Legendary Shelby Cobra 289
The Shelby Cobra 289, made from late 1962 until 1965 was probably one of the best and most successful race cars of all time. It was the first real famous British-American hybrid with the chassis and body built in England by AC and the engine and drive-train installed in Los Angeles by Shelby American. With its combination of a lighweight body and powerful American engine, Shelby Cobra was a clear winner from the start and became a racing legend even during its production.
Humble beginnings and lucky break
It all started when Carroll Shelby heard that AC Cars in England would stop production of its AC Ace model because the six cylinder engines made by Bristol are no longer avaliable. As a retired successful racer and motorsport celebrity he managed to get an AC Ace chassis delivered to America and through his contacts in Ford, was granted support from a major company. Soon, there was a 4.3 liters (260 cid) V8 Ford engine installed in the lightweight Cobra body ready for testing.
The first completed prototype was crude and unstable but nevertheless showed tremendous potential, power and speed. It was something totally new on the motorsport scene; an small European roadster with US power figures and speed that frightened away competitors.
During most of 1962, Shelby and his team in their small workshop did their best to make the car fit for the streets and as usable as possible. Later that year, the Shelby Cobra 289 was introduced to general public and caused quite a stir when magazines started raving about its fantastic performance. Very soon, in 1963 the 260 cid engine was replaced with the more powerful and soon-to-be famous 289 V8 engine with a 271 bhp, which really made the Cobra dominant on the streets and on the tracks of America. The Cobra’s first success came with the Shelby American Racing Team, sponsored by Ford which raced in USSCCA championship.
It was a semi-amateur series but was popular enough to give the Cobra a big enough platform. When Shelby came, the USSCCA was dominated by European cars (Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, Jaguar) and by domestic Chevrolet Corvette. However, in just one season, Shelby Cobra won basically every event and the championship title in professional and amateur classes. In 1964, Shelby and the 289 Cobra came to Europe to prove themselves on finest European tracks and to battle with some famous European brands on their home turf.
On top of the world
Initially, nobody was impressed by the Cobra but after the first few rounds of GT Championship series, everybody was very nervous about the little roadster with a big engine. By the end of the 1964 season, thr Cobra was second in the championship by a few points behind Ferrari. Enzo used all of his connections to cancel a last round and save its chance for a championship title. Shelby did get his revenge in 1965, but with the famous Shelby Cobra Daytona 289.
Apart from the official Shelby American Racing team wins and podium finishes, the Cobra was the favorite track car of wealthy gentleman racers and private teams, which enjoyed fantastic success with the car and scored numerous wins. Today, Shelby Cobra 289 with or without its racing heritage is a precious classic car which is worth millions of dollars.