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At the age of just 37, famed American racing driver Carroll Shelby was diagnosed with a heart condition in 1960. After only eight years of successful motor racing, including a first place overall win for Aston Martin in the previous year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Shelby was forced to think about retirement. However, just one more race beckoned before he would hang up his helmet; the LA Times-Mirror Grand Prix at Riverside where a fine result of 3rd Place was a fitting end to his driving career.
It is understandable that Shelby’s strict approach to retiring from the driver’s seat was a hard pill to swallow to take after the challenges and rewards that came from an international racing career such as his. Pursuing new interests, Shelby tried drilling wildcat oil wells and started a Texas trucking company. In 1961, still bored, he became the West Coast Goodyear Racing tire distributor and formed a motor racing school at Riverside Raceway in California. Now with a steady flow of cash, Shelby was at last positioned to pursue the long held dream of building his own sports car. Carroll Shelby’s many years of racing had taught him what worked and what did not, and the idea of a hybrid sports car fascinated him. Since the Brits had styling, excellent road holding and superb brakes to their credit – and while the Yanks held the horsepower advantage – Shelby reasoned that combining these traits for a ‘best of both worlds’ concept certainly applied?
It is clear that Shelby did not originate this concept – Allards, Cunninghams and Nash-Healeys come to mind – but he did it better than anyone before (and arguably thereafter). After considering Austin-Healey, Jensen and Bristol, he heard that AC, builders of the stylish and sturdy Ace-Bristol Sports Cars, had lost their engine supplier when Bristol ceased production. Timing was everything, and in September of 1961 Shelby wrote Charles Hurlock of AC Cars to propose a hybrid car using the AC sports car body and chassis. Hurlock expressed interest “if a suitable V8 could be found”, prompting to Shelby move quickly when editor Ray Brock of ‘Hot Rod’ magazine told him of Ford’s new lightweight V-8. It did not take Shelby long to acquire and install an early 221ci variant in a stock AC Ace Bristol.
It was good fortune that the Ford mill weighed only a few more pounds than the six-cylinder Bristol. Ford engineer Dave Evans offered Shelby more good news, a high performance 260 cubic inch version was already in production for Ford’s Falcon and two engines would be on the way to him soon. These were immediately sent by air freight overseas and on February 1, 1962, Carroll Shelby flew to England to test drive the new Shelby AC Cobra. From that day forward, the fantastic 289 Cobras are just that and offer the Cobra enthusiast the pure-bred feel with looks that need not sacrifice any speed or quickness. Best of all, their simplicity allowed for an added dimension of comfort, ease and style. Unlike later 427 cubic-inch powered examples, the 289ci Cobra had a refined quality its bigger brother had trouble matching. The triple-black example offered here embodies all of these qualities of elegance, style and performance to a T; restored to a very high standard and equipped with correct knock-off English-style wire wheels, a walnut steering wheel and racing-inspired Weber carburetion under the hood, its desirability as a collectible driver needs no explanation nor does the quality of its recommissioning raise any question.
A late production MK I – or as us ‘yanks’ refer to it, a ‘289’ – this Cobra – CSX 2461, benefits from the significant evolutionary improvements that were constantly being implemented by both AC Cars, Ltd. and Shelby American, Inc. Rack and pinion steering (replacing the antiquated worm and roller steering system used until CSX 2125), Ford electrical system, including alternator charging vs. the ‘stone knife and bearskin’ generator along with Stuart Warner gauges (replacing the ‘Prince of Darkness’ Lucas system used until CSX2200) along with a host of other less readily noticeable improvements from side vents to overall build quality – ‘die hard’ Shelby Cobra enthusiasts are well aware, the ‘late cars are the ones to own’.
Accompanied by a well documented ownership history (detailed on pages 262 and 263) of the new Shelby American World Registry – including the prestigious collection of Mr. Otis Chandler (of the Los Angeles Times) featuring completely original sheet metal and original chassis, this is a genuine ‘no stories’ Cobra. A comprehensive file of detailed restoration photos shows a 100% original ‘skin’ aluminum bodywork and chassis in bare metal configuration. The over two year restoration attended to every conceivable detail, from an NOS clock and full gauge restoration of the original Stewart-Warner gauges to the correct grain and contours of the original interior. From the highly detailed engine bay (featuring unique aluminum covered foot boxes) and the cosmetically dramatic election of the restorer to equip the ‘jewelry’ of Weber carburetors to the highly detailed trunk or ‘boot’ with the correct white gel coated fiberglass spare tire well, correct jack, and original top bows, top, side curtains and original cover.
The roll bar and color combination and side exit exhaust having been installed when this Cobra was almost brand new, the restorer elected to retain these accouterments during the fastidious refurbishment process. Look closely however, to the attention to detail. From the original (not reproduction) wheel knock off hubs to the NOS grease gun – the correct and original ‘grained’ Cobra emblems to the original restored 16′ steering wheel – from the ‘ultra-rare’ accessory wood shift knob to the correct rivets in the owner’s manual in the glove box, minute details abound. Closely inspect the exceptional brightwork and the mirror image paintwork along with metal finishing by Lon Kruger to ensure body lines and gaps that exist only in the minds of marketing brochures and the dreams of Cobra enthusiasts worldwide.
In addition, the chassis main tubes have been reinforced to alleviate the ‘bending’, or flex, of any original Cobra. If you have ever had your underarm pinched by the door gap when riding in an original car, you’ll know how valuable and important this restoration element is. Suffice it to say, every aspect of this outstanding piece of American automotive history was fastidiously restored with the ultimate in attention to detail, impeccable craftsmanship and a fanatical devotion to originality.