Legendary automobiles are hard to come by these days. A horsepower war engulfs the auto industry, robbing supercars of staying power, but 50 years ago — and still today, Carroll Shelby’s name and legacy remain self-distinguished.
A talented amateur, Shelby was quickly scouted to become a driver for Cad-Allard, Aston Martin, and Maserati during the 1950s. In 1953, Shelby set 16 U.S. and international speed records, exceeding 160 mph across the Bonneville Salt Flats in an Austin-Healey 100S . Then, Shelby set another record in 1956 at the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race, breaking the time-trial record with a 10:21.8 seconds run in a specialized Ferrari roadster.
Racing in Formula 1 from 1958 to 1959, Shelby participated in eight World Championship races, for Maserati in his first year, then Aston Martin in his second. Finally, Carroll Shelby and teammate racing driver Roy Slavadori earn the coveted win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959 behind the wheels of an Aston Martin.
Despite his talent and success in racing, many of us remember Carroll for what he did after he retired from racing. First revealed at the 1962 New York Auto Show, Carroll Shelby introduced a new “hybrid” sports car that possessed a body from the British AC Cars and an American Ford V8 engine. A game-changer at the time, the Shelby Cobra has now become an icon in automotive history.
While many Cobra fans would believe that the AC Ace chassis and the Ford V8 were necessary ingredients for the perfect Cobra sports car recipe, neither AC Cars nor Ford were Shelby’s first-choice for suppliers. It wasn’t until another British marque, Austin Healey, declined Shelby that he turned to AC. What’s more, Chevrolet quickly refused to supply Shelby with its small block V8, fearing the action would effectively help a man build a car that will compete against its own Corvette sports car.
Initially, the Cobra was fitted with a 260 cubic-inch Ford V8. A less notable engine, the 260 was replaced after producing 75 examples, making way for the more popular 289 cubic-inch as well as the staggering 427 cubic-inch big block V8 later on. In an era where cars struggled to hit 0-to-60 mph in 14 seconds, the 427 Shelby Cobra boasted the ability to rocket from 1-100 mph and slow back down to zero in less time than that.
Combined with limited production, its legendary performance and success in racing, the Shelby Cobra is still one of the most desirable vehicles in the world. Well aware of the machines’ rarity and strong demand, many companies brought it to themselves to re-create Shelby replicas to satisfy driving enthusiasts. To date, tens of thousands of replicas and kit-cars have been produced, largely unchanged from the original design, in a wide range of quality and fit and finish.
We advise you to ignore questionable reliability of kit car builds though, as after 50 years, Shelby American still offers customers with the “continuation Cobra,” featuring a fiberglass or aluminum body as well as a genuine Shelby “CSX” serial number. Prices for a rolling chassis start at approximately $60,000.