Original Sin: The World’s First Cobra

As car enthusiasts and speed freaks, it's hard to imagine a world without the Shelby Cobra, but until 1962, such a world actually did exist.

The Cobra, eponymous with brutal performance, was in its day the most rabid street-legal car available. Cramped, noisy, and harsh, it's everything a sports car should be, with no dilution from the primary purpose of speed at all costs- it's a thinly veiled race car. This is to have been expected, as it was the brainchild of one of America's best race drivers- Carroll Shelby.


Shelby acted as Yenta between AC Cars and Ford — the prior having a light-weight roadster with room for a V8, and the latter with both an eagerness to unseat the Corvette from American sports car supremacy, as well as a newly minted thin-wall V8 that would be a perfect fit for such an application.

Ford agreed to send a 221cid version of the new engine to AC, who had previously modified the Ace structure to incorporate a Ford Zephyr straight 6. Backed up by a Borg Warner T-10 4 speed, it was a perfect fit. AC slipped the 221 out and shipped the car to Venice California where Shelby American dropped in a new 260 V8 and took the car for shake-down runs looking for Corvette drivers to humiliate. Always the consummate marketer, Shelby invited all the buff magazines to test drive the new roadster, but wanting to impress potential buyers that there wasn't just the single car, had it re-sprayed between tests.

This car, CSX2001, was the first production Cobra built, and among the initial 75 that were delivered to dealers in 1962, where it quickly found a buyer. However, it turns out winter isn't the best season in which to drive a Cobra, and the car was returned 2 months later in trade for a less-windy Porsche. Another buyer soon scooped up the car, intending to campaign it. The Cobra changed hands numerous times during the next decade while touring Europe, and racked up victories across the continent. While in France, it was brought into '64-'65 roadster standards- including a quad-Weber 289, and rack and pinion steering. It was painted red, then yellow, then red again, and suffered under an awkward hardtop in order to gain speed on the long tracks. In 1974 all of the race modifications were removed and the car was returned to '64-'65 form.


California real estate developer, and car collector, Bruce Meyer bought CSX2001 in 2006. At that time he had the car repainted a deep black, but left the chassis and interior in their original, but well preserved state. Since then, he has driven it in a road rallye from Budapest to Prague, and won best in class at the 2008 Quail Valley show. The car also won best in class at the 2009 Los Angeles Concours d' Elegance, where these shots were snapped.


Source: Shelby American Automobile Club

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