. Cobra Ranch Historical Automotive Blog: Featuring Wally Wyss

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Friday, April 1, 2011

The Origins of the Daytona Cobra coupe styling
by Wallace Wyss

A great deal has been written through the years on how distinctive and original the styling was of the Cobra Daytona coupe. And, having seen several up close, I can agree.  But any serious student of GT racing in the early ‘60s will see in the Daytona's lines other cars that preceded it and which must have influenced it, even if subliminally.

The Alfas
   One of the first influences on the car was the Alfa Romeo GTZ, the "Z" standing for Zagato. The man at Alfa credited with the design is Ercole Spada who was a designer , for Zagato carrozzeria. During his years there he did  designs for Aston Martin,  Ferrari, Maserati, as well as Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Fiat and Lancia. He had earned a degree in Industrial Engineering from Istituto tecnico Feltrinelli in 1956. Following a stint in the military, Spada joined Zagato, in February 1960. The first design created by Spada for Zagato was the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato which is today recognized as a very significant car though in value it long lagged behind Ferraris of the same time period.
Whether or not Spada knew formally of the theory of the "Kamm" tail, in scientific circles the papers were available. Back in 1935, Hans Georg Madelung, a German engineer, professor, and aircraft designer, demonstrated  that a vehicle does not need a long tapered tail at high speeds, though the tapered tail (i.e. a teardrop) is the ideal and Porsche even made some long-tailed cars for LeMans to run against short tales of the same model. Another scientist,
Freiherr Reinhard Koenig-Fachsenfeld, developed a body style whose tail was cut off to form a flat rear surface in order to reduce  air turbulence. He attributed his inspiration as coming from Paul Jaray. Koenig-Fachsenfeld patented the idea.
    In 1936, further research at the Stuttgart Research Institute for Automotive and Automobile Engine Technology directed by Wunibald Kamm proved that vehicles with the so-called "chopped tail" or Kamm tail, were a good compromise between everyday utility (e.g. vehicle length and interior dimensions) and still would produce an attractive drag coefficient.
   In addition to aerodynamic efficiency, Wunibald Kamm also prized vehicle stability in his designs. His ideal design was a body with a smoothly contoured front, and  a fastback  that ends in an abrupt vertical flat surface in the rear. Why wasn't it adopted more? Well, for one thing, it was ugly. Consumers at the time liked flowing curves and only racers would consider adopting something that was ugly if in fact it provided more stability at high speeds.  In other words, you had to learn to love it.

The Aston Martin Influence
  There were three Aston Martin prototypes that had similar styling to the Cobra Daytona Coupe. All preceded it. We don't know when Pete Brock first went to  LeMans but several of the Aston experimental cars competing in that race in the early '60s had bodywork with smooth fronts and Kamm tails.
    First in the Aston camp was the DP212, a prototype fielded in the 1962 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The car was based on the DB4GT, but featured longer bodywork for true high speed work (over 180 mph ). It also featured a 4.0 litre engine, based on the DB4GT's 3.7 liter Tadek Marek-designed inline six.   
  Next was the DP214,  of which two were made.They would do 186 mph.  Two DP214s were built in 1963, with one surviving today. They would do 186 mph with 310 hp, easily 100 hp. less than the Daytona coupe.

Just like its predecessor,  in order to comply with GT regulations, the DP214 was based on DB4GT chassis. The body was completely redesigned, using some design elements from the DP212 such as the Kamm effect tail . The bodywork would be wider than the DP212 though, and the nose would be a completely new design with faired in headlamps and an oval grille cavity like the Daytona. 

   The final Aston that inspired the Cobra Daytona coupe was the Project 215, designed by Ted Cutting and developed for the 1963 Le Mans race. Driven by Phil Hill and Lucien Bianchi, it ran well at first but retired early  with gearbox problems. It is ironic that the very next year Phil Hill was racing the Daytona coupe for Shelby.
   In all the Aston prototypes the swept Kamm tail of the DP cars was found to be essential after wind tunnel tests showed massive lift on the early designs at 175mph. The cars were capable of over 198 mph down the Mulsanne straight so you can tell that anything that would make more stable past 170 mph was greatly desired.
  Actually the Kamm effect tail as designed by Brock was supposed to include what he called a "ring airfoil" (similar to that on the Acura NSX with closed ends,) but Shelby refused to put something so experimental on the car. Then when Phil Hill tested the Daytona in England he came back white faced after his first lap on the track, and insisted something be put on the back for more down-force so Phil Remington whacked a duck-tail spoiler out of aluminum and riveted it on and solved the car's problems. It is interesting though that the Aston 215 had only 326 hp where the Daytona coupe had close to 450 but was still 10 mph slower than the Aston.
   One prominent Cobra historian, Mike Schoen, author of The Cobra-Ferrari War A Master Work Of Automotive History, believes so much that the Aston Martin prototypes influenced Brock that he reproduced some side view drawings of the Aston race car in his book to show readers the strong "family"  resemblance. 

The Maserati 151 coupes
    Maserati undoubtedly had some strong influences, principally in three cars called the 151. These, like the Cobra Daytona coupe, were aluminum-bodied, V8-powered front-engined an fastbacks. And they could run over 180 mph.         
    Maserati’s chief engineer Giulio Alfieri developed the Type 151 coupé for the new prototype class introduced in 1962, and they had a “financial angel” in the person of U.S. millionaire Briggs Cunningham who ordered two of them for  Le Mans for Hansgen-McLaren and Kimberly-Thompson, while a third one was reserved for Maserati France for Bianchi and Trintignant.
     The engine came from that of the 450S, but had to be reduced to under 4.0 liters in order to run in that category. The four Weber equipped V8 pumped out 360 bhp at 7,000 rpm, which got it to over 284 km/h on the Hunaudières straight.
   The car did not have the spaghetti-thin tubes of the birdcage Ferrari, but a traditional tubular chassis, and most of the bits came straight from the 450S parts bin. Only the body styling was radical. All three entries at Le Mans were forced to retire, starting with Thompson crashing five hours in while holding second. The French entry was withdrawn in the 10th hour after an off course excursion, while McLaren/Hansgen car dropped a valve some three hours later.
    Oddly despite the car’s rather good showing, the factory didn’t continue development but Cunningham had his cars shipped back to America, where they were raced between 1962 and 1963, one fitted with a 5,665cc type 59 Maserati speedboat engine. Brock may have seen the cars back then. Coincidentally, considering the last Daytona coupe was the 7-liter Ford powered one, the last 151 coupe was fitted back in the day with a 7-litre Ford V8, but it crashed in practice in 1963 at Daytona, temporarily trapping Marvin Paunch  inside,  whereupon the idea of rolling the doors into the roof proved a hindrance in getting the driver out of the car when you consider the weight of the car is on the door tops when the car is upside down. Nevertheless Ford used the same door design in the Ford GT40. The firemen got Paunch out but the car burned down to the frame seconds later.
    It wasn’t the aerodynamics that made the 151 squirrely--Colonel John Simone, manager of Maserati France, said it was  the rear suspension and returned his car to the factory for some major upgrades , the later version renamed the "Tipo 151/1" in the process.
    In’63 the engine limit was raised to 5 liters and the engine of the 5000GT was put in the car and the De Dion rear suspension set-up made simpler while the body was slightly altered. Wih the five liter V8, the car was spot on what the Daytona coupe would produce in ’65-- 430 bhp at 7,000 rpm, resulting in a top speed of just over 300 km/h. The car was the single Maserati entry for the ’65 Le Mans 24 Hours with André Simon paired with Lloyd "Lucky" Casner (Shelby’s sponsor in some race cars back when Shelby was a race driver). It took the lead from the first lap and ran strong until the differential seized just four hours into the race.
    The 151 was modified again, the next version called the 151/3, with a new chassis allowing the engine to be set lower down, a sleeker body with a higher truncated Kamm effect tail. The wheelbase grew from 2300 mm to 2400 mm. On the Hunaudières straight in 1964  it was clocked at 307.8 km/h - Entered by Maserati France and driven by Simon and Trintignant, the car was, however, plagued with electrical glitches and only made it into the 9th hour.
    The last gasp of the 151 at LeMans was a fiery denouement. At Le Mans test day on April 10, 1965 it appeared with a slightly larger 5,046cc engine. Now comes the sad part, in the rain, Lloyd “Lucky”Casner lost his life on the straight that comes before the Mulsanne. It was never determined what caused the accident.

    While the Cobra Daytona coupe is unquestionably a brilliant design, it was derivative in styling , showing influences from several European efforts that preceded it, including from cars made by Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin and Maserati. One could even argue that if Aston Martin and Maserati had enjoyed more reliable engines, or sponsors with big dollars like Shelby, their cars would have dominated the GT class in that short period before mid-engined designs came and swept the other front-engine GT cars out of contention.
    Why then was Brock’s design thought so original? Put it down to the scribes who wrote about it in America. Few, except for Henry Manney III, had been to the European races, so few knew of all the similar designs that had preceded the Daytona coupe. Europeans, who have seen the Alfa TZs, the Aston prototypes and the Maserati 151 cars, are more aware of the precedents and more apt to put Brock’s design in its proper niche, i.e. a”derivative” design.
The Author: Wallace Wyss has commented on design for over 40 years. He has been a guest speaker on the subject of design at the famed Art Center College of Design.


  1. This is some interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing

  2. Never knew that about the daytona, thanks :)

  3. Maserati's are my favourite!

  4. awesome, this taught me alot.

  5. wow, that's a lot of history on the cobra coupe, thanks for sharing.