Caroll Shelby scored a victory for Aston Martin at the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans in 1959. Soon after he was struck by heart problems and forced to retire from the driver's seat. This freed up time to pursue his other passion, building the world's fastest sports car. That dream would be realized years later, adapting a powerful Ford engine into a nimble, British sports car. The car was named the Cobra.
John Tojeiro had designed and produced a small sports-car which he sold under the name of AC Ace. The cars had a tubular chassis and powered by Bristol 2-liter six-cylinder engines. With its lightweight body and good handling characteristics it was an ideal vehicle for racing. Many of the owners entered the Ace in competition and enjoyed moderate success.
When Bristol announced they would no longer offer the engine, Tojeiro was left without a power-plant to propel his cars. As a result, the end of AC Ace production was announced. When Shelby found out about this, he contacted Tojeiro and convinced him to continue production by outfitting the cars with Ford Fairlane engines. Shelby traveled to the UK to supervise the construction of the prototype chassis. The main problem with the engine was the high amounts of torque that it produced. The engine produced almost twice as much power as the engine it was replacing and yet it weighed less. The rear end was modified to handle this increase in power. After thorough testing and fine-tuning, 100 examples were ordered.
Right around the same time, General Motors was getting ready to introduce the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray. In 1962 the Shelby Cobra and the Stingray made their debut at the Riverside 3-Hour race. During qualifying, Shelby Cobra himself drove one of the newly created Cobra's, beating the Stingray's best time by over four seconds. During the race, Bill Krause was leading the competition by more than 30 seconds when he was forced to retire due to mechanical difficulties. The Sting Ray went on to win the race.
For the following season, Shelby took part in the first US manufactures' championship which he easily dominated. His Shelby Cobra's went on to secure 111 points by winning six out of the seven races. Ferrari had accumulated 28 points and Chevrolet amassed only 19. The Cobra had proven it was a very capable machine. Shelby turned his sights to international competition.
Ferrari was the ruling force for GT cars in the FIA World Championship Series. Their powerful engines and carefully crafted vehicles were suitable for the high speed tracks where most of the races were held. The Shelby Cobra, too, was a fast car but was at a disadvantage on these types of tracks due to the design of the body. As a result, the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe was born.
The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe was created by Pete Brock who was given permission by Shelby to re-body a 289 Cobra in a closed-cockpit configuration. It was hand fabricated out of aluminum over wooden cross-section templates. In the back of the vehicle featured a chopped off Kamm-back tail and void of any spoiler. The main purpose for this endeavor was to improve aerodynamics. A test run in October of 1963 proved that the Daytona Coupe had a lower center of gravity, less drag, and a higher top speed by about 20 mph. Its racing debut was at Daytona and thus, the derivative of its name. For the first half of the race the Daytona dominated but fire in the pits forced the team to retire prematurely. A visit to the 12 Hours of Sebring gave the Cobra Daytona its first racing victory where it finished first in the GT class and third overall. Up to this point, only one car had been created, CSX 2287. By the Le Mans race, two examples had been created, CSX 2287 and CSX 2299. Eventually, a total of six examples would be constructed. Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant drove the Daytona Coupe to a GT class win at LeMans and finished fourth overall.
Ferrari went on to capture the manufacturer's title, though only by the slightest of margins. The Shelby team missed the World Manufacturers Championship by just a few points. The Daytona Coupe probably would have won the title if the Italian Monza race had not been canceled. By this point, four Daytona Coupes were ready for competition. Throughout the season, the Daytona Coupes had lead the Ferrari's in most of the races. Mechanical difficulties were often the only factor that allowed the Ferrari's to beat the Daytona Coupes. By fielding four racers, the success of the Daytona Coupe was almost certainly guaranteed had the race not been canceled. In 1965 Ferrari did not compete in the GT World Championship. They were unable to field a legal replacement for the 250 GTO.
For the 1965 season, the Daytona Coupes won eight of the eleven races. They repeated their victory's in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965. Rule changes at the end of the season made the Cobra Daytona Coupes obsolete. The Lola based Ford GT40 program was progressing with much success. The decision was made to shift resources over to the Ford GT40 program. At the close of the season, the Coupes were left with Alan Mann in England but tax fines forced the cars to be shipped back to Shelby in the United States. It took years to sell the racers but eventually they were sold. Two of them reside in the Shelby American Collection museum in Boulder, Colorado. In modern times, their demanding price for one of these rare vehicles is estimated to be in the millions.By Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2007