. Cobra Ranch Historical Automotive Blog: Featuring Wally Wyss

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Historic Cobra Series - The "Flip Top" CSX2196

Illustration: This version with the three Ferrari GTO type air intakes was the way it looked when
Miles crashed it into the only tree on the course at Sebring."

One of the most famous Cobras ever built had a really odd career. That’s because it was a “mule” car that was used for development. It has the nickname “flip top” which was given to it because the front hood rose along with the fenders for engine access like the flip top of a cigarette box.

In its first incarnation, in 1963, Shelby asked Ken Miles,m his famous development driver, to see if he could put a 427 in it. Now this was a leaf spring car so it didn’t take to kindly to all the additional power and weight.

Miles must have had a sense of humor as he put three air intake slots above the big Cobra grille cavity the slots copies of those on the Ferrari 250GTO0—the arch enemy of the Cobra.

The car handled squirrely and Miles managed to crash it in practice at Sebring by hitting the only tree on the course!  He then stayed up all night trying to rebuild it for the race. It is reported Miles had two broken or cracked ribs. The next day he started the race, then turned it over to John Morton, who subsequently blew the engine .

The specially built Cobra was the only version with solid front and rear bodywork that could be flipped up for full access to the working parts. (Photo: RM Auctions)

The car was taken back to California and a lighter body developed that was flip top in the front (a la E-type Jaguar) and flip top in the back (a la GT40) , called “clam-shell” style and common on some pure racing cars of the time.

It was fitted with an all aluminum 390 inch Ford for testing but when it went to Nassau some say it was running an iron block 427 again . At Nassau it was hotter than a two dollar pistol at first but it was whomped by the Corvettes in what was a “rigged” race in a way as GM was there backing the Grand Sport Corvettes (tube frame Corvettes) though GM was officially out of racing. Zora Arkus-Duntov, chief Corvette man, had been slapped by GM brass for secretly developing the Grand Sports and told to disband his racing program but since Nassau was not in the U.S. he made one last stab at racng them to humble the Cobras and succeeded at that one event.

The flip top went through several owners and was again fitted with a 427. It was last seen in the RM auction in 2010 where it did not meet the reserve. This writer would like to see it in its regular Cobra body with the 250GTO air intakes—maybe then it could be the most expensive racing Cobra to hit an auction, other than the Cobra Daytona coupes…

 ~Wallace Wyss

image credit: RM Auction Co.

Saturday, December 17, 2011



      When he wrote SHELBY The Man The Cars The Legend author Wallace Wyss says he was inspired by the book by Brock Yates called
"Against Death and Time: One fatal season in Racing's Glory Years."
    "The cover fascinated me--it was an old picture in sepia tones of approximately eight or so Indy racers and I wondered as soon as I looked at it 'who are those guys and what happened to them?' "
    By chance, at a swap meet a few week later in Long Beach, Wyss bought a similar picture, of five race drivers in driving suits, but in the center of the picture was Carroll Shelby. "The sad thing is that of the four racers pictured beside team manager Carroll Shelby, three met their demise behind the wheel of  a race car," says Wyss. The picture was an old publicity picture from the 1965 Sebring 12 hour, a race in which the GT40s being run by the Shelby team were vanquished by a Chaparral driven by an old student of Shelby, Jim Hall, also a native of Texas.
   The Yates' book cover also had a colorful race car in the picture, and Wyss was able to sneak a color picture of a Cobra onto the cover though it's jammed into the upper right, not down where the racers are as in the Yates' book.
    "I also got the idea of a subtitle from a name of an exhibition at the Petersen Museum," says Wyss. "They called their
Shelby exhibit "A Life in the Fast Lane."
   So his lengthy original title as submitted back in 2007 was:

   A Life in the Fast Lane
   The Creator of the Cobra and his lifelong search for the soul of the American Musclecar."

   The last part of the subtitle Wyss says was inspired by another Brock Yates' book Outlaw Machine: Harley-Davidson and the Search for the American Soul."  I managed to work in the word 'soul' , says Wyss, but in the end my publisher shortened the whole thing
to "The Man, The Cars, the Legend."
    Wyss says that the writing style of SHELBY The Man The Cars The Legend was greatly influenced by the Harley book of Yates "because he didn't waste time talking about head design and so forth but explored more the International appeal of the Harley and why Harleys continue to fascintae people even though technically, they are in the dark ages compared to some foreign bikes, much as Cobras are primitive compared to Ferraris but that didn't stop them from beating Ferraris in racing."
    Yates, says Wyss, "is a rare combination of historian and literary writer. He has written about racing in a way that transcends the nuts and bolts and in my book I tried to do the same thing, as now that there is the internet anyone can find out how big the
'65 Shelby GT350 carburetor was. I thought 'it's more important to find out why Ford underwrote Shelby' and the like....