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The Petrolhead Corner

Carroll Shelby and a Pristine Shelby 289 Cobra Up for Auction

The tale of an American motoring legend.

| By Robin Nooy | 4 min read |

Collecting cars and collecting watches are somehow comparable. It sometimes needs deep pockets and relies on extremely rare opportunities to acquire some of the most coveted, emblematic pieces ever made. Next to that, it depends on the heritage of the item, the condition and, of course, scarcity! A one-off Ferrari or Bugatti, for instance, is sure to fetch millions! Next month, at Mecum’s Indy 2020 Auction a rare American bird will be auctioned: a pristine, fully restored 1965 Shelby 289 Cobra Roadster.

The Cobra is quite simply an iconic car. The man behind it, Carroll Shelby, might be as iconic a car builder with an automotive résumé that includes the Cobra, Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ford GT40’s and various Mustangs. Born in Texas, Shelby was enlisted in the Second World War doing development and test-work for various military aircraft. Following the war, he started his entrepreneurial career with a dump-truck business and more famously a poultry-farm, before starting as a car builder.

Alongside his businesses, he was a keen amateur racing driver crowned with his 1959 win of the Le Mans 24 Hours in a factory-run Aston Martin DBR1/300. His career includes races like the Carrera Panamericana, the Monza 1000 kilometres, the Sebring 12 hours, the Nürburgring 1000 kilometres and multiple Grands Prix. During his years as a driver, he raced a wide range of cars, including a Maserati 250F and 450S, a Ferrari 375 and the Aston Martin DBR1 and DBR3. His entire life is well documented in this article. 

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The first-ever Shelby Cobra, the CSX 2000 with 260 cubic inches engine. Still very close visually to an AC Ace.

Having to retire from racing due to his health condition, Carroll Shelby started building his own cars based on the British AC Ace chassis but equipped with small-blocks V8 from Ford. The first car, known as the Carroll Shelby Experimental or CSX2000, was built in 1962 and in the first year of production 75 units were produced and sold, growing to over a hundred cars a year later. Engine size gradually increased from 260 cubic inches (4.2 litres), 289 cubic inches (4.7 litres) to a whopping 427 cubic inches (7 litres) in the Shelby 427 Cobra prototype built in 1965. This 427 iteration of the Cobra is how most people know the car nowadays. Where the 260 and 289 versions were sleek, elegant machines still very much resembling the original British-built, BMW-powered AC Ace, the 427 Cobra featured a more bulging and curvaceous body to accommodate the huge V8 and much bigger tyres. 

Bigger, wilder and far more muscular, the 427 is how most people envision a Shelby Cobra.

Gathering fame with his Cobras, both on the road and on track, Carroll Shelby was approached by Ford Motor Company to further develop a car for their Le Mans programme after the failure to buy Ferrari in 1963. These events are documented in the 2019 movie Le Mans ’66, which leads up to Ford’s maiden win with the GT40 in 1966. A must-see movie for petrol heads with lots of iconic period cars and depicting one of the greatest ever stories in racing history. And of course, the Cobra has a prominent role in it.

The Shelby Cobra 260 CSX 2000, in the condition it was sold in 2016 and reached almost US14 million.

The original Shelby Cobra CSX2000, the first of its kind, was auctioned in 2016 for close to US 14 million, a record at the time as the most expensive American car ever to be sold at an auction. This is for sure an unattainable car, but there is an alternative coming up for auction soon. At the Mecum Indy 2020 auction from the 10th to the 18th of July, a pristine Shelby 289 Cobra will be auctioned. It is one of the stars of the auction expected to fetch a hammer-price of well into the seven-figures. The Shelby 289 Cobra chassis CSX2195 that will be auctioned was built in 1963, with a 289 cubic inch (4.7 litres) V8 in the front. It is one of only 580 built over a three-year period, so quite a rare opportunity. 

The car is even rarer due to the history of it. This Cobra served as a Ford promotional vehicle in 1963 and 1964 before being sold to someone who painted it gold (really) and drag-raced it, running an all-female crew. After two years it was sold again, with a few following owners also drag-racing the Cobra before eventually selling it to the current owner’s family in 1985. Starting work in 2006, it has been meticulously restored over a 12-year period, finished in beautiful Guardsman Blue and a black leather interior. 

It is truly a rare opportunity to buy an early Shelby 289 Cobra in perfect restored condition. But, as I mentioned at the start of this article, an opportunity that requires very deep pockets! It is expected to sell for over a million dollars. Also up on the auction block during Mecum’s Indy 2020 Auction is a 1967 Shelby 427 Cobra in deep green. Mecum’s A Tale of Two Cobras pitches them alongside each other in a detailed report.

3 responses

  1. Funny side note on AC Cobras, if you look at the AC ledger for Cobra’s, CSX stands for Carol, (yes AC misspelled his name,) S stands for Shelby and X as always stands for eXport! The original name for the car at AC was Ace 3.6, which was 221ci in inches. When the engine was sold in the 70s, the new owner took it apart and found out it was a 260 all along! Ford didn’t bother to tell either AC or Shelby!

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