Model history: Along with works driver and development engineer Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby looked at ways to further improve the performance of the Cobra racing car ahead of the 1965 season. In good American tradition, although Miles was actually British, the two found that shoe-horning an even bigger engine into the AC-supplied chassis to be best solution. This was, however, such a substantial change that for homologation purposes 100 examples had to be produced. Shelby had had no problems selling his Cobras before, so he believed this to be a relatively minor issue.
Miles and Shelby had set their sights on a very special '390' Ford V8 that was being developed for NASCAR. Cast from aluminium, it was exceptionally light but considerably more powerful than the small-block V8 previously used. One was used in an experimental Cobra developed and raced very successfully by Miles. Unfortunately, these high performance engines were in short supply and Ford's NASCAR teams objected to sharing them with the Cobra program. This forced Shelby and Miles to compromise and settle for the more readily available and far less exotic '427' big-block V8.
Displacing just under seven litres, it was heavier and bigger than the existing Cobra engines. The weight was kept down by using thin-wall casting but nevertheless substantial changes to the chassis were required to improve the handling characteristics. The single biggest improvement was the uprated suspension, which now used coil springs on all four corners instead of the transverse semi-elliptic leaf springs of the original design. With the help of Ford's sophisticated computers, the chassis design was revised, growing both in width and length to cope with the size and power of the engine.
The revised designs and an order for 100 chassis were sent to AC in England where the chassis were constructed. Unknown to Shelby, the design was further compromised when AC got a great deal on the original length tubing. So the short wheelbase was retained while the width was increased. Wider wheels and tyres were also fitted to cope with the additional power. These required a restyled body with sizeable, flared fenders. Fitted with the body, which was finished in primer, the rolling chassis were airlifted from England to Shelby's facility in Venice, California for completion.
By the time the FIA inspectors arrived at Shelby American, early in 1965, only 51 examples had been produced and homologation for the GT class was refused. At that time 16 had already been shipped to customers in full racing trim but the rest were instantly made unsaleable. In June, the FIA announced a new 'Competition GT' class for which the production minimum was conveniently set at 50 examples. Although this seemed perfect for Shelby, it wasn't as eligible for the same class was the Ford GT40. This program had priority, and to prevent any embarrassing situations, Shelby promised Ford, he would not campaign the new 427 Cobra.
Even though the big-block had been homologated, only two additional racing cars were sold as many of Shelby's customers switched from GT to sports car racing. Only raced by privateers, the Cobra 427 was nevertheless very successful. One of the best results was a rare outright win against prototypes for an open Cobra, at Brands Hatch in 1966. The 30-odd competition cars that had already been completed lingered on Shelby's lot until it was decided to sell them for use on the street. Equipped with only the bare necessities, these were known as the Semi Competition or S/C and marketed as the fastest road car in the world.
In addition to the Competition and S/C variants, Shelby eventually also constructed a run of over 200, slightly more docile Cobra 427 road cars. So his early intuition had proven correct but he had just had too little time to get the cars ready in time for homologation. Production ceased in 1967, and the 427 remains as the final iteration of the original Cobra. Thanks to its heavy engine and short chassis the big-block Cobra's handing does not have the best of reputation, although its slightly lazier engine does reputedly make it easier to drive than the high strung 289 Cobra. We can only imagine what a phenomenal machine it could have been had the 390 V8 been available and the proper length tubing been used.
Chassis CSX3002 was the very first 427 Cobra shipped to the United States. Upon completion, it served as the development chassis. Still pending homologation, it was campaigned by the works team in the USRRC series as a prototype. Even though it was piloted by the likes of Ken Miles, Bob Bondurant and Phil Hill, it was not a real match for the purpose-built sports racer. Following its brief racing career, it starred on the official Shelby calendar and in Ford Total Performance ads.
The only 427 Cobra raced by the works team next served as the camera vehicle for the MGM motion picture Spinout, which starred Elvis Presley as a Cobra racing driver. Following its retirement from active duty, it was sold off and passed through various hands until it was acquired by Cobra-expert Geoff Howard in the 1980s. He meticulously restored the car and it was subsequently raced in historic events. From the late 1990s, it was loaned to the fabulous Shelby American Collection museum in Boulder, Colorado until it was acquired by the current owner.
One of the first Cobra 427s, this example was bought new by privateer racer William G. Freeman, who used the car only twice before moving to France. He tried to sell the car in vain and in the end brought it with him. Late in 1965, it was sold to an Air Force Captain, who was stationed in France. In the Spring of 1966, the Cobra passed into the stable of the Chequered Flag racing team in London England. They converted the car to right hand drive and re-painted it Wimbledon white with a black engine cover.
In this guise, chassis CSX3006 was extensively raced all around the British isles. The highlight of its racing career came at the Ilford 500 at Brands Hatch in May of 1966. Piloted by Bob Bondurant and David Piper, and in torrential conditions, the menacing Cobra took the outright win ahead of a flock of GT40s and E-Types. Following its contemporary racing career, it stayed in England for another decade before returning home to the United States.
While in America, the car was returned to left hand drive and painted in the Shelby team colours of guardsman blue with two white stripes. In the early 2000s, Brands Hatch winning Cobra was subjected to a ground-up restoration. The owner decided to return the car to its 1966 condition, so the steering wheel was moved once more and the white with black livery was re-applied. It has since passed into the hands of the current, fittingly British owner.
This Cobra 427 was successfully campaigned in the 1966 by the Ford of Canada works driver George Eaton. Despite being only twenty years old he coped with the 550 bhp remarkably well, winning his class in all eighteen regional and national races he competed in. In a 6 Hours race at Mosport he even beat his team's Ford GT40. It has since survived virtually undamaged with the original and body still fitted. Painted in familiar Cobra colours, the very rare 427 Cobra is seen in action here at the 2006 Monterey Historic Races.