. Cobra Ranch Historical Automotive Blog: Featuring Wally Wyss

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Biography – Book Review

by Wallace Wyss
            It was a long time coming; a near complete authorized biography of a giant in American sports car circles, Carroll Hall Shelby.  The author is a surprising choice, British author Rinsey Mills, surprising only because in a couple of his earlier books on Shelby he seemed of the opinion that the British side of the AC Cobra story wasn’t being given due credit, a common failing among British automotive historians who sometimes say A.C. did most of it until that cowpoke came along.  In this book he gives Shelby full credit for the idea of the Cobra.  This book is a step-by-step walk through Shelby’s life starting out as a farm boy in a small town near Dallas.  Mills had full access to not only Shelby, but Shelby’s lifelong friends, former employees, race drivers, business partners and even ex-wives.
            He is brutally frank in some areas, such as during the Series 1 Olds debacle, trying to fathom why Shelby persisted in making the car even though he was physically not up to it at the time and there were early signs that GM support could evaporate at any moment.  The book is best in the Le Mans racing segments, where he tells the simultaneous story of the Cobras and the GT40s racing. This reviewer has wrestled with the same thing–basically covering two very different kinds of cars–and concluded it’s easier to understand if you have separate chapters on the Cobras and GT40s. Mills took the more common approach, since they were both in the same races at the same time.  He doesn’t tell much about the personalities of the competition, for example the enigmatic Jim Hall, the young man that Shelby taught to race, and how Hall came back to haunt the Ford GT40 effort with his technically more advanced Chaparrals but he does paint a good portrait of Enzo Ferrari as a worthy adversary.
            The length of the book shows that Mills was trying to show that he could research more in depth on his subject than any author has done heretofore and that makes for fascinating reading at times but only occasionally drags, for example in over-coverage on Africa. He does establish Shelby had a game ranch there but goes on for several pages of mini-histories of various African countries and their rulers and that gets pretty far afield from Shelby, Cobras, and Mustangs and fans of those cars are the primary customers for doing a Shelby book.
            Surprising to this author was his close-up view of Shelby’s wooing of a TV actress while he was still married, surprising because this is “authorized” by Carroll Shelby. Hard to take because his wife Jeanne emerges as a noble woman who was forced to confront that situation (they got divorced, he married the TV star and shortly after divorced her). I am glad it’s in there because it presents a more complete picture of a man who, by most accounts, has lived the lives of six men, not just one.
            The role of various people in Shelby’s life becomes more in focus with Mills’ book, such as the role of Jacque Passino, a Ford racing czar. I had thought Passino came in only later in the GT40 period but Mills says Passino was one of those paving the way for Ford to fund the Cobra. Phil Remington is described numerous times as a key character. Remington was the mechanic who many times came up with last minute fixes on the Cobras and GT40s.  The threat that Holman Moody would take away a bit of Shelby’s empire in the racing days is well presented here though Mills never describes the people behind the name, Holman Moody.  Mills does a good job describing Shelby’s engaging personality, how a rural farm boy from Texas could go to Italy and learn Italian and drive race cars in several countries because he could get people to believe in him, to support his dream.
            The book weighs two pounds and is a whopping 552 pages. And yet has only about 32 pages of pictures, not even 10% of the total number of pages. Now the pictures are interesting, some not seen before from his youth, but I wonder if they will meet the expectations of Cobra fans who want to see every model: the wide hip, the narrow hip, the USRRC, the FIA and on and on. It won’t; and I expect you will have to buy another book to satisfy those needs. And though as an artist, I like Bill Neale’s paintings of Cobras, I wonder why he included several Neale paintings when pictures of the same cars are still available. True, the Neale paintings strike a mood, but many buyers of car books like pictures that help them make their model cars or replica cars more realistic and a painting can’t give you much guidance there.
Tony Parravano's Scaglietti-bodied Ferrari 121LM with Hans Tanner
at the Modena autodrome in Italy.

I thought, since the book is being published in 2012, that it would carry right through to the latest Shelby models, but it becomes vague soon after it discusses Shelby coming back to work with Ford, as if the author didn’t want to get buried in the multiplicity of models that has come out of the Shelby works and Ford since 2007. That’s okay when you remember that this book is a titled as a biography, so don’t expect a list of models with a discussion of the features and options. Maybe in the long view of history they are almost too new to be considered part of history.
            In sum, Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Biography by Rinsey Mills has set a tough standard for any future books on Shelby the man because he covers so many areas so thoroughly there’s almost nothing else anyone could add, no new area to shine light on. As far as technical areas, there will be minor quibbles, easily straightened out if he submits the work to various experts in each marquee. For instance, at one point he says Shelby was the one who got the flaws in the Pantera corrected, while it was actually Bill Stroppe in the West and Holman Moody in the East. A larger question is (and the sales figures will show what direction any future books should go) do Shelby fans want weighty tomes that are almost all words like this book, or do they prefer glossy picture books like Colin Comer’s Shelby and Cobra tomes?
            I think they want both. I think Mills will sell as many of these as Comer does his books. You need both kinds of books for your Shelby library if you want your library to be more complete. In racing scholarship, it doesn’t go near as far as The Cobra-Ferrari Wars by Mike Shoen but then Shoen doesn’t discuss Shelby’s life prior to the Cobra or go that much into after the Cobra. We’re glad to see that Mills’ biography got published while Shelby was still there to add to it and to steer the author to sources who could come up with a lot of information that’s new. The best part is the price. With a suggested retail price of $35.00 (and lower online), the price represents a real bargain for a book that will take you a whole weekend to read.
Author: Rinsey Mills
Publisher: Motorbooks; First edition (April 2012)
Format: Hardcover, 9.5″ x 6.375″, 552 pages
Photos: 25 color and 40 b/w
ISBN-10: 0760340560 ; ISBN-13: 978-0760340561
Price: starting at $22

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dukes up, MSN! We Take Your Writer To Task On His List of the 10 Most Significant Cobras

By Wallace Wyss

James Tate, a writer for MSN Autos, started a firestorm in late August, 2012  when he authored an article on his employer's website declaring his opinion on the Ten Most Significant Cobras Ever Built.

We quote his entire list, exactly as we found it:

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 2345 FIA Cobra Roadster
Starting off the list, this roadster, serial number CSX 2345, earned five Federation Internationale de L'Automobile wins as part of the first American team to take home the prestigious FIA World Manufacturers Championship. It was driven by Phil Hill, Bob Bondurant, Roy Salvadori, and Sir John Whitmore, among others. It was one of the five Roadsters built for FIA competition with a 289 cubic-inch engine, only two of which remain around today.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 2431 USRRC Cobra Roadster
Sporting the now iconic color combination of white stripes on blue, this is probably the most recognizable Cobra in history. CSX2431 is the 1964 289 Cobra Roadster that Ken Miles raced exclusively — barring one event — in the USRRC series. It is cited as the chassis that helped Shelby America develop most of the components it would later use to win a variety of domestic and international championships, like sway bars, springs, and the Weber manifold setup.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 2128 Sebring Cobra Roadster
Driven by Dan Gurney and Ken Miles, this badass snake appeared on the cover of the album "Hey Little Cobra" in 1964, which was recorded by legendary surf-sound pioneers, The Rip Chords. Two were built for the 1963 12 Hours of Sebring, and they were among the first Cobras to carry rack-and-pinion steering along with the now famous 289 cubic-inch motor.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 2427 Cobra 289 Dragonsnake
Dragonsnakes are among the rarest competition Cobras ever produced. Built exclusively for drag racing, only six were ever assembled with Ford's 289-cu-in V8 engine. Of these, only two left the factory with the Stage III-D competition engines. Even more importantly, this is the only one still left in existence. Not only that, but this is one of only two yellow and Weber-carburetor inducted Cobras ever sold.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 2299 Daytona Coupe
In 1963, Shelby American realized the need for a more aerodynamic version of the 289 Cobra Roadster to keep up with the sleek Ferrari 250 GTO. The end result was the first and only American built FIA GT World Champion. The CSX 2299 was the second coupe built, the first completed at Carrozzeria Gransport in Modena, Italy, and has the best race pedigree of the group, winning the 24 Hours of LeMans, 12 Hours of Sebring, the Daytona Continental 24 Hours, and the 1965 FIA GT World Championship.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 2026 Cobra Roadster
No Cobra better illustrates the changes that transformed the outdated Ace roadster into a Cobra capable of winning races against the best sports cars in the world than CSX 2026, the very first Cobra to win a race (Riverside in February, 1963) as well as a national championship. It is powered by a 260 cu-in 300 horsepower engine fitted with four Weber carburetors. Plus, it sports a myriad of rare and competition features including the Nassau-style headers, competition windshield kit, alloy brake calipers, and more.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 2002 Cobra Roadster
The first Shelby factory racer and the third Cobra ever built, this snake, serial number CSX 2002, went through an exhaustive 2,800-hour restoration in 1977. The 2002 emerged with an estimated 95 percent of its original frame and around 85 percent of its original body along with a slew of original equipment like the "Flamethrower" ignition, roll bar, and instruments. Even the gas cap is original.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 3017 Cobra
This is one of only 16 full-competition 427 Supersnake Cobras sold to the public. Fitted with a NASCAR-spec V8 engine, the 427 puts out an absurd 550 horsepower. The CSX 3017 (when the larger 427 cu-in engine was used, chassis numbers jumped from 2000 to 3000) was raced by Ford Canada team driver George Eaton in the '60s, and survives today with its original body intact.

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
CSX 4000 Cobra
The first reproduction of the Shelby Cobra, CSX 4000 gave birth to the kit-car legions of Cobras all over the U.S. and has become the most replicated car in history. Offering the everyman a chance to drive his own legend, CSX 4000 brought the horsepower to the people in a big way and stands as a testament to the difference between "fashion" and "style." Just about every Cobra you've ever seen (unless you're very lucky) is a copy of this "original clone".

Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Cobra #1: The Daddy
The first production Shelby Cobra, which debuted at the 1962 New York Auto Show, Cobra #1 raced through Europe during the mid-'60s, leading a charge of American power into international auto racing while cutting a swath through dejected Corvette drivers from coast to coast back home in the States. Carroll Shelby set out to combine overwhelming American horsepower with the handling and braking prowess of the British sports cars of the era. Shelby Cobra #1 is a timeless distillation of one man's dream."

Regarding Mr. Tate’s choices, I got a few bones to pick. Maybe he meant to write the title as “Ten Most Significant Cobras at Monterey,”  but the title says in plain words "ever built," and in the second paragraph he says  "Here we bring you the 10 most significant Shelby cars ever to roll off an assembly line."

CSX2196, the Flip Top Cobra
Well, Mr. Tate, I expect you expected some criticism of your choices and here's mine. First,  I would have had more 427s. While it’s true that the  289 cars won more races; however, the 427, for some years, was the ultimate American-engined road car.  The MSN author left off CSX2196 aka "Flip Top" which that was the start of the 427 Cobra. It would be a more interesting car to me if it had kept the bodywork it had when crashed at Sebring by Miles.
Regarding CSX3017 I doubt 550 hp. Maybe that could be accomplished today with more modern parts but I've seen factory spec sheets that quote a hp. figure of 485 hp.
for the Full Comp car.
Supercharged 1966 Shelby Twin Paxton
And why didn't Tate include the twin Paxton car, the one that Shelby owned himself and built for himself; later owned by Jimmy Webb the songwriter. What made that car significant was that it was a case of the originator of the Cobra building a hell-for-leather kick-ass Cobra just for himself, so I think that should be included, regardless of how little development the package  had (the owner of a duplicate car managed to let his get away from him and died at the wheel as a result).
Ken Miles in CSX 3002 at Lakeside 1965
I would have replaced 3017 on his list with 3002  which had a  more significant race history than 3017.   I would have left out any of the 4000 series cars on the grounds that they were not built “in the original era.” I would have put in at least one of the ’63 LeMans cars, the first that finished because it is significant for a brand new marque to be able to finish the famous LeMans 24 hour.
Finally to say that the Daytona coupe "won LeMans" is mis-leading to those who don't realize that there are class winners and overall race winners. At first glance you're making it sound like Daytonas won LeMans, Sebring and Daytona when you may be referring to a win in class, which is a long ways from winning the race (like winning one battle in a war but that still doesn't mean you won the war). Also I would have listed the first Daytona Cobra made only because--when it  proved to be faster than the roadsters in testing--Shelby made the decision based on that lap time to build more. If it would have been a dog, one car would have been all she wrote. In car collecting the very first and very last are usually worth more than a car made in the middle of a particular model run. The key word is "significance," and when the first of something works, that first one becomes more significant if said device goes into production.
Our conclusion: it's great that you are a Cobra enthusiast but research trumps (if you need a bibliography, I'll be glad to send one...)
WALLACE WYSS is the author of SHELBY: The Man, the Cars, The Legend
now in its second edition (Iconografix, Hudson, WI)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Summer Vacation: Pebble Beach 2012

by Wallace Wyss
 Your author, left, Henry Ford III at right. I believe he and his
brother both own  Shelby Mustangs where their father had once
 owned a GT40 and a Cobra.
My Friend,
   Monterey 2012 was everything I hoped it would be.  I got to see over 40 real genuine certified Cobras on the grid, photographed the vintage race, and sold some artwork. Plus ate a fine meal at Clint Eastwood's little ol' restaurant.  Let me tell it all in chronological order: I selected a big ol’Chrysler 300 for the trip, and arrived in my secret low cost no-tell motel –far from the actual Monterey peninsula--in five hours.  On Wednesday I set off for the Embassy Suites and set up my booth at Automobilia, a sort of emporium for the flora and fauna of the automotive world– posters, model cars, clothes, old books (and new books). I was pleased to be in a booth next to Mike Rabin who is famous for making wheel discs He had a great sense of humor, especially considering he had to endure hearing my sales pitch at least 100 times. Finally he got to where he would interrupt my pitch to a new client, saying “It’s getting deeper.”
     I actually met a repeat buyer, so I know my art’s catching on…alas I didn’t have the new copies of SHELBY The Man, The Cars, the Legend as the second edition was on the press.  I wondered over to Logan Gray’s booth and was shocked to see George Stauffer’s book Daytona Cobra Coupe is now $1500 used. I wonder if ol’ George has a warehouse full of new copies stashed away! I was tempted to buy a book about Lloyd Ruby whose name I understand, he insisted on pronouncing L-A-W-D ROO-BEE but found that book  too late to include any gems about him in my update of my Shelby book (SHELBY The Man, the Cars, the Legend)  as the second edition was on the press that week.
I also met a lady dressed in sort of ‘50s attire, reminiscent of the late great Betty Page (the first postwar glamor girl), selling scarves and such and we talked about how rat rods and ‘50s hot rod culture was always there behind the scenes, but only recently has attracted a following and even has conventions in Las Vegas.  I also sold my two leather jackets, one that was embroidered “COBRA RANCH Mendocino” and the other plugging my Ferrari novel (“Ferrari Hunters”). One had fur on it and we were lucky to escape the wrath of the PETAistas.
     Off to a wingding at the Monterey airport and, seeing as we love aero planes, we went over there and sampled the wine and ogled the glamour girls, and I ran into Mr. Pagani and chatted about this and that until I realized he spoke no English. There were a few Navy men in dress uniform and I was happy to see military guests at these events (I remember back when Steve Earle would host the Army to send over soldiers from Ft. Ord to watch his vintage races).
There isn't a better view in the concours world than the bay
 behind Pebble Beach Lodge. The owner of the drag racing Cobra
also received one of our exclusive COBRA RANCH jeans shirts.
    First sign this writer has seen of burgeoning Fiat 500 mania--one tricked out with mags and striping. This proud owner has a business in Signal Hill, CA, trying to meet demand for the Italian challenge to the MINI.

     Thenceforth on the following Friday morn we proceeded to the Concours Italiano which had plenty of delights, including a couple unrestored cars—gotta love those rolling barn finds– and a couple of hand-built cars that show incremental improvement from year to year. It was great when concours events finally allowed barn find cars in, because the truth is that some cars never do get finished. Before it was hard to find these diamonds-in-the-rough whereas now you even find them at major auctions like the Gooding (they had a tatty patina-encrusted Alfa).  Now there might be those who say 'I pay umpteen dollars to go see a concours and I see old rusty cars...'but you don't understand, a barn find is like catnip to a cat.  Also a brilliant move by Concorso, which has to strive especially hard to combat the Quail event now held on the same day, was a display of Italian bicycles and, though not a bike rider myself (I never got that Schwinn Phantom…) I thought this was the ultimate for bike fans and general spectators because there were probably many brands never seen in the U.S.
     At the Quail, an Iso Grifo targa was one of several Iso Grifos honored because it was the 50th anniversary of the "Iso" marque.  Iso was a company that stuck with Chevy V8s until GM cut them off, so the last ones had 351 Clevelands, like the one I owned for a whole week (until selling it in the parking lot of the Barrett-Jackson auction)
     Onto Laguna, the racetrack on Highway 68, and I headed straight for the Shelby group, who were happy as pigs in mud for being the honored marque. There were dozens of real Cobras (the small blocks were CSX2000 series and big blocks CSX3000 series) and it was great to see some still more or less the way they were 45 to 50 years ago, though one ugly one looked like it was painted with a trowel and I overheard someone berate that owner, telling him, “Your car is lowering the value of all Cobras.”
At Pebble Beach, Cobra owner Bruce Campena puts on a spirited
presentation on his smooth hood street 427. Judges are Lynn Park
in the Smokey the Bear hat and Pete Brock, both long time Cobraistis.
     Because Dr. Ernie T. Nagamatsu races a Cobra 289 with a rare LeMans style aluminum hardtop, he qualified for my team jacket as did about five other racers . Dr. Ernie has even taken his fastback hardtop-equipped Cobra to Goodwood to race. Each racer I encountered had to try several jackets on to see which fit, so that’s why not too many “won” my participation award.(actually, that's all I had with me, or they all would have earned one).  The actual race on Saturday was intensive, one by Jim Click , a Ford car dealer who I have previously seen racing a GT40. I think Jim Farley, a Ford VP, was also in the race so it’s interesting to see a high ranked Ford executive in vintage racing.
     As I left the Cobra race there were some other cars of interest lining up for the following races—someone trying to race a Ferrari Lusso, and then some brass-era cars that were beautifully detailed. In the pits several teams have now gone to painting pictures on their car hauler, scenes from their cars early days of racing. The signs they post showing their car’s history are getting more elaborate—one pit even having oil paintings of the car.
     These guys had a whole movie backdrop behind their period racer.  There was a mid-day speech on Shelby and I recognized Pete Brock, designer of the Cobra Daytona coupe, and hot dog driver Bob Bondurant, but they were too far away for me to ask questions, so later I made up for it by talking  to Henry Ford III, a robust young lad, son of Edsel , who himself has his place in the dynasty as  son of HFII, “The Deuce.” I told HFIII that, “If you grew up in Detroit, the Ford family was our royal family.” (My father worked at the Rouge building Model As in the 1930s).
     Edsel told me about the role of Carroll Shelby upon his return to the Ford fold. “He was over 80 when he came back,” he said. He also told me Shelby would personally go to the track and test the cars and scare the hell out of everybody. I took every opportunity to momentarily clutch various long-stemmed beauties hawking chemical cosmetics for cars, telling them that if I take a picture with them, the guys at the Senior Center will get a laugh. That pitch worked better before I shaved the beard.
Your author enjoying the ambiance of the
Lincoln hospitality suite at Pebble Beach.
     Somewhere in there we got over to Clint Eastwood’s place (not the Hog’s Breath, that’s old hat) but the Mission Inn Ranch or whatever, an old collection of farm buildings that is about 500 ft. south of the old Father Serra-founded Carmel Mission. There isn’t a more pleasant place to view the ocean than at Clint’s place, which is remarkably free of any reminder whatsoever that you are in a movie star’s place.  The next goal was to secure visiting privileges to a hospitality suite at Pebble Beach on Sunday. “Hey, you got a press pass, remember?” Well, it is at Pebble you find out that being the member of the press is only slightly more important, and maybe less so, than the person making your cappuccino. Each suite has a beady-eyed person with “The List”. And if you aren’t on it, you’d best be adaptive. I dropped some names until one rang the right bell and thus was in. The sun came out briefly and for one glorious 15-minutes it was “How can life be better than wining and dining at Pebble whilst the best cars in the world are paraded before you?”
     Then, braced with food and drink, it was off into the trenches, first visiting the A.C. owners, who proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the 260 Cobra was but a slight modification of the A.C. 2.6 Zephyr –of which they had at least two on display. Then  it was on to the Cobras themselves, including ol’ CSX2000 (the very first Cobra) whose leather hide looked appropriately trashed for a 50-year old car.
     The Cobra class winner at Pebble was Steve Volk who backed the Shelby American Collection museum in Colorado. Each owner had a scrapbook on his car and I could see some owners really pitching to have their car chosen but with judges like Lynn Park and Pete Brock, you couldn’t slip anything by these judges!     Pebble is always an education even for those jaded journalists who think they know of every car. For instance, I saw a Ghia-bodied Chrysler of early ‘50s vintage, nice in the details but looking like they thought of dual headlamps late in the game, jamming them on.

     Of course you can talk about this famous Italian designer and that one, but me being from the Midwest, the only designers I knew about as a lad were Bill Cushenberry, Dean Jeffries and George and Sam Barris. Well, wouldn’t cha know, I ran into George Barris, as always wearing those gold Cazal wraparound sunglasses. We talked about when the car magazines were printed small so you could hide them in your school books and the teacher wouldn’t know what you were really reading.
     I also ran into super youthful Camilo Pardo, who, during his 18-year career as a Ford designer, designed the new Ford GT. He told me he has a studio on the west coast now so I am really curious to see his non-Ford paintings, when they emerge. The puzzler is that he still looks eighteen, so he must have started at Ford while a mere infant.  I also ran into another old name in hot rodding, Terry Cook, at both Concorso and at the Auto Retro (a memorabilia event and art show) at Pebble, the Cookster hawking a sort of ersatz Bugatti type vehicle. Cook, once editor of Hot Rod when I met him almost fifty years ago said he had an epiphany of sorts when he saw a hot rod win the Ridler award at the Detroit Autorama and heard it cost the owner over $2 million. “And yet when you look at it from a distance,” he said “it’s just another ’32 Ford.” Meanwhile he had been exposed to a pre-war classic, probably something by Figoni et Falaschi, and decided to go into the business of making classic styled hot rods. He has made several and even displayed them in Paris, where they aren’t horrified but rather love the idea.
     I left the Concours before The Big Crowd and the judging, though I do like to see that confetti shower conferred upon the winners for Best of Show.  Before I blew town,  I remembered to check in with the Mecum auction who had auctioned my genuine autographed picture of Der Snakemeister (Carroll Shelby) along with a giclee print on canvas of my oil portrait depicting Shelby as he looked at Sebring in ‘65, and a Cobra Ranch Mendocino jacket plus a copy of the book I co-authored on GT40 (Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT). They looked up the results and told me to expect a check for a couple hundred in the next week (which they delivered!) Unfortunately, what with five nights in the motel and the gas, and the meals that didn’t quite cover the trip (in fact only about one fourth of it) ….but it was really memorable so I don’t mind the expense. Sorry you didn’t make it but I’m here to tell ya' Monterey 2012 was a real toot….
Yer O’bd’nt servant,
Wallace Wyss