1964 SHELBY 289 COBRA
Chassis No. CSX 2120
Vineyard green with tan interior
Engine: V8, 289ci., pushrod overhead valves, 260bhp at 5,600rpm; Gearbox: T10 synchromesh manual, close ratio four speeds; Suspension: fully independent front and rear by wishbones and transverse semi- elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: disc all round. Left hand drive.
By the summer of 1961, AC Cars of Surrey had developed their hand-built and rather expensive Ace into one of the world's best-handling sports two-seaters. Powered by the eager two-litre six cylinder Bristol powerplant, it had built an enviable racing record both in Europe and the USA. But now the Bristol engine was about to go out of production and AC were none too sure about their future direction. At about the same time Lee Iacocca, the newly appointed head of Ford's manufacturing division in the USA, moved his company into an aggressive high performance and competition program, tapping the huge younger market that researchers assured him was waiting out there. At the heart of Ford's plans was an outstanding short-stroke lightweight 221 cu.in. (3.5 liter) V8 engine. It weighed about 470lbs, only a little more than the Bristol, and in 1961, at the beginning of its development life, already gave around 145bhp. There was clearly enormous potential there. What Ford needed, and quickly, was a well-engineered chassis with which to go racing. Texan Carroll Shelby, retired air force pilot and well-respected racing driver with a victory at the Le Mans 24-hour race to his credit, had for some years been trying to put together a package to bring a European sports car chassis together with one of the new technically advanced powerplants out of Detroit. He persuaded Ford to part with a couple of their new V8 engines and talked AC Cars' owners into installing one in a suitably strengthened Ace. The end result was a sensational prototype, the first Cobra roadster with its elegant simplicity set off by pearlescent yellow cellulose, that was displayed on the Ford stand at the New York Motor Show in the Spring of 1962.
If the Cobra's shape was still very much that of its elder sister, underneath that shapely aluminum shell was the result of a frenzied program of strengthening and development to match the very substantial power increases the engine was all too happy to provide. It was a brilliant concept. When the California-based Road and Track tested what was probably that same New York show car, they quoted 260bhp from the now 260cu.in. (4.2liter) engine. Installed in a car weighing 18cwt, the results were electric: 0-60mph in 4.2 secs, 0-100mph in 10.8secs, maximum speed 153mph. Backed by Ford, managed by Shelby, the Cobra went racing in a big way. With an engine extended to 289cu.in. (4.7 liter), deploying up to 400bhp it was a formidable endurance racer. Shelby's 289 Cobra roadsters, ably backed by the Daytona coupes derived from them, gave Ford a winning hand both in the European Grand Touring and the Sports Car Club of America championships.
The AC Cobra's career as an international racing front runner was necessarily short, but there was a continuing demand for it as a very enjoyable roadgoing machine, offering a unique kind of 'wind-in-your-hair' exhilaration.
Chassis number CSX 2120 is recorded in the Shelby American World Registry 1997 as first invoiced to Shelby American on 20 May 1963 and shipped to Los Angeles four days later. In October '63 it was shipped to Dearborn, MI together with four other Cobras as part of a consignment to the Car Sales Promotion Department of the Ford Motor Company. The invoice price to FoMoCo was $5,195.00 with Class 'A' accessories at $224.50; a luggage rack, $30; WSW tires, $32.50; less FoMoCo discount, $300 making a grand total of $5,182.00. The World Registry further records that following its use as a demonstrator or PR car by Ford, 2120 was returned to Shelby American and in 1964 was purchased by a Mr. Moses W. 'Red' LaFountain, of NY through Egglefield Ford of Elizabethtown, NY. At that point a red stripe was added to the Vineyard Green body color and the name of LaFountain's restaurant was stenciled in white on both doors in an effort to promote his business! In 1967 the Cobra, still in stock condition, was sold on to a college student from Pennsylvania who was attending Paul Smiths College. By 1980 the car appeared in a Long Island, NY restoration shop having reportedly been sitting in storage for some time. The history continues through more ownership changes, during which time the car was repainted and restored. At some stage a thorough restoration was undertaken and 2120 was reportedly given a new skin with sections of the old body used to rebody another chassis. By 1990 the car was acquired by a Mr. Becherer in Birmingham, MI and advertised that autumn with 'fresh engine and paint' whereupon another change of ownership ensued.
Today the Cobra is certainly eye-catching, with smart Vineyard Green paintwork, excellent panelwork and saddle tan leather interior. The car has a black vinyl roof, period wood steering wheel, chrome wire wheels and Pirelli tires. At the time of cataloguing, we had not driven the Cobra and we will be only too pleased to provide a condition report during the auction weekend for interested buyers. A stock 289 Cobra remains as one of the legendary '60s sports cars, combining performance and looks that have hardly been bettered.