The Cobra Charm
To millions of motorsports fans around the world, a cobra isn’t a snake.Instead, it is one of the most iconic and replicated cars of all time. From August 17-19 in Monterey, Calif., the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Shelby Cobra, Ford Motor Company’s now-vintage race car developed by Carroll Shelby, who passed away earlier this year. The four-day event is not only a cornerstone of Classic Car Week, which draws hundreds of exquisite cars and thousands of car lovers annually to the Monterey Peninsula, but also the only occasion where automobile enthusiasts can enjoy their vintage favorites racing as they were meant to be, wheel-to-wheel in 17 period-appropriate classes, starting with pre-1940 Sports and Racing Cars and representing nearly every era of motorsports history through to 1990 Stock Cars.
The Shelby Cobra exudes raw horsepower and elegant design with a racing heritage that is unparalleled, and on Saturday, August 18, an impressive grid of 45 authentic series CSX 2000 and 3000 Shelby Cobras will take to the challenging 2.238-mile road course that is Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, thrilling spectators with a ground-shaking performance that has never before been witnessed. At this dedicated race, the green flag will be waved by none other than Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, and fans will watch as entries from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada and across the U.S. finesse their way with precision through 11 turns and 300-foot elevation changes that include the notorious “Corkscrew,” famous for its five-story drop.
The den of Cobras at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion will include two of only six extraordinary Cobra Daytona Coupes ever built by Shelby American in the early 1960s. One will be racing on Saturday and another will be included in the Shelby Cobra Heritage Display.
Perseverance in Design
In 1963, Carroll Shelby set his sights high when he decided to challenge the might of the “prancing horse” with his Cobra Daytona Coupe, and thanks to the perseverance of Shelby American’s designer Peter Brock (who will be attending the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion), Enzo Ferrari finally met his match. Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant (also attending) won Les 24 Heures du Mans in convincing fashion in 1964, decimating the GT field with the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe and running competitively with the prototypes. The team went on to numerous wins that year and would have won the World Manufacturers Championship had it not been for a rather unsportsmanlike maneuver by Il Commendatore Ferrari when he convinced the organizers of the Monza race to cancel, thus depriving the Cobra Daytona Coupe the necessary points needed to win the championship. The following year, the Scuderia Ferrari racing team withdrew from the GT Championship, knowing its chances of another series win was doubtful, and the Cobra Daytona Coupes won 8 of the 10 races that year as they brought the 1965 FIA World Manufacturers Championship trophy back home to the USA.
“We went to Daytona in 1964 and just smoked the Ferraris,” said Brock. “Unfortunately we had a fire in the pits and didn’t finish the race. The next race was the 12 Hours of Sebring, and we annihilated everybody there and won the race. We then took the car to Le Mans and set the lap record there and then the same thing at Spa, but the car still had some teething problems, because it was so new, but it was fast right out of the box.”
Passion for the Past
The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion’s Shelby Cobra Heritage Display will trace 50 years of racing glory and showcase the most significant examples of Cobra cars, including the first Cobra Daytona Coupe ever built and the only one built in the USA.
Explaining the importance of this particular 1964 Cobra Daytona Coupe, its owner Fred Simeone, who shares his collection and passion for racing sports cars at the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, said, “The number one factor, of course, is that this car won the World Manufacturers Championship. Second would be the consecutive wins at Sebring, Spa, and all the other wins it earned over those couple of years that it raced. Even after its official racing career ended, my car had the opportunity to go to Bonneville with Goodyear, which had hired the salt for tire testing in November of 1965. They called Carroll Shelby, and he brought out this then-somewhat-outdated Cobra Daytona Coupe; even though this car was a championship winner between 1964 and 1965, it was now over-the-hill compared to the new rear-engine Ferraris. Craig Breedlove, who happened to be there doing something else, was available to drive, and on that day, he and the Cobra Daytona Coupe set 23 sports car land speed records, including my favorite, which was 150 miles per hour average speed for 12 hours, including stops for refueling out of 55-gallon drums.”
Lynn Park, known as Mr. Cobra, has owned 50 Cobras over time and presently owns 14 Cobras, three of which will compete in the all-Cobra race. He will drive one, and the other two will be raced by his two sons.
“I have been involved with Cobras since 1962 when I first met Carroll Shelby,” said Park, who is also responsible for monitoring and approving the provenance and authenticity of the Cobras that will be racing. “What is amazing about Cobras is whenever a new sports car appears, such as a Viper or whatever other new sports car comes along, everyone always goes back 50 years to compare this new car to an early ’60s Cobra. The Cobra is the benchmark of performance, and it has been for all this time.”
With that definitive statement made, another thing is certain as well. The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion will be the largest celebration of Carroll Shelby’s life in the year of the legend’s death. In addition to the special Cobra race and the Shelby Cobra Heritage Display, plans have been finalized for a Cobra Car Show on Pit Lane (for all authentic street and race Cobras); a Cobra Car Corral with hundreds of authentic, continuation and replica cars; Carroll Shelby special tribute laps; and a Picnic with Shelby Cobra, featuring a question-and-answer session with Peter Brock and Bob Bondurant, two stalwart names in the colorful history of Shelby American.