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Shelby Stories and Legends

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Shelby American Production FiguresMustang Production 64-73

This section will be to stories, lists and comparisons of  the performance of the different Shelby Cars. If you have an information as to top speeds, 1/4 miles times or other info, please email it to me for posting here

$100 Bill taped to the Dash of a Cobra…

Carroll Shelby was always one to try to outdo Ferrari. One unofficial record a Ferrari held was “0-100-0” time.  A couple of Shelby American employees took at 427 Cobra out to see what it would do. They were clocked going from 0 to 100 mph back to 0 again in 13.8 secs.  Try and grab that $100 bill taped to the dash…

The Bill Cosby 427 Dual Supercharger 200 MPH Cobra

The story goes that Bill Cosby, the comedian asked Shelby for a special Cobra, you know, one of a kind. Shelby put twin supercharges on a 427 Cobra. That lethal combination put out 900 horsepower! Cosby told about driving it on one of his early comedy albums. I found copies of this classic Bill Cosby routine on Napster. I’d post it here but it is one HUGE file (over 27 meg.). 

Cosby tells in the routine that he owned a Rolls Royce that quit running on him so he decided to replace the car with a car would do over 180 mph. One day he while driving his Ferrari, he happened to bump into Carroll Shelby. Shelby told him that he should be driving a real sports car, an American one, not some foreign car. Cosby said American cars would only go 160 mph and he wanted one that would go at least 180 mph. Shelby told him they would build a special Cobra for Cosby, one that would go 200 mph. Cosby told him to go for it. He said he was like a kid waiting for Christmas to come. Shelby American delivered the Cobra to him at home. “Here are the keys to your Cobra”, the man said.  It was all blue with side exhaust that wrapped clear around the car. Now imagine this, Shelby built a 900 horsepower, supercharged 427 engine for this Cobra. They even put a special plaque on the dash for him. Cosby got into the car and started it up. It roared to life. He turned it off faster than he had started it. He said his hair on his head went straight up. And he was just idling. He hadn’t even put his “foot on the gas pedal and he was killing people.” His impulse was to get out of the car, but his manhood wouldn’t let him. Besides what would he tell Shelby. He had to drive it at least once. He put his foot on the brake as far as it would go, checked everything, fastened his seatbelt, which he never wore. He started the car again. It ROARED to life, he let the clutch out and he immediately began circling the tree in his yard. He shut it off, took the keys out, and gave the keys back to the Shelby American employee. He told him, take this car, its already paid for and give it to George Wallace.  The skit is well worth the download. I laugh at it time and time again. 

Disappearing in the Distance

Mike Anson, of Motor Trend magazine, wrote about his first sighting of a 427 Cobra. “I was driving along a Los Angeles freeway one night in the late 60’s when I saw a stock appearing 427 Cobra and a slalom equipped Corvette face off at approximately 80 MPH. Following in my drag race equipped super light Dodge with 125 mph capability, I followed their race. The Cobra looked like it was starting from a standing start – burning the big Goodyear Blue Streaks so that it was fishtailing sideways as it accelerated. Even with the 4.56:1 gears in the Dodge, I couldn’t keep up. The Cobra won, but the race looked as if it had been from a standing start and that I had been standing still.

INCREDIBLE! As they began pulling away from me, I chanced a look at my instrument panel and saw 126 mph at 7200 rpm – but the Cobra was by then disappearing into the distance.” (Quote from Shelby’s Wildlife, the Cobras, Mustangs and Dodges by Wallace Wyss.)

One Cobra of many colors

True story. When Carroll Shelby was first trying to get Shelby American off the ground, they had ONE Cobra. Shelby was the king of promotions. So when he did the interviews with the different car magazines, they painted that ONE Cobra a different color for each magazine so it looked like they had many cars.

Carroll Shelby School of High Performance Driving

Somewhere alone the Shelby path, Carroll apparently decided the world needed a high performance driving school. In those times there was no such creature. This was before the Cobra was created. Over some beers one night, he enlisted a buddy to help him put the idea on paper. John Christy, the editor of Sports Car Graphics (later renamed Car and Driver) helped Shelby put an ad in his magazine. The ad offered to send information about the school if you enclosed $1 and mailed to Shelby. Pretty soon envelopes started showing up in the mail box filled with $1 bills. I heard that Shelby would bring the envelopes to the bar and buy drinks with the $1 bills. Deke Holgate, a writer for a Los Angeles newspaper, told it was time to organize the school or Shelby could get into some serious legal trouble. Holgate was enlisted to do PR work for the new school. Shelby talked to Paul O’Shea about setting up the school. Paul and Carroll met at the Riverside race track to discuss the school. The O’Shea conversation did not pan out. O’Shea was thinking that Shelby would be his assistant instead of the other way around.

Shortly before this a fellow named Pete Brock has quit GM and moved to California to get involved with the car culture. Dan Gurney had told Pete if he wanted to be involved in racing he needed to be where it was happening. Pete had purchased a small farmhouse off Riverside’s turn 9. When a race engine started up Pete would head to the track to see who was doing what. On this particular day, after O’Shea left, Pete was standing there. Shelby had crossed path with Pete and knew he had some racing experience. Shelby turned to Pete and asked him if he wanted to run the school. Pete answered, “Sure”. Pete jumped into it with both feet and his Falcon V8 sedan delivery. That is how Pete Brock became involved with Carroll Shelby. Oh and the school became a success. As Brock became more involved with Shelby American projects, one of the resident drivers, John Timanus, took over the school. He ran it until he was hired by the Sports Car Club of America to be Head Tech.

Bob Bondurant was recovering from a serious crash at Watkins Glenn. A steering arm broke on his car going 150 mph. He hit a dirt embankment and rolled his car end over end eight times. He broke his legs so badly that he was told he’d never walk again. While Bob was in the hospital, Shelby went to visit and invited him to take over the school during his recuperation. On February 14, 1968, The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving opened it’s doors at Orange County International Raceway. The first week he had three students. The second week two more students showed up; Paul Newman and Robert Wagner who needed training for the movie they were working on, “Winning.” Bob was hired as a technical consultant for the movie and drove the camera car. The Bondurant School still exists today.

The Dragonsnake Cobra drag car

Jere Kirkpatrick, one of the mechanics at Shelby American, was on the team that dropped a HiPo 289 in Carroll Shelby’s personal 1963 Ford Fairlane. Jere tried to talk their manager, Leonard Parson, into letting them drag race the Fairlane. Eventually Jere talked to Shelby directly about racing it. Shelby said “No.” But Jere would not let the topic drop. One day Parsons came back to Jere with the OK to build a drag racer, a budget of $6000 and a message from Carroll to “tell the kids to leave me alone.”

They talked about building an outright dragster but about that time a rented Cobra came back to the shop. MGM had rented CSX2019 for use in the Elvis Presley movie “Viva Las Vegas”. The Cobra needed some repairs so it was appropriated as the drag racing Cobra. The guys planned on the project to involve the whole production team. When it was apparent the project was going to be done after business hours, the team thinned down to Randy Shaw, Tony Stoer and Jere Kirkpatrick. Tony did most of the work. The first mod was installing a racing 289 from the race shop, changing out the shocks. springs, wheels and tires. The first outing was at Lions Drag Strip in the fall of 1963. The guys won. By the end of the 1963 season, this Cobra was the AHRA National F/SSP record holder at 12.81 seconds @ 109 MPH. They didn’t break an engine all season. Read more about the Drag Racing Cobras by clicking here

The 289 Tiger Prototype

Jere Kirkpatrick was the Shelby American employee that got the job of stuffing a stock Ford HiPo 289 into the Tiger Prototype that George Boskoff had built the prior year with a 260 engine. The car came back to Shelby American looking for a 289. Jere’s primary tool to make that installation was a ball peen hammer. Took him about a dozen installs to get it to fit. Jere took the Tiger home for the weekend to sort out any issues. He said he never had a better sleeper car to race on the streets of LA. The car was shipped back to England. A few weeks later a telegram arrived from the Rootes Group who the car was shipped to. All it said was “You bloody Americans are f***ing nuts.” Rootes approved the 289 engine swap but went with the C Code 289, eliminating the fire wall bashing needed to get the K code 4 barrel carb in that tiny engine bay. Read more about the Shelby Connection to the Tigers by clicking here.

The DeTomaso Mangusta and the Shelby Connection

Shelby was wanting to come up with a replacement body for the aging Cobra. He was looking for a European body style that would handle a Ford 427 engine. Shelby knew de Tomaso from racing in Europe and also knew he was building cars. Shelby arranged with de Tomaso to build him a body. Pete Brock went to Italy to get the car designed and built. The first prototype was a pretty awesome looking car but it would not handle the 427 engine. Shelby got word of the issues plus he was getting pressure from Ford to fix and race the GT 40’s so he ordered Brock home. DeTomaso was pretty upset with the termination of the Shelby deal. He did end up with the prototype though. DeTomaso took that prototype and created a new model that he called the Mangusta, which was named after the Mongoose, a Cobra killer. No kidding. The next part of the deTomaso story involved with Ford wanting a special European sports car to offer. DeTomaso was using a Ford drive train in his Mangusta. The deTomaso Pantera became this joint project. The Pantera was sold through Ford Lincoln Mercury dealers in 1971-72. Read more about the deTomaso cars and story by clicking here.