Model history: During much of his active racing career Carroll Shelby raced against Ferrari(s). That did not change when he turned to building his own racing car, the Cobra. This well-honed machine was more than a match for Italy's finest on the tight American tracks, winning the USRRC Championship in 1963. However on the high-speed tracks that hosted the FIA GT World Championship rounds the Shelby Cobra was let down by its poor (brick-like) aerodynamics. The 'FIA specification' Cobras were fitted with special hard-tops but these did not lower the drag sufficiently to keep up with the less powerful Ferraris on the straights. Shelby realized that far more drastic measures were needed and he asked his head of special projects Pete Brock to pen a low drag coupe body.
A former stylist at General Motors, Brock was no stranger to design work but this was quite a challenge. He was not restricted by homologation requirements as the rules allowed for a completely new body as long as the mechanicals were not modified. Amazingly Brock did all the design work by eye and used no aides like a wind-tunnel. The final result was far from conventional combining an elegant round nose with a steeply raked windshield and a 'cut-off' rear end. As had been established by German engineer Wunibald Kamm many years earlier, a cut-off tail offered almost identical drag figures as the much less practical long tail. A wooden body-buck was created over which the new panels for the first Cobra Coupe were formed at California Metal Shaping before being assembled at Shelby American's Venice, California workshop.
British engineer and racing driver Ken Miles was also deeply involved in the development of the Cobra Coupe. He had actually been involved with the Cobra project from the beginning and served as Shelby's official test driver. His work focused around the AC sourced ladder frame chassis and Ford's small-block V8. There was far less room for modifications here and Miles only made subtle changes. Among them was a revised driving position to allow for the very low roofline of Brock's coupe design. He also strengthened the chassis to further improve the handling characteristics. The rolling chassis nevertheless retained many of the elements that were part of the original AC Ace designed over a decade earlier. Benefitting from the latest updates, the Ford V8 engine produced nearly 400 bhp.
The first Cobra Coupe was completed early in 1964 and extensively tested at the nearby Riverside track. The testing revealed that although somewhat unusual, Brock's design worked remarkably well. Miles clocked a 183 mph top speeds, beating the original Cobra Roadster by 20 mph. On February 16th, the prototype Coupe made its racing debut at the Daytona 2000 km race. Piloted by Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert, the Cobra saw a debut victory denied by a pit fire. From then on the car was referred to as the Cobra Daytona Coupe. A month later, during the Sebring 12 Hours, MacDonald and Holbert were more fortunate. They finished an impressive 4th overall and clinched the all important win in the GT class, a full eight laps ahead of the best placed Ferrari. In April, the Cobra Daytona impressed once more by setting the fastest time in the GT class during the official Le Mans tests.
Shelby's Californian shop was already overloaded with work, so he commissioned Carrozzeria Grandsport in Modena, Italy to body the following Daytona Coupes. So Ferrari's biggest challengers in the GT class to date were clothed right in their own backyard. With the prototype Daytona Coupe engaged in racing elsewhere, Grandsport only had the wooden buck to go by. Being very Italian, they made some changes to the design to make it more elegant. Although very subtle the aesthetic modifications to the windshield and roof were quite obvious when the original Daytona Coupe lined up next to the first example to come out of Italy. Amazingly the better looking of the two mechanically identical machines was a whole 11 mph slower on the Mulsanne Straight. In the hands of Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant, it was still quick enough to upset the order and clinch the GT-class win and fourth overall. It was the first time that Ferrari had not won the GT at Le Mans, since it was established in 1959.
The Le Mans winning team took one more class victory in 1964, during the Goodwood Tourist Trophy. Conveniently for Ferrari, the final round of the World Championship, at Monza, was cancelled, giving Shelby American no chance to bridge the gap and the team finished second. By the start of the 1965 season, Grandsport had completed a further four examples, lifting the total production figure of Daytona Coupes to six. In their second year of competition, the Daytonas were strong favourites to win the championship. Even more so because Ferrari had thrown a tantrum over the FIA's refusal to homologate the 250 LM as a GT and subsequently ceased their factory GT efforts. The Cobra Daytonas dominated with wins at Daytona, Sebring, the Nürburgring and Reims. A repeat of the success at Le Mans was prevented by Ferrari, who had managed to homologate a 275 GTB 'ringer' as a GT.
Back in the United States, Shelby American was well under way with the development of a heavily revised, big-block engined version of the Daytona Coupe. The Ford backed project was halted when the team learned that the 1966 World Championship would disputed for prototypes only. After less than two, highly successful, years the Cobra Daytona project came to an end. Shelby and Miles turned their attention to the Ford GT40, resulting in overall wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. Pete Brock continued to design and engineer racing cars and is also a highly accomplished photographer. In addition to the six original Daytona Coupes, two further cars were built in England along the same lines and with consent from Shelby. Today the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe ranks as one of the most desirable racing cars in the world. Recently a Brock and Shelby sanctioned replica has become available that allows us mortals to experience the thrills of driving an American legend.
The first of two chassis ordered from AC in the fall of 1963 specifically for the Coupe project. It was however not completed until the spring of 1965. It was one of no fewer than five Cobra Daytonas to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race that year. Piloted by Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant, it failed to reach the finish due to an engine failure. Grant did set the fastest time in the GT class at 3'48. Chassis CSX2286 was not raced after and returned to the United States. Since then, it has changed hands several times and for a long time was owned by George Stauffer. He published the now legendary book on Cobra Daytonas back in 1996. Today it is part of a formidable collection of historic racing cars. The current owner is shown here in action during the 2007 Monterey Historic Races, and again at the 2012 Monterey Motorsports Reunion where the Cobra's 50th anniversary was celebrated.(Source: Automobile Historique #5)
The original Daytona Coupe, chassis CSX2287 is the only one of the six to feature an American built body. It was raced extensively in 1964 and 1965 with a first in class at Sebring in 1964 as the best result. After its contemporary racing career, it was used by Craig Breedlove to set various land speed and endurance records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. It subsequently disappeared for nearly three decades, not to resurface until 2001. This highly important American racing car was subject of various legal proceedings but is now in the caring hand of a collector. It is now on display for all to see in the Simeone Foundation Museum.(Source: Automobile Historique #5)
Without a doubt the most important of the six Cobra Daytonas, CSX2299 was the second example produced and the first with an Italian body. It scored a debut class win during the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two months later Dan Gurney piloted the car to a GT win at Goodwood. Early in 1965 the Daytona 2000 km and Sebring 12 Hours were also added to the chassis' tally. In recent years it has been in collection of the late Larry H Miller, who generously lent the car to the Shelby American Collection museum for display. He also had it raced at the circuits were it had shone in the past. CSX2299 is seen here at the 2004 Le Mans Classic (Bob Bondurant drove the car on the 40th anniversary of his win) and during the 2007 Goodwood Revival.(Source: Automobile Historique #5)
Completed late in 1964, chassis CSX2300 only raced in the Tour de France that year. It was forced to retire after a gearbox mount failed. During the 1965 season, it was extensively raced by the Shelby team, scoring three third place finishes. At the end of the year, it was sold to Japan were it was raced with little success. In the 1970s none other than Carroll Shelby bought the car back. During the 2000 edition of RM's Monterey Auction, it changed hands for $4 million; twice the low estimate. Today it is owned by a German collector and historic racer. Chassis CSX2300 is seen in action here during the 2012 Goodwood Festival of Speed and the 2008 and 2011 Goodwood Revival meeting. In 2011, it was driven to victory in the coveted TT Celebration Race by Kenny Brack and Tom Kristensen despite a torrential downpour.(Source: Automobile Historique #5)
This is the first of two new cars built for the 1965 season. It was raced a total of nine times that year, scoring class wins at the Nürburgring and at Reims. The victory at Reims secured the World Championship for Shelby. After its racing career, the car prominently featured in the motion picture 'Redline 7000.' 1964 Le Mans class winner Bob Bondurant owned the car for some years. More recently the car was offered at auction and eventually passed into Argentinian hands. It is seen here at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and the 2012 Le Mans Classic.(Source: Automobile Historique #5)
Dispatched to Carrozzeria Grandsport in September of 1964, chassis CSX2602 is the highest numbered Cobra Daytona but not the last one completed. That honor, interestingly, goes to the lowest number example. It made its competition debut at the 1965 Daytona 2000 km race where it finished second in class behind a sister Daytona Coupe. At the Nürburgring, it again completed a double with a second place finish. The final contemporary outing came at Le Mans where it was entered by Scuderia Filipinetti. Unfortunately it retired with engine problems. Today it resides in a Japanese collection.(Source: Automobile Historique #5)
Grew up in England watching F1 and endurance races. This past weekend I had the ultmate pleasure of driving a Daytona Coupe. Not one of the six originals but a continuation model built to the exact 1965 specs. What a car!!!!!!
Daytona Coupe 2601
Allen Grant 04-09-2009
Bob Bondurant and I co-drove Daytona Coupe chassis # 2601 to victory at Monza in 1965.