When Carroll Shelby decided to leave auto racing in 1960 due to a hereditary and life-threatening heart condition– he never looked back. Shelby dominated the racing circuit in the 50s, and wasn’t done yet. Knowing that racing was longer an option, he fixed his squinty gaze at becoming a legend under the hood, as well as behind the wheel. Shelby was going to build his own cars, and made it his personal mission to knock Enzo Ferrari off his high horse– who’s imperious, dictator style flat-out rubbed the tough Texan the wrong way. Ford knew they would also benefit greatly from an alliance with Shelby, as they were regularly getting their clock cleaned on the racetrack, and had no answer for Chevrolet’s Corvette in the showroom wars either. Ford soon became part of the rivalry with Enzo, as two unsuccessful buyout attempts of Ferrari during the 60s dealt a humiliating blow to Henry Ford II, and the only place left to settle it was on the racetrack.
Carroll Shelby is shown below with the three Cobra roadsters that would win the 1963 USRRC Manufacturer’s Championship. Venice, California, 1963.
Carroll Shelby poses with his new 1964 production Cobra and his new Cobra race car-- Venice, California. "It's a massive motor in a tiny, lightweight car." --Shelby explaining in a nutshell, the secret to the Cobra's performance.
The AC Cobra started out as a Ford small block 260 cubic inch V-8 (later 289) wrapped in a tight & light handbuilt British sportscar. It quickly morphed into a beast with a 7.0L 427 aluminum block under the hood, creating an incredible power-to-weight ratio that was just plain sick. Some silly fans actually prefer the earlier, more dainty Cobras-- feeling that the flared bodies, fat tires and aggressive stance of the later 427's comes across visually as too brutish and crass. Well sorry folks, I'm all about the 427 Cobra. An AC Cobra coupe's top speed was clocked at 185 mph on the M1 raceway back in 1964-- an impressive feat for sure, and years before the super-exotics.
Carroll Shelby (left) with Steve McQueen (right) standing behind the AC Cobra Shelby lent to the car nut and racing enthusiast McQueen.
The original Shelby Cobra was far from perfect– lets just say there were issues with stuffing an engine that massive in a chassis so small. So four Santa Monica hot-rodders tore the cars apart and rebuilt them to withstand the strain and demands from the ground up– all under the watchful eye of Shelby in his own workshop. Ford, Shelby and his team of craftsmen succeeded in creating a car that became all at once– the most loved, feared and copied sportscar in all of American auto history.
Steve McQueen behind the wheel of Shelby's AC Cobra.
Shelby looks on as his crack squad of hot-rodders obsess over every detail as one of the first Cobras is prepped at the first Dean Moon Shop-- Santa Fe Springs, California in February of 1962.
First Shelby Cobra being built at Dean Moon's shop in Santa Fe Springs, California.
A fleet of Shelby Cobra coupes being assembled and prepped for racing duty.
"I'm not going to take this defeatist attitude and listen to all this crap any more from all these people who have nothing except doomsday to predict." --Carroll Shelby
"Next year, Ferrari's ass is mine!" --Carroll Shelby after losing to Ferrari in '64, and in '65 it would be just as Shelby predicted. Don't mess with Texas, baby.
Carroll Shelby at the wheel of a new Cobra production car-- Venice, California, 1963. He loved to stick $100 bills to the inside of the windscreen and challenge the potential customer, sitting in the passenger seat, to grab the bill before the Cobra hit 100 mph.