. Cobra Ranch Historical Automotive Blog: Featuring Wally Wyss

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Shelby-modified GT40 Sold at Gooding in Monterey

by Wallace Wyss

A stunning shade of blue
   The Monterey Car Week saw many significant Shelby-related cars sold, and one of the most historically significant ones was Prototype GT40 No. 104 --sold Sunday evening at the Gooding auction in Monterey for a $4.50 million hammer price = $4.950 million all in including commission. This was less than half the price of a GT40 that sold at another auction that weekend on the same peninsula but that other GT40 had the hallowed Steve McQueen connection.  The historical claims that Gooding announced for it are for it being:
  • The fourth GT40 Prototype and the first to receive a lightweight chassis
  • A Ford Motor Company 1964 Le Mans debut entry
  • One of two GT40s to podium in the GT40’s first completed race, resulting in a third overall at the 1965 Daytona Continental
  • Driven by Hill, McLaren, Bondurant, Miles, Schlesser, Ginther, Attwood, Amon and Other Works Drivers
  • The second-oldest surviving GT40
Dat Thumb
   This 1964 car has been through many hands. It is more rare than the average GT40 because it was a 1964 car and originally had a duck billed platypus shaped nose (see drawing). Shelby-American was delivered the car by Ford after the disastrous 1964 season and rebuilt the car with a new nose—eliminating the narrow nose look, and many other changes including the front partial front spoilers and a fog lamp. 

Makes me want to grab some Turtle Wax for my ride
 The biggest change Shelby made was to throw out the 255-cu. In. “Indy” alloy block and put in  a more reliable 289. He still kept the Colotti gearbox, though, and it was with that engine that it finished third in the Daytona Continental 2000Km in 1965, with Ken Miles/ Lloyd Ruby sharing the driving.
   Race cars can be “famous” in more than one body configuration/mechanical set-up and for historical reasons I would urge bringing it back to the ’64 configuration but you can see why it’s much more popular in the body style it is now—that of a winning car instead of its first configuration where it was a total loser. It is the one car that signifies what Carroll Shelby and crew brought to the table when Ford--hat in hand--took their losing GT40s to Shelby and tasked him with making the car right. All the other GT40s prepared for racing followed the ideas tried on this car.
    THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of SHELBY: The Man, The Cars, the Legend, now it its second edition (Iconografix, Hudson, WI)

A.C. 2.6 Zephyr - The Missing Link in Cobra's Evolution

By Wallace Wyss

Perfect for European roads, or delivering US Mail

     You would expect a Cobra club official to be an expert on Cobras. but in 2012 a Mustang magazine published an article by a Cobra club official where he once again perpetuated the time-worn myth that Carroll Shelby adapted the A.C. Ace Bristol to make the Cobra.  In point of fact the first Cobra 260 was actually built using a later A.C. model than the Bristol, this one a “long nose” lower hoodline design that came stock with an inline Ford six called the 2.6 or A.C. Zephyr.
     A.C., one of the oldest automakers, had been making cars before WWII. After the war, they returned to the market with a rather boring line of cars in 1947.  It wasn’t until they ran across the specials built by John Tojiero that they became an exciting company. Tojiero had built at least two cars for private customers that were more or less “imitations” of Ferrari 166 barchetta styling boasting a light ladder type tubular frame and an  all-independent transverse leaf spring suspension. Powerplants varied, including at least one with an MG engine.
     A.C. saw that this independent car builder had captured something marketable and licensed the design from Tojiero to create the production A.C. Ace of 1953. At first it had their own ancient engine—a 100-hp. overhead cam six that went back to just after WWI.    They also had a hardtop coupe version, or fastback if you want to call it that, from 1954 -- the Aceca hard top coupĂ©.  It was mildly popular but they knew their engine was too old hat. A car that looks so sporty should be faster.  Finally they  were able to source a lively two-liter inline six from Bristol, a firm that had made airplanes, such as the Beaufighter, during the war.  Actually that engine was based on a German design from BMW.

Pebble Beach 2012
The A.C. Bristol began to be produced in ’56, rated at 120 bhp (89 kW) with 3 downdraft carburetors . That was mated to a four-speed manual. That moved the 0–60 mph (0–100 km/h) time from the 11 seconds of the A.C.-engined version down to the nine second range. Overdrive was available from 1956 and front disc brakes were on the option list from 1957, although they were later standard.

     A key figure in the acceptance of the 2.6 Zephyr version was A.C. dealer Ken Rudd who offered several versions of tune from "mild to wild" as it were. It used three Weber or SU carburetors and either a 'Mays' or a cast iron head. He got the 0-60 mph time down to  8.1 seconds. and the top speed moved up to 130 mph.  It was about that time—in 1961-- that race driver Carroll Shelby, having voluntarily retired from racing due to a congenital heart ailment, found out that Bristol engines were no longer going to be available to A.C. as Bristol was putting Chrysler V8s in their luxury cars and didn’t need the six any more. Shelby was aware of the newer existence of the  2.6 Zephyr but didn’t think that would cut it as far as saving the Ace—not when you could stuff in an American V8 and make a real tire-burner!
     So the rest is history—Cobra history. A.C. did gamily keep the A.C. 2.6 in production until 1962 until they determined the Texan's car would be popular but the demands for Cobras soon ruled the 2.6 Zephyr A.C. out of production after only 37 roadsters, and eight Aceca coupes,  had been built. There were also 13 built with Rudd’s “Stage 5 tuning” and 18 built with an overdrive trans, and only one built with a headers instead of the heavy cast iron exhaust manifold.

 Note the lack of Cobra like flares on the 2.6
    So it is that, at events like Pebble Beach concours in 2012, the appearance of a couple  A.C. Zephyr 2.6 roadsters saw confusion on the faces of Cobra fans. What was this—a Cobra-styled car built before the first A.C. Cobra?
   Say it ain't so, Joe.

   But it is. A car  whose existence had almost been  shoved under the rug (including by this author’s, in his first Cobra book done 37 years ago…since corrected in his latest book)
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss wrote SHELBY: The Man, the Cars, the Legend, of which the second edition is now available (Iconografix 1-800-289-3504)

Cobras Take It To The Limit

by Joanna Koch
Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Monterey, CA, USA

Today was the day everyone was waiting for, or at least the 30 or so thousand people flocking to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion were waiting for it:  the chance to see 45 competition Shelby Cobras charging around California’s famously challenging 2.238-mile road course known as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  The Cobras are part of the Reunion’s celebration of the Shelby Cobra’s 50thAnniversary, and besides those signed up for racing, there were hundreds more in the paddock, surrounding corrals, and even in a museum-quality Heritage Display, not to mention those driving the streets in Monterey these past few days as their owners went to and from Classic Car Week’s concours events, tours, car shows and auctions that are now signature around the world as among the finest in the automotive world.
The featured Cobra race was one of nine official Rolex Races held after lunchtime today, and it had to be the most watched, running chills up spines with the rage of roaring engines made more intense at the wave of the green flag by celebrity starter Edsel Ford II.  It was billed as a tribute race to honor the Cobra’s originator Carroll Shelby, who had planned to be here, but, sadly, died in May of this year at the age of 89.  For Jim Click, who drove his 1964 Cobra 289 to win, that poignant fact made his victory a significant moment in time.  Back in the paddock, celebrating with his crew and race fans who had surrounded his car, he said, “I knew Carroll Shelby; he did so much for racing and for Ford, so it is an honor for me to have won this race for Mr. Shelby.  This is the biggest win of my life.”
Click explained that he started third on the grid today, but the second-place car broke down.  “I was chasing car #81 (also a 1964 Cobra 289) for the lead, and I knew I was faster going through the turns; he is a really good driver, but he finally made a bit of a mistake exiting a corner, so I was there to take advantage,” said Click.  Race day drama was heightened when a rare Daytona Coupe suddenly wound up off-track as well with apparent damage to its front end.  The Coupe, one of only six ever built, had held a seemingly comfortable third-place position for the first half of the 20-minute race.  At the Rolex Driver’s Club, which allows a birds-eye view of the “Andretti Hairpin” turn 2 and the short straights leading into and exiting turn 3, the atmosphere could not have been more electric, and after the checkered flag, the reverence of fellow drivers from the 16 other classes here was made clear as the Cobra’s slowed their pace to loud cheers and waving caps in recognition of their collective accomplishment.
For Charles Firmenich (Geneva, Switzerland), racing his 1965 Cobra in the race was less about winning and more about gaining experience. “I’ve had this car for two years, but this is my first year of racing,” said Firmenich, adding that he has 20 years experience doing track days with car clubs.  “I have been itching for a long time to do some actual racing, so when I got this Cobra I felt the time had come.  I raced this car at the Le Mans Classic this year and at first it was horrible, because in the rain in a car like this it is frightening, but after a while I got used to it.  I have never been to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before, and I find it very challenging because it has so many different shapes and turns.  We have a few tracks in Europe that are also fast and technical, but this one is special.  As a Swiss citizen it is great for me to see a Swiss company, Rolex, promoting motor racing around the world and especially vintage racing because it has become so popular in Europe as much as it has in America.”
Just prior to the race, 169 Cobras thrilled the crowds with yet another screaming salute to Carroll Shelby in “Parade Laps” that converged 50 original Shelby Cobras (2000s and 3000s) with 25 continuations (4000s and 6000s that were built by Shelby American with Carroll Shelby’s blessing 20 years after the originals), 19 replicas of the Cobra Daytona Coupe (the lead car of which the Coupe’s designer Peter Brock had command) and 75 more Cobra replicas.  The Nor Cal Shelby Club was behind growing its typically 75-car Cobra Corral at this event to 315 in this special year when Cobra was made the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion’s special marque.  “We pulled it off despite ourselves,” chuckled Orion Felles (Redwood, Calif.), secretary of the club. “I’m glad we could put on a good show and that it was so appreciated.  And the drivers, when they found out about the parade, some of them came because Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is world-famous, and they said, ‘We want to do this track!’”
As if the race and the parade were not enough, Ford's Shelby Cobra Heritage Display—a giant tented attraction at the center of the race paddock--featured Cobra serial number CSX2001, the very first production Cobra built, among its 12 historically fascinating Cobras that, with the help of story boards, mapped the heritage of the iconic marque.  It is owned by Bruce Meyer (Los Angeles, CA), who like most car collectors, strives for the most unique and rare machines he can find and will show the Cobra at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Sunday.
“We have been fortunate to have cars worthy of the lawn,” said Meyer, “and I feel that I am just a caretaker of these cars, since none of us can take them with us; it’s a real privilege.”
Meyer explained that Cobra #1 was assembled in Pittsburgh and did all the East Coast auto shows.  It then went off to Le Mans at the end of 1963 to race there in 1964.  After Le Mans it went to Ford Racing of Europe and raced throughout Europe.  “It’s a very significant car, since it is the very first one and also the first Cobra taken to Europe to race.  Loyd Lucky Casner was a close friend of Carroll Shelby and bought this car to race at Le Mans with co-driver Jean Louis Vincent.  Vincent bought the car from Casner after Le Mans and raced it in the Tour de France and it became the only Cobra to ever race that event.”
Meyer’s collection runs the gamut from Duisenbergs to dragsters to hot rods to Bonneville cars, but he has always been interested in performance cars. “I have the first Corvette to race at Le Mans and the last production Porsche (a 935) to win overall there…I think I will bring the 935 Porsche here to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion next year to race.  I don’t do a lot of wheel-to-wheel racing, but I do a lot of track days because it suits my schedule better.”
Meyer was appreciative of all around him at Classic Car Week, including Rolex’s involvement as a sponsor here as well as at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance; Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance presented by Rolex; and The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering.  “I want to say that I am delighted that Rolex is part of all this, because Rolex and automobiles are just the perfect pairing, like the perfect pairings of fine wine.  So many car collectors appreciate fine time pieces and Rolex is the one most people associate with exquisite automobiles, for me it’s a privilege to participate in these events.”
For more information on the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, visit www.MazdaRaceway.com
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About Rolex

Leading brand of the Swiss watch industry, Rolex, headquartered in Geneva, enjoys an unrivalled reputation for quality and expertise the world over. Its OYSTER watches, all certified as chronometers for their precision, are symbols of excellence, performance and prestige. Pioneer in the development of the wristwatch as early as 1905, the brand is at the origin of numerous major watchmaking innovations, such as the OYSTER, the first waterproof wristwatch, launched in 1926, and the PERPETUAL rotor self-winding mechanism introduced in 1931. Rolex has registered over 400 patents in the course of its history. A truly integrated manufacturing company, Rolex designs, develops and produces in-house all the essential components of its watches, from the casting of the gold alloys to the machining, crafting, assembly and finishing of the movement, case, dial and bracelet. Rolex is also actively involved in supporting the arts, sports, the spirit of enterprise, and the environment through a broad palette of sponsoring activities as well as philanthropic and patronage programmes.
About Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was established in 1957. The world-renowned raceway has been operated since its inception by the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP), a not-for-profit 501(c) 4 corporation. Each race season, SCRAMP donates its net proceeds to the volunteer groups that help organize the races. The 2012 Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca race schedule features American Le Mans Monterey, presented by Patron (May 11-12); Ferrari Racing Days (May 18-20); Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, featuring the MotoGP World Championship (July 27-29); Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (Aug. 17-19); and the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival, powered by Mazda (Sept. 7-9).
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