1966: The Aftermath
After the 1965 season, Shelby didn’t have the time to gloat, being torn between his own personal ambition embodied in the Daytona and the GT40. Ken Miles and Peter Brock personally believed that the Daytona could have, and most importantly, should have been the overall winner, but Shelby American Inc. steered towards redeveloping the GT40.
With that in mind, Shelby didn’t want the Daytonas sitting on his lot, selling them all in 1966. Daytona’s reign was over, with that famous ‘what if?’ question lingering on.
Now, what was the technology (or even lack thereof) that made Daytona a natural-born winner? Let’s now dig into its spec sheets and see what it was made of.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé Chassis
Despite building an aerodynamically advanced car with completely new bodywork, Shelby American Inc. was forced to stick to the AC Ace chassis for two reasons: time and money. Engineering and building a new tubular frame would have been too costly, especially in such a short time span, so the team had to work with an AC-sourced foundation.
Photo Credit: Dave Macdonald
Shelby and his team built the Daytona Coupé on a round tubular steel spaceframe chassis sourced from AC. The underside of the car remained the same with an unchanged track, whereas some alterations had to be made to support the fixed roof structure.
As the final result, the chassis of the Daytona Coupé was stiffer than the roadsters’ and it could handle sharp turning at higher speeds.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé Body and Interior
The young Peter Brock was an instrumental figure in completely remodeling the Shelby Cobra into the Daytona Coupé. The key to its success was in aerodynamics, a feature of utmost importance to maintain stability at long straights like the Le Mans’ Mulsanne where the 250 GTO had the upper hand exactly due to its long hood and teardrop shape.
Even at first glance, it is evident that this car had very little to do with the handsome AC roadster. First of all, it was a fastback coupé with a concave Kamm tail, and then it had a noticeably elongated front end compared to the topless Cobra. Thanks to light construction and body, the car weighed 2300 lb.
For the most part, the cars were painted in Guardsman Blue, Shelby American’s official color, with trademark white stripes.
Photo Credit: Mecum Auctions
As expected of a 1960s race car, the interior of the Cobra was spartan, with a cluster of gauges laid out o a flat panel, a cluster of marked toggle switches in the central section of the dashboard, a three-spoke steering wheel, and a pair of two simple bucket seats.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé Engine and Transmission
Due to all complications in the development process, Carroll Shelby kept the 289 under the Daytona’s re-sculpted hood. In full-race trim, this 4.7-liter V8 was fed fuel via four Weber 48 IDM carburetors, producing around 400 horsepower and 340 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM.
Photo Credit: Mecum Auctions
The modified 90° 289 V8 was mated to a heavy-duty Borg-Warner T-10M 4-speed manual transmission sending the power to rear wheels via a limited-slip differential. The transmission unit was geared up to get to 185 MPH, the magic number needed to outpace the Ferraris at long straights.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé Suspension and Steering
The Cobra Daytona inherited the suspension and steering solutions from the roadster, but it’s worth noting that Shelby American Inc. updated these two systems when redesigning the AC Ace into the Cobra.
Compared to other adversaries, the Daytona was rather low-tech even with altered suspension. The mechanical grip heavily relied on leaf spring suspension, but it did the job well.
The steering was rack and pinion instead of AC’s steering box.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé Brakes, Wheels, and Tires
For stopping power, the Daytona had four steel discs with dual-piston calipers. On the original AC Ace, the brakes were inbound, but Shelby’s team moved it outwards for the Cobra roadster and Shelby Daytona respectively. This feat allowed better access to the brakes during pit stops where quickness was paramount.
The Cobra Daytona raced on light 18-inch alloy wheels with knock-off hubs. The wheels were designed specifically to extract hot air from the disc brakes and were wrapped in beefy Goodyear rubber.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé Racing and Legacy
In the 1964 World Sportscar Season, Cobras and 250 GTOs fought hard in the GT class and Shelby was close to snatching the championship victory. As mentioned above, the season ended on a controversial note, which gave Shelby an additional push to top Enzo in 1965.
Thanks to consistent performance, Shelby eventually achieved his personal ambition despite numerous hurdles Shelby American Inc. faced in the process.
Photo Credit: Mecum Auctions
In most events, Daytona’s were campaigned by Alan Mann Racing, Ford’s European factory outlet.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé stands among the greatest American race cars of all time. When you think about it, the Daytona was built in less than four months on a shoestring budget by a small team of die-hard enthusiasts and a book of pre-war aerodynamic studies, which makes it ‘the stuff of legends.