Behold, The Fearsome ‘Dragonsnake’ That Could Be Yours
Photography courtesy of RM Sotheby’s and Drew Shipley
In the early 1960s, an enthusiastic and determined young Carroll Shelby set out to build his very own Chevrolet Corvette-slaying sportscar. He sourced attractive lightweight aluminum bodies from Britain’s AC Cars and set up shop in Los Angeles. Once the mostly complete shells void of powertrains arrived, Shelby retrofitted various Ford eight-cylinders. Weighing a quarter ton less than GM’s flagship, the Shelby Cobra managed to pace faster, but the endeavor was not void of error.
The initial prototypes were crude and notoriously difficult to drive, but as production continued, engineering improvements made the subsequent ‘mark’ models ever so more manageable. Eventually, the Cobra was widely accepted as a real competitive threat, so much so it’s rumored Enzo Ferrari influenced FIA racing rules to save his precious 250 GTO from getting inevitably outrun by an American’s hotrod—but that’s a story for a different time.
Several variations of the Cobra were made, but this “Dragonsnake” model may just be the most red, white, and blue of them all. While the Shelby Cobras prepped by Carroll’s team dominated various racing series, independent competitors felt like they could do better than Shelby himself.
Tweaked for drag racing, only eight Dragonsnake models were built to compete in the NHRA National Championships—five from the Shelby factory and three by independent shops. Of the three, this particular example has accumulated more wins than any other, and is accompanied by a “Letter Of Authenticity” from the SCCA. Trading guardianship with a number of race teams and owners since 1963, this 289-powered drag special Cobra has an impressive race pedigree. Nicknamed “The Mightiest Dragonsnake,” chassis number CSX 2093 carries more NHRA championship wins than any Cobra, making it a record holding racer for the history books—our kind of drag queen.
Originally sold in Pennsylvania, the Dragonsnake was traded into Ladd Motors in Lebanon, PA, where Jim Costilow purchased to bravely race the car with little driving experience. Costilow quickly realized he was wheeling something above his racing abilities and humbly hired professional drag racer Bruce Larson. Bruce then spent a year prepping the car, which was documented in Super Stock magazine’s October 1965 issue. Modifications included larger wheel arch flares to house 15×9 inch slicks, American racing alloys, a roll bar, a Sun tachometer, and a side curtain-equipped hardtop sourced from chassis CSX 2019—a factory Dragonsnake model.
To stand out from the crowd and not to be confused with one of the factory made Dragonsnakes, 31 coats of Fuchsia Metallic paint were sprayed over the original red hue. In the 1964 season, the pink snake earned wins in the A, AA, B, and C classes with Larson behind the wheel. At the Bristol, Tennessee, 1965 Spring Nationals event, the car set a national record and continued the trend at the U.S. Indy Nationals, and Winter Nationals in Pomona, California. Even more impressive, Larson earned more NHRA points than any car in any class that season. At the World Finals, Larson ran a tenth of a second faster than his national record, disqualifying himself for speculated sandbagging.
Leaving the 1964 and 1965 seasons with complete domination, Costilow sold the car while his partnership with Larson was ahead—but the pink Dragonsnake wasn’t done winning. The new owner Ed Hedrick took the reigns, entering the infamous Cobra in the NHRA Northeast Division 1 series, where it won the B Sports class. Later, Hedrick took Spring Nationals and U.S. Nationals victories in both 1966 and 1967, along with an additional ’67 Winter Nationals win and World Points Championship.
When its racing career ended in 1969, chassis number CSX 2093 was passed around and repainted green, then red with wire wheels and earned an SAAC-2 289 class popular ballot award. Afterwards, Larry Megibow surprisingly traded his 427 Cobra for the tired Dragonsnake. Trading hands a number of times, Ed Ulyate finally scored ownership and did the car and its antiquity justice by restoring CSX 2093 back to it’s forgotten racing motif—Fuscia Metallic paint and all. In 2010, the current owner took possession and displayed the Dragonsnake in several events, winning “Best Sound” at the Concour’s D’Elegance of America in 2015.
All authentic Cobras are special in their own right, but this Dragonsnake is arguably one of the most successful Shelbys ever competitively raced. Given its lengthy list of owners, this race car is remarkably original and period complete. Carroll Shelby set out to make a competitive sports car and ended up building one of the most legendary American racers of all time. Taking an already American recipe—shoving a V8 into a lightweight car—and opting to spec the car for drag racing is impressive, but using the build to earn more wins than any Cobra in existence makes it more Carroll Shelby than the man himself.
– 1 of 8 Dragonsnakes (1 of 3 non-Shelby factory-made Dragonsnakes)
– National Record Holder with several NHRA victories
– Restored to racing livery by Ed Ulyate
– Most successful drag racing Shelby Cobra
~325 horsepower, 289 cu. in. OHV V-8 engine with dual four-barrel Weber carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, independent front and rear suspension with A-arms, transverse leaf springs, and tube shock absorbers, rack-and-pinion steering, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 90 in.
Chassis no.: CSX 2093
– Auction house: RM Sotheby’s
– Estimate: (No Reserve)
– Price realized: Auction on January 28-29