Cobra. Carroll Shelby's masterpiece

  • 04 November 2023
  • 3 min read
  • 5 images
Cobra. Carroll Shelby's masterpiece image

Photo credit: Wheelsage

Why. The Cobra, also known as the Ford Cobra or, more accurately, the Shelby Cobra, was born from the dream of creating an American car, driven by Americans, capable of challenging the European giants in Gran Turismo and Sports car racing, such as Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Ferrari, to name a few. And, perhaps, even beating them.

Cobra. Carroll Shelby's masterpiece - 1 Powerful and muscular, with a large side exhaust pipe, the Cobra transmits the American racing car spirit to perfection.

Who. The brainchild behind this idea was an American driver, Carroll Shelby, who, after winning Le Mans in 1959 with Aston Martin, had to retire from racing due to congenital heart problems. However, his unwavering passion for racing led him to become a car manufacturer- or more precisely, a skilful assembler. Shelby had his eyes on a small English sports car, the AC Ace, which featured a two-litre Bristol engine and had shown impressive performance at Le Mans. He believed that the car's tubular frame could serve as a solid foundation to ensure the car was competitive. But there was much work to be done, starting with a much more powerful engine.

Cobra. Carroll Shelby's masterpiece - 2 Carroll Shelby, after winning at Le Mans with Aston Martin in 1959, became a manufacturer starting as a base from the chassis of the British AC Ace car.

How. Shelby's solution was to install a massive Ford V8 engine, initially 4200cc with 335hp, which later evolved into a 4700cc engine producing 390hp, paired with a 4-speed manual transmission placed under the hood of the tiny AC. Shelby also reinforced the chassis, fitted proper disc brakes, and generously widened the wheel arches to accommodate larger tires than before. The transformation was nothing short of spectacular: the ugly duckling had been transformed into a magnificent swan, with a perfect Stars and Stripes profile. Its name changed to Cobra, and it soon became an enduring symbol of American ingenuity and daring.

Cobra. Carroll Shelby's masterpiece  - 3 AC Ace's Bristol engine is replaced by Ford's V8, initially 4200cc with 335hp later increased to 4700cc producing 390hp.

When. Starting from 1962, the car impressed on the racetrack and soon embarrassed the famous European brands. While it didn't always secure outright victories, it fearlessly battled its way onto the podium, finishing fourth at Le Mans in 1964, where it was first among the Gran Turismo cars with drivers Gurney and Bondurant. With the invaluable support of Peter Brock, who applied aerodynamic principles inspired by aeronautics, the Cobra underwent further refinements and received a bodywork so effective that it was also aesthetically stunning. It was named the Shelby Cobra Coupe Daytona and went on to win the GT class in 1965.

Cobra. Carroll Shelby's masterpiece - 4 The Cobra immediately demonstrated its great potential with performance. Ken Miles, here behind the wheel, becomes a key member of Shelby American Inc. developing the racing and road versions.

Where. In America, with Ford immediately supporting the Cobra project, gaining excellent publicity in the process. But Ford had bigger ambitions. The company engaged Carroll Shelby in a grand endeavour with two primary objectives: to win at Le Mans and beat Ferrari, which had refused to be bought by the American automotive giant. This marked the genesis of the Ford GT40, a project in which Shelby played a pivotal role, dividing his time between the USA and Ford Advanced Vehicles in England.

With Zagato and Pininfarina simulators and Roarington's eRacing program, you can now experience the thrill of the Cobra's front-engine, pronounced understeer, and the power surge when accelerating, all without the risks of reality. It's pure, unadulterated fun.

Cobra. Carroll Shelby's masterpiece - 5 The success achieved with the Cobra led to Carroll Shelby being engaged by Ford to develop the GT40 to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.