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 constructing 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 Healeys to Porsches, Ferraris, Maseratis 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.

Carroll Shelby at 1959 Le Mans
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.

First Shelby Cobra
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 race tracks 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 lay out, 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 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

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By: Djordje Sugaris
Title: In-Depth History of the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé
Sourced From: sportscardigest.com/in-depth-history-of-the-shelby-cobra-daytona-coupe/
Published Date: Sat, 14 Aug 2021 03:17:50 +0000




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