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Dragon Snake – the Drag Racing Cobra

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In 1964, Carroll Shelby’s A.C. Cobras dominated the American road racing scene. The Shelby American racing team and independent Cobras won every race they competed in. Shelby intended the Cobras to be street cars and road racers. Ford wasn’t interested in drag racing and therefore neither was Shelby. Along the way, a few of Shelby’s employees convinced him to furnish them a 289 Cobra to build a drag version of the Cobra.

They called it the DragonSnake.

Cobras were ideal for modifying for the Strip. After all the whole car was a hybrid to start with. The all aluminum body was made at AC in England. The engineless AC’s were shipped to the Shelby American in California to receive a Ford Hi-Po 289″ – the first American factory to be in the engine swapping business. Prior to this time, if you wanted a V-8 powered sports car, you acquired a European car and put in your own American engine. The public loved the cars. The A.C. Cobra was an instant success. The drag racing public was accustomed to putting different, read that bigger, engines in cars for the drag strip.

Almost every time the DragonSnake raced, it broke records. The driver, Jere Kirkpatrick, also maintained the chassis. Ralph Falconer, Jr., was responsible for the engines. Together they dominated the A/SP class. Top speed in the quarter for the 289 powered Cobra was 116.27 MPH in 11.81 seconds.

The DragonSnake had to be modified for 1/4 mile drag racing. In the beginning the Cobra couldn’t get traction even with a factory stock racing engine. All four wheels were independent, with springing by transverse semi-elliptic leaves. Weight transfer was the key to getting the right traction. Special drag strip Cure-Ride shocks with 50/50 control in the front and 90/10 in the rear that Up-Loc and Down-Loc on acceleration were installed. In order to maintain proper front end geometry during hard acceleration, the front springs were reformed down 2 1/2 ” at the centerline and lengthened 5/16 ” .

When the Cobra would leave the line, the body shifting backwards on the rear wheels caused the tops of the tires to lean inward, reducing the tire surface area in contact with the ground. The rear spring was lengthened .350″ to prevent the axles from changing to a negative camber during acceleration. Those were the only changes made to the body of the sports car model.

Falconer came up with four engine combinations. All ended up being offered as options on the Cobra roadster.
– The first stage I-D, was the stock 271 HP 289″.
– The same engine with two four barrel carbs, rated at 300 HP, was stage 2.
– Swapping the two fours for four Italian Weber carbs, jumped the horse power to 325, stage 3, III-D.
Each engine was carefully prepared to meet AHRA and NHRA standards.

– The last stage, IV-D, had the Webers, a special acceleration camshaft with ported and polished heads. Rated at 380 HP, the IV-D Cobras could only be raced in the AHRA sports car class.

With a 4.89:1 rear end, the stock Ford 289 with Webers, the Stage III-D Shelby Cobra, outran everything on the drag strip, even the fuel injected big block ‘Vettes

For more information, on the Dragonsnake Cobras, pick up a copy of the Shelby American Registry from SAAC and Dave Friedman’s book Shelby Cobra, The Shelby American Original Archives 1962-1965. The information and images come from the above sources. Friedman was the original photographer for Shelby American. His thousands of images can be found in his series of books on the cars of Shelby American. Invaluable additions to your collection of Shelby American information. The pictures alone are worth the price of the books. Definitely the stuff legends are made of…

Some side notes:

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 built the prior year. The car had a 260 cid in it when Jere was giving the task. 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.


Jere was involved with dropping a HiPo 289 in Carroll Shelby’s personal 1963 Ford Fairlane. Jere tried to talk their manager, Leonard Parson, into letting them drag race it. Eventually Jere talked to Shelby directly about racing it. One day Parsons came back with the OK to build a drag racer and 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 down 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.


In the spring of 1964, their drag Cobra was sold out from under them for $5,000. Tony was very upset. He protested to Parsons who told him not to worry and go pick out another Cobra from the production line and build a new drag racer. Tony selected CSX2357. And this time there was no budget. Parsons picked the blue metal flake paint for it. The final touch was putting a coiled Cobra snake on the rear quarter panels. This was a creation of Tweety, the inhouse painter. The Dragonsnake was born. The only time Tony got to drive the Dragonsnake was after the first month when the car was ready. Parsons told Tony to take the car home and test drive it. He raced everyone he could find to race with it. The next week Tony got his draft notice from the Selective Service. When he reported for his physical he was asked if he had ever been arrested. He had to list the 30 odd tickets and arrests he had gotten while testing Cobras. He was sent home and told to await further instructions. He career at Shelby American was over. Jere inherited the driving duties for the Dragonsnake.

*Most of the above information comes from SAAC, the 2019 Shelby American Annual issue #116.