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As with many British specialist manufacturers, AC Cars had been using the smooth, refined Bristol straight-6 engine in its small-volume production, including its AC Ace 2-seater roadster. The engine was a pre-World War II BMW design which was by the 1960s considered remarkably outdated. Bristol, a small independent automobile manufacturer in its own right, decided in 1961 to cease production of its engine and instead to use Chrysler small-block V-8 engines. Non-plussed by this idea, AC started using the 2.6 liter Ford Zephyr in all of its cars. An idea was borne out of this concept and in September of that year, former champion racing driver Carroll Shelby approached AC about building a car that would accept a V-8 configuration. Chevrolet was not interested in providing their new 327ci V-8 due to too much direct competition with the Corvette, however Ford wanted a car that could compete with the radical new Sting Ray from across town. As luck would have it, they happened to have a brand new thin wall small block engine which could be used in this endeavor. The name Cobra came to Shelby “in a dream”, he recounted, and a legend was born.
By 1963 the original AC Bristol-based leaf spring Cobra was losing its supremacy in racing. In desperation, Shelby tried fitting a big Ford FE engine of 390ci. Ken Miles drove and raced the FE powered Mark II car and said that the car was virtually undrivable, naming it ‘The Turd’. A new chassis was designed in cooperation with Ford in Detroit, then developed by Shelby American and designated the Mark III. A whole new chassis was built which featured 4″ main chassis tubes (instead of 3″) and a new coil spring suspension all around. Necessitated by the suspension redesign and the wont for a greater contact patch, the car had wide fenders and a larger radiator opening. It was powered by the famed “side oiler” Ford 427 engine developing 425 bhp and attaining a top speed of 163 mph in the standard model and 485 bhp with a top speed of 180 mph in the competition model. The production of the Cobra Mark III began on January 1st 1965, three months after two prototypes had been sent to the United States in October of 1964.
Due to Carroll Shelby having destined all of the first production 427 Cobras for strictly competition use, all cars were delivered to the Shelby American facility in bare, unpainted aluminum from AC’s production facility in England. Each car was then slated for the chosen livery of the new owner, with the intent of whatever team colors were chosen. All full competition Cobras were delivered with black interiors. Although an impressive automobile for street or racetrack, the car was a financial failure and never sold well. To save cost, some Mark III Cobras were fitted with Ford’s 428ci engine which was a long stroke, smaller bore, lower cost engine, intended for road use rather than racing. It seems that a total of approximately 300 Mark III cars were sent to Shelby in the USA during the years 1965 and 1966, including the early competition version cars. Also unfortunately, the MK III missed homologation for the 1965 racing season and was never raced by the Shelby team, another chink in Shelby’s marketing strategy that would draw him closer to Ford in the very near future. However, these big-block cars were raced successfully by many privateers and would go on to win races all the way into the 1970s in IMSA and the SCCA championships.
The immense popularity of the original Shelby Cobra speaks for itself in the thousands of reproductions and tributes that have been made in recent years, but the true connoisseur of the genuine article will always be on the lookout for an example such as the one offered here. Finished in an alluring Rangoon Red, CSX 2519 recently received a ground-up restoration with all correct hardware, tools and components correct to concours specifications. No expense was spared in its recommissioning with an eye on making this example of the original Cobra better than new in every respect. Rather than the usual Halibrands, this Shelby rides on four beautiful chrome wire knockoff wheels with modern radials and a fifth as a spare. Its interior, trimmed in black Bridge of Weir leather and Wilton wool carpet complements its spartan and original dashboard, instrumentation and short 4-speed shifter. Under the hood is no less impressive, with dual four-barrel carburetion and Beklanger headers making for even more thrilling performance from its original Ford V-8 engine. It comes as no surprise that in 2002, CSX 2519 won the Silver Prize at SAAC 27 at California Speedway against an assortment of similarly-well sorted examples. Since that time, this car has continued to impress all who see and are fortunate enough to drive it in similar fashion.