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.
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.
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.