. Cobra Ranch Historical Automotive Blog: Featuring Wally Wyss

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE LONG LOST, THEN FOUND, DAYTONA COUPE

By Wallace Wyss


Back when I was writing one of my Shelby books,in the '70s,  George Stauffer, a prominent Cobra collector, told me there were six Daytona coupes built but, where the whereabouts of five were known, there was a sixth one that “belonged to a crazy old lady” who won’t sell.

He was talking about CSX2287, the one out of the six that was bodied in the U.S., the first one made.
 It is a very historic car. The first coupe built, the first to win a race, and immortalized by its fire in the pits at Daytona in February,1964.



  Turned out that the lady that had it wasn’t that old but she definitely qualified by most definitions of “crazy.” She was a former Sears employee who was in a dispute with her boss, and had been fired. She had a father who was once a bodyguard for rock and roll producer Phil Spector. Back in the Sixties, it was perfectly legal to buy a race car right off the LeMans track and drive it around, Sonny and Cher had a Ferrari 250LM, Dean Paul Martin had a Ferrari P3/4 and Spector had the Daytona Cobra. Finally he got too many tickets in it and  told his bodyguard to “get rid of it.”

    Was it in some far-off country? No, it spent the next 30-plus years in storage where the young lady had put it after she drove it to school every day.
     As the price of Cobras increased, the wheelers and dealers of the Cobra world like Lynn Park, Stauffer, and even Shelby himself,  found the lady and tracked her to her door in Anaheim and tried to buy the car. She wouldn’t budge. Even Shelby, a notorious lady charmer, failed.

 

 Despite the number of people that talked to her, only a couple got to see the car, so it was known it existed. When I was told it existed, no one would tell me the city where the owner was, otherwise I could have run an ad and hey, maybe lucked out and smoked it out. Everyone was being greedy, and as a result no one got to see it almost 30 years later.


The car’s history, in a nutshell, was that it  was completed at AC Cars as a chassis-only and air-freighted to Shelby American in Venice in November of 1963. They hurriedly readied it for the Daytona Continental, a 2000km FIA-sanctioned endurance race only three months away. The chassis was immediately modified and Brock constructed a plywood body buck to use as a pattern for the body panels which were hand-formed at Cal Metal Shaping, a specialty shop in Los Angeles. The individual body sections were then brought back to Shelby-American where they were welded into a seamless body. Once the car was completed it was tested at Riverside by Ken Miles and, despite all the jabs Brock took before it ran, it smoked the roadster’s best times.

 It was painted Viking Blue and made  Daytona, the first FIA race of the 1964 season.

 Cobra team drivers Bob Holbert and Dave MacDonald had the car out front after 7 hours when a freak fire during a pit stop occurred, caused when gasoline being poured into an already full tank splashed onto the overheated rear end and hot brake rotors, and that put the car out of the race. Surviving crew members say now that they could have had it running again in less than an hour but Shelby withdrew the car and all discussion ended. A month later, at Sebring, the car vindicated itself by finishing 1st in class and 4th overall. It was then posted overseas where it ran as part of a team of Cobra FIA competition roadsters at Spa, LeMans, Rheims, Goodwood and in the Tour de France.

In ’65 it was painted the 1965 team colors - Guardsman Blue with a pair of wide white stripes. But only ran one race that season-- LeMans, where it failed to finish. The car was returned to the States, and refurbished and put on display at various car shows. By then it was obsolete, so Shelby didn’t mind loaning it to a group that wanted to take it to Bonneville where it set 23 national and international speed records. The car looked so rough after days on the salt that Shelby was willing to part with it for $800 but it just looked too rough. Jim Russell, the owner of American Russkit, a Los Angeles company that made plastic-bodied model kits and slot cars, upped the ante in December and bought CSX2287 for $4500. For that price Shelby-American even went  through the car. The engine and transmission were removed while the chassis, running gear, brake calipers and wheels were sandblasted to try to get rid of the corrosive salt. The chassis and running gear were repainted black, the headers were sandblasted and repainted white and the brakes were rebuilt. A new (stock) 289 Hi-Po engine with Webers was installed along with the original transmission. The ducting, the original seats and interior were cleaned and refitted, and Russell specified that a tamer GT350 street clutch be installed. The car was thoroughly tested to insure that it was running smoothly before it left Shelby-American. The next time the car popped up was when the owner advertised it in December ,1966 in Autoweek for $12,500.

The Coupe was purchased (the actual sale price is not known but is now being reported as $7,500) by Spector, famous for his "wall of sound" concept as well as producing some varied groups as the Ronettes, and the Beatles.

writing a number of top-40 hits including

Enter the bodyguard,  George Brand, who had come to work for Spector in 1968. According to Brand, the purchase price was $1000. He had divorced his wife Dorothy around the time he began working for Spector.

Why he thought his daughter needed a 180 mph car to drive to school one can only guess at. I am sure it improved her popularity among the gearheads. How he registered it is another mystery, maybe he had a bill of sale to convince the DMV.

At any rate, his daughter Donna married and changed her name to “O’Hara” and lived a quiet life until decades later when she up and committed suicide by lighting herself on fire one night in a Fullerton park. The body damage was so severe the police had no clue who she was and there wasn’t a nearby abandoned car to trace her. It took them several weeks to put a  name on the corpse—and that only after a former boyfriend of Mrs. O’Hare reported she was missing. Her mother, who was in her ‘80s, subsequently found a letter from a British car dealer based in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, offering her daughter millions for the car. The Brit had found the car’s owner by simply hiring a private detective and giving him the last owner’s name which had been printed in the SAAC Cobra registry.

   The mother called the dealer and arranged for a $3 million sale. She went to the storage yard where the car was only to find the yard owner had changed locks on the lockup for non payment of the bill. She had the lock broken, removed the car and it was trucked up to Montecito. At that time Steve Volk, a Cobra collector in Colorado, contacted the British buyer and tried to buy it, but he didn’t want to come to California on a holiday, so he put off leaving for a day. Mistake. A Pennsylvania surgeon didn’t tarry, paid $4 million and now owns the car.

   Did everyone live happy ever after? Not quite. The former high school boyfriend of Mrs. O’Hara, a man named Kurt Goss, showed up and, in a court proceeding, said Donna had given him several cars, the rest of which could be classified as junk yards, but on the paper with her signature it also listed the Cobra. He laid claim to the money paid Mrs. O’Hara’s mother, who unfortunately had donated most of the money to the church. This writer does not know if she had to “make good” out of her own funds.

   At any rate, the story has every aspect of a good barn find story—some lows, some highs, a mysterious death, a multi-million dollar car, and a search by dozens of barn finders, only one of whom, by his diligence, succeeded and made a million dollars in one day....

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