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Ford Motor Company wanted to win races very badly. Henry Ford had a real problem with the way European racing fans laughed at Ford’s racing efforts. Compared to Ferrari and Porsche, Ford wasn’t a serious racing contender. Ford also was well aware of how the Corvette’s racing successes on the weekends sold Chevrolets on Mondays. Ford was so serious about having a winning racing car that an offer was made to purchase Ferrari. Fortunately for history, Enzo Ferrari took too long to decide and demanded too much, such as Ford terminating its relationship with Carroll Shelby. Ford called the deal off and dumped a ton of money in racing efforts with Shelby American and the GT 40 project.
In 1965 the Essex Corporation sponsored two major racing efforts. Ford was Essex Wire’s biggest customer. Sponsoring a Ford Racing Team gave Essex the chance to promote its largest customer plus its own wire products. The Chairman of the Board at that time, Walter Probst, greeted the idea with great enthusiasm. Paul O’Malley, Essex President, “took the challenge and turned it into a winner for both Essex and Ford,” according to Probst.
The man in charge of Essex’s efforts was Fred Krammer, the Ford Account Executive. He oversaw the acquisition of the cars, the racing preparation, and the recruitment of the drivers for Team Essex. The first problem for the PR department, headed by Jim Kress, Public Relations Director, was to convince the world as well as the United States, that Ford’s efforts were serious and a Ford could be a winner.
Shelby American was already winning races with the Cobras, so it only made sense that Essex sponsor a Ford powered Cobra. In 1965, the newest weapon in the Shelby arsenal was the big block Cobra. The small block Cobras were great racing cars but Shelby wanted to make sure they could win on the European courses and that called for more horsepower. The Essex Cobra was one of the new 427 Cobras, model CSX3009.
The first member of Team Essex was Skip Scott. Skip was the Rookie of Year just prior to joining the team. Scott had trained with Ken Miles at Shelby American. He was recruited to organize the team. The first driver Scott enlisted was a regular with the Shelby American team, Dick Thompson. Know as Dr. Thompson because he was a practicing dentist in the Washington DC area, Thompson was a semi-pro who drove Cobras for Shelby American. The second driver also had racing experience. Ed Lowther was building a construction company in Pittsburgh and raced as a hobby. He drove Vettes for the Gulf Oil Racing Team in the late 50’s. Ray Heppenstal was the team’s crew chief and head mechanic.
The Essex Team placed fourth on the national level in 1965 on the US Road Racing Championship, a good season for a first time team. The next year Essex moved on to the International Grand Prix racing with a GT 40. The Cobra was sold to Ed Lowther. The Lowther Cobra won at Riverside & Daytona and a national championship. Known as “Ollie the Dragon” because of the fire that came out of the carb through the hoodscoop occasionally, won more races than any other Cobra.
Today the whereabouts of the original car is not known. The car could be in parts somewhere. The Essex Group in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has reproduced the car with a NOS Cobra obtained from Carroll Shelby. It sits today at the National Automotive & Truck Museum of the United States (NATMUS) display in Auburn, Indiana.
All pictures on this page are property of the Essex Group in Fort Wayne, IN. For more information about the Essex Cobra, visit the NATMUS in Auburn, Indiana, (219-925-9100) or contact the Essex Group at 1061 Wall Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802.
A limited issue 1/18 scale model of this car is available form either source. Only 2,500 were made. Included with the model is a booklet that explains much of the history of the car. This model is white with black letters on the door, just like the above picture, saying Essex Wire, with the single side windshield, just like the original. If you are interested contact the NATMUS.