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Shelby Cobra - Fifty Years.


Colin Comer.
ISBN-13: 978 0 7603 4029 5
Published 2011. (Hardback, 256 pages).
Review date May 2012.
Book about AC/Shelby Cobra sportscars

UK RRP £26.99.

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As a youngster, the attractions of the 427 cubic inch Cobra were ingrained forever on my mind after watching the 1976 Gumball Rally film for the first time. Pitted against an assortment of interesting, and some decidedly un-interesting, machinery, the Cobra’s key rival was a svelte Ferrari Daytona, piloted by Raul Julia and Tim McIntire. While the latter car was elegant and modern, accompanied by a V12 soundtrack to die for, it was the two-seater AC, all V8 thunder and tyre-shredding bravado, that impressed this pre-teenage youth the most. Not much in the intervening thirty or so years has changed. The idea of persuading a Cobra (perhaps in 289 rather than 427 form) down a dry L.A. river bed, appeals to this day.
Had it not been for the gentlemen of AC Cars Limited, and the vision of a certain Carroll Shelby (RIP), perhaps the film would never have been made, and my interest in the marque – and maybe that of others of my generation – may not yet have been ignited.
Colin Comer, the author of Shelby Cobra – Fifty Years, is no stranger to the AC Cobra, as he owns examples of both the 289 and 427 cubic inch version. And having already written The Complete Book of Shelby Automobiles, he was well placed to put finger to keyboard and create this book, dedicated to perhaps the best known product of the late Carroll Shelby’s creative mind. This is a large format hardback book, measuring some 10 by 12 inches, and comprises 256 pages, within which the story of the Cobra is told, accompanied by anecdotes from the people who made the car happen, and took it to the tracks to take on the likes of Ferrari and Chevrolet in sportscar competition.
The first chapter introduces the hero of the story. A tall Texan, Shelby had started out racing cars following his service in the US Army Air Corps during WW2, and went on to compete in a number of top-end sportscars during his racing career, which, from 1957, ran alongside a sportscar dealership that he opened in Dallas. He was forced to retire from competition due to a heart defect in 1960, and the hunt was on to find another vocation in life. Tuition in handling high-performance sportscars commenced at Riverside Raceway in California, but it didn’t take long for thoughts about producing a new V8-powered sportscar to concentrate his mind. When news of unsold AC Aces at the British factory came his way, he was soon in touch with the company’s owners, describing to them his plans for shoe-horning an American motor into a car such as theirs. The seed had been sown with the interested Brits, and soon two Ford V8 engines were winging their way to England for trial installation in an Ace.
As mentioned, many of the key personnel in Shelby’s team were interviewed and their stories woven into the Cobra story as it unfolds. The recollections of Phil Remington for instance, a gifted engineer and ace fabricator, add to the story and provide personal insights that not all books on the subject can offer. Rather than being a dry read, which can sometimes be the case with books of this type, the stories provided by guys such as Remington, and customers who signed on the dotted line when the cars were new, really add colour to the description of the cars’ evolution, and their elevation from admirable to legendary status in the eyes of many.
Throughout, the book is profusely illustrated with both contemporary and modern-day photographs of road and race car versions, along with specials such as the Daytona Coupes. Chapter two begins with the introduction of the Cobra to market, with illustrations of early cars featuring on the covers of the leading motor magazines of the day. It wouldn’t be long before Cobras were to be seen in competition, and period shots of the early cars appear frequently within this chapter, and others later on. Clearly AC Cars and Shelby had a winner on their hands, and even today the fascination with these cars, whether originals, continuations, or replicas (good and not-so-good) shows no sign of abating.
Nothing lasts forever though, and by the mid-1960s the 289 cars were beginning to look a little long in the tooth, especially as much of their ancestry dated back to the early 1950s. As there is no substitute for cubic inches, the hunt was on to re-develop the Cobra sufficiently to take on the expected competition from the likes of the Corvette, which was already overshadowing the 289 on track. Ford’s 427 engine was chosen, but to accommodate it, the chassis was re-engineered for the task. The new, wide-body, Cobras began rolling out of the factory doors in January 1965, the first 100 cars being homologated to FIA requirements in readiness for competitive action. Again the story is punctuated by a rich variety of images, and contributions from the likes of Ken Miles, Shelby American racing driver, and one of the key figures behind the evolution of the 427.
In Chapter Four, Comer takes the reader on a guided tour of the competition against which the Cobra regularly went into battle. Corvettes feature regularly in this section. By 1967 it was clear that the Cobra's time was drawing to a close, and the final chassis was delivered to Shelby American in November of that year. What then for the Anglo-American sportscar? Most cars of this type would have simply faded away, with originals perhaps falling into the hands of weekend track warriors, and have-a-go traffic-light grand prix warriors, with only the lucky few surviving long enough to fall into safer hands. However, the Cobra never really fell from grace, even once it had been out-classed in motorsport, and lived on in the hands of true enthusiasts who, even if they didn’t keep them on the road, pushed them into their garage, with hoped-for resurrection in future their ambition. The “barn find” Cobra would become a thing of legend, and many of the survivors today owe their existence to people who couldn’t quite bring themselves to part with their ageing steeds.
As with all cars that have a strong following, it isn’t just the cars themselves that are collected. The author, in Chapter Six, sets himself the target of documenting the many items of memorabilia that have sprung up relating to the Cobra. These include items produced by the factory, such as brochures and other sales gimmicks, to toys, plastic kits, tuning parts and even LPs that featured Cobra songs on them.
Owners of genuine Cobras may well have mixed feelings towards the endless replicas and recreations that continue to be produced today. If nothing else though, the “fake snake” industry has kept the name and interest in these cars alive, and has enabled those with perhaps less-deep pockets to enjoy their slice of Cobra driving, even if they are the product of one’s own back garage, rather than AC and Shelby American. The final chapter takes a look at some of the better examples.
A brief appendix of production numbers, and chassis number batches, draws a curtain over this interesting book. As a sound overview of the Cobra, its inception and development, and its ongoing appeal to many enthusiasts around the world, this book is well worthy of consideration.
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