Shelby's Cobras


In 1962, former race driver and 1959 winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Carroll Shelby, came up with the idea of mounting a powerful American V-8 engine (at first a 289 cubic inch Ford) into the chassis of an underpowered British sports car called the AC Ace -- so was born the Cobra. At his plant in Venice, California, Shelby crew constructed what would become one of the most successful, if short-lived, American race cars ever to compete in U.S. and international road racing.

U.S. Road Racing Chamionships

Almost immediately, the Cobra showed its potential. In its first race, at Riverside in October 1962, Bill Krause drove the Cobra roadster away from the Chevrolet Corvette's and Jaguar XKEs, only to have a wheel hub break with certain victory in hand. The Cobra's first victory came in January 1963, with Dave MacDonald winning an SCCA race at Riverside.

Cobra 260
Bill Krause during the Cobra's first race

During 1963 through 1965, it became a common sight at U.S. road racing events to see a train of Shelby Cobras pulling away from the rest of the field to easy sweeps of the top two or three positions. Cobra won the manufacturers' trophy of the U.S. Road Racing Championship (USRRC) in each of those three years.

Cobra 289
Dan Gurney's USRRC Cobra 289 leads the pack

During that same time period, Shelby also campaigned a full-out racing car in various U.S. road racing events. This was a Cooper Monaco chassis with the same Ford 289 engine as used in the Cobra roadster. This racer was dubbed the King Cobra, and although it didn't win any championships, it was an occasional visitor to victory lane, with such well-known drivers as Dave MacDonald, Bob Holbert, Bob Bondurant, and Parnelli Jones.

King Cobra
Dave MacDonald and the King Cobra strike

In later years, Shelby withdrew from active participation in U.S. road racing events, leaving that to customers who took their Cobra 427s and Shelby GT-350s to the race track, where they continued the Cobra's winning tradition. In 1966 through 1969, Cobra 427s and GT-350s won the SCCA's A/Production and B/Production championships, respectively. Private Cobra 427s and GT-350s continued to compete in SCCA events at least through 1981.

Cobra 427
Cobra 427 - SCCA A/Production champion

Shelby GT-350
Shelby GT-350 - SCCA B/Production champion

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Last Updated: January 1, 2003