CARROLL SHELBY GOES MID-ENGINE | THE COOPER “KING COBRA” YEARS

Although Carroll Shelby’s Cobra was handily beating all comers in SCCA A/Production competition, he knew that it was not equipped to matchup with the advanced, lightweight mid-engined race cars that were set to dominate in the new upcoming ’63 Fall Series.  With little time, his answer was to try and repeat history by bolting proven American horsepower into a willing and able European mid-engined sportscar.

So he headed off to Europe and came back with two engine-less Cooper Monacos– and set out to retrofit the very capable racers with his signature formula of good ol’ fashioned Texas testosterone.  His crew had just one month, a welder, and a pile of old Cobra parts to turn the Coopers into Shelby’s new lean & mean King Cobra. Get ‘er done.

There are two stories here, intertwined.  There’s the story of Shelby and his attempt to dominate racing through sheer power and will with the King Cobra— and the story of his driver, Dave MacDonald, who through his love of the sport became a legend, and how his fate was forever changed when he made the difficult decision to leave Shelby and race for Mickey Thompson and Chevy at the ’64 Indy 500.

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Carroll Shelby (left in his signature striped coveralls) and Phil Hill at the 12 Hours of Sebring, 1963. Shelby entered four Cobras, driven by Dan Gurney and Phil Hill, two of which have new rack-and-pinion steering.  Hill succeeds in setting the fastest GT lap, but Shelby-American ultimately came up short, and Ferrari took the win.

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JACKIE STEWART | THE FLYING SCOT’S OLD SCHOOL FORMULA ONE STYLE

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1971, Montjuich, Spain — Chris Amon, driving for Matra, and Jackie Stewart, driving for Tyrrell-Ford, celebrate their 3rd and 1st place finishes at the 1971 Spanish Grand Prix. — Image by © Schlegelmilch/ Corbis

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

When I am having a rough one at work, I sit back in my chair, sigh deeply, close my eyes and pretend I am in swinging London in the Sixties, driving on the Formula One circuit, beautiful women and a magnum of Dom waiting for me in the winner’s circle, and I am always driving the Tyrrell 03 Cosworth Elf Car like my idol Sir John Young Stewart, otherwise known as Jackie.

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1971, Zeltweg, Austria — Jo Siffert in the BRM (No. 14), pole position, took the lead at the start of the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix. Beside him Jackie Stewart in the Tyrrell Ford-Cosworth. Behind them Francois Cevert in the 2nd Tyrrell and Clay Regazzoni in the Ferrari. — Image by © Schlegelmilch/Corbis

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“LITTLE BASTARD” | THE SILVER SPYDER THAT DROVE JAMES DEAN TO HIS GRAVE

James Deans "Little Bastard" Silver Porsche Spyder

James Deans “Little Bastard” Silver Porsche 550 Spyder. This shot was taken just hours before Jimmy’s tragic death.

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James Dean’s love for speed, racing and “living on the edge” are all well documented in many books, documentaries and bios– so I won’t belabor the point here.  Check out the video after the jump for a “James Dean legend” primer.  What is fascinating is the tremendous staying power, cult status and curse stories that surround not just James Dean, but also the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder that he tragically lost his life in.  The Porsche 550 Spyder is now forever linked with James Dean– it’s nearly impossible to recount one icon without the other.

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ames Dean and his 1955 Silver Porsche Spyder-- "Little Bastard"

James Dean and his 1955 Silver Porsche 550 Spyder– “Little Bastard”

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The 1957 Indianapolis 500 | A Sideways Step into the Unknown of Auto Racing History

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Pit action at the 1957 Indianapolis 500– the Belond Exhaust racecar represented a new dawn in auto racing engine design.

After 12 years of chasing victory at the Indianapolis 500, Sam Hanks finally realized his elusive dream in a screamin’ roadster sporting a near horizontal engine designed by George Salih, chief mechanic on the winning #99 Belanger car of 1951. The world was introduced to the “lay-down” style with this history-making roadster chassis design– fitted with an Offenhauser engine that was tilted 72-degrees to the right, giving the racer a very low profile of just 21 inches off the ground. Advantages of this design were a lower center of gravity, a reduced frontal area, and improved counter-balance in the turns.

Salih found no financial backers for the revolutionary design, so he went it alone and built the innovative engine at his California home. Sandy Belond (legendary for his line of performance exhaust systems) was the racing sponsor, and now all that was needed was the perfect driver– 42 year old veteran Sam Hanks, the legendary driver who’d come very close to winning the Indy 500 several times joined-on to take a shot at history. As it turns out, this would be Hanks’ last chance to leave his mark in history. The vintage video is rich with amazing sights, sounds, and insider detail that make you feel like you were there– definitely not to be missed.

Sam Hanks at work behind the wheel of the horizontally mounted engine roadster in 1957's Indy 500.

Sam Hanks at work behind the wheel of the horizontally mounted engine roadster in 1957’s Indy 500.

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1950 – 1959 THE SANTA ANA DRAG STRIP DAYS | THEY DID IT FOR LOVE

Santa Ana Drag Strip

Just business as usual at the Santa Ana Drag Strip. Hambone waves the flag and the drag racers who usually had a rolling start to save their rear-ends from tearing apart would start screaming down the track. C.J. “Pappy” Hart’s perch is visible on about midway down on the right– below that was an old hearse that the track management used to store equipment and supplies. The cost for a run at the strip– 50 cents. The experience– priceless.

Give credit to the legendary C.J. “Pappy” Hart for organizing the world’s first commercial drag strip at what is now the John Wayne Airport– The Santa Ana Drags.  He did out of love for the sport and to give his fellow enthusiasts a safe, fun and legal place to enjoy their sport. From We Did it For Love–

“C.J. Hart, who along with Creighton Hunter established the Santa Ana Drag Strip on an unused runway at the Orange County Airport, and held races Sundays from 1950 to 1959, was known to legions of drag racing fans as the one of the grand old men of the sport. In his later years, Hart was a member of the NHRA Safety Safari, traveling the country and greeting well wishers at every stop.  Hunter sold his interest in the strip to Hart in the first month of operation, and Hart, who owned a gas station in Santa Ana at the time, went on to run the strip with his wife, Peggy, who competed – and won – regularly at the track in her ’33 Willy’s coupe. Peggy Hart died in 1980.”

CJ PAPPY HART ORANGE COUNTY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY

There’s been drag racing since cars were invented,” Hart said in a 2001 interview in National DRAGSTER, “but I guess they say I invented drag racing because I was the first one to have a commercial strip. There was one in [Goleta, Calif.], but they charged no fee at the time. I saw a need to get people to stop racing on the streets; that was dangerous.

The fee to race or watch was 50 cents, and Hart decided on a quarter-mile length adapted from thoroughbred racing. In addition to installing an electronic timing system (cobbled together from an old Victrola), Hart’s track also created some of the sport’s earliest rules, regulating axle ratios as well as year, make, and displacements of engines, and safety regulations such as roll bars.”

The NHRA Drag Racing Meet at Santa Ana, California.

The NHRA Drag Racing Meet at Santa Ana, California, ca. 1950s.

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THE SNAKE & THE STALLION | HOW SHELBY KICKED FERRARI’S ASS

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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. 

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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.

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carroll shelby cobra

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.

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shelby cobra amco sports car graphic

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.

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carroll shelby cobra vintage

Carroll 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.

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vintage carroll shelby cobra

First Shelby Cobra being built at Dean Moon’s shop in Santa Fe Springs, California.

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carroll shelby cobra

A fleet of Shelby Cobra coupes being assembled and prepped.

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“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

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"Next year, Ferrari's ass is mine!"  --Carroll Shelby after losing to Ferrari in '64. In '65 it would be as Shelby predicted.

“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.

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Carroll Shelby liked 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.

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.