The Snake That Conquered The World
The book: Shelby Cobra: The Snake that Conquered the World
Author: Colin Comer, Carroll Shelby (foreword)
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Few cars stand out as instantly recognizable to a broad swath of the populace, but the Shelby Cobra is, indisputably, one of those that do. Originally manufactured between 1962-1967, the late Carroll Shelby’s iconic car simply married a lightweight British car body to a powerful V8 engine from Ford. The European style with American muscle combo was not a new idea even back then, nor was the car a particularly sophisticated machine, but the resulting product was the right car at the right time.
Over the intervening years, the Cobra would go on to become both an icon and the most copied car of all time. Author Colin Comer, who has penned countless articles and many books on all things automotive, tells the story of the little two-seat roadster that could in Shelby Cobra: The Snake that Conquered the World.
Like the author says, “Every story has a beginning,” and the book begins with the events that led to Carroll Shelby’s decision to build a sports car. Born in Leesburg, Texas, in 1923, Shelby was an aviator during the Second World War. After hostilities ended, he worked his own chicken farm, and founded a dump truck company.
While both these vocations didn’t go quite so smoothly, the Texan discovered he had an affinity for racing. A natural talent, and promoter, Shelby would soon be extended a series of invitations to drive for marques such as Allard, Aston Martin, Maserati, Ferrari and Austin Healey amongst others throughout the ’50s.
His record was impressive, with Shelby winning races, setting speed records, earning a victory in the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans, and even earning a “Driver of the Year” award from Sports Illustrated. Who knows where Shelby’s career might have gone but for a heart condition, which put an end to Shelby’s racing career.
That might have been the end to the Shelby story, except for he wasn’t quite finished. If he couldn’t race, Shelby would turn his attention and talents to racecar design and automotive manufacturing instead.
Shelby initially didn’t have the ability to produce either an engine or body by himself. Instead, he looked to marry the two from pieces that already existed, like others before him like Allard, Bristol, and Facel, amongst others. Serendipitously, AC Cars would have a surplus of Ace sports cars on hand after losing its engine supplier.
Now, all Shelby needed was an engine. After being rebuffed by Chevrolet, who didn’t wish to have a competitor for its Corvette, Shelby found a partner in Ford. Shelby’s team shoehorned Ford’s engine into a modified Ace roadster. Christened the Cobra, a name which Carroll said came to him in a dream, the first Cobra, CSX2000, was unveiled at the New York Auto Show in 1962. In the months that followed, the car would grace every car magazine that mattered, and in the years that followed would become a legend, on and off the road and track.
With the back story out of the way, Comer continues with the rest of the Cobra legend through today, with chapters on the production of the Cobra street and race cars, the introduction of the awesome 427 “big block”, and the car’s impressive period racing history. Just because a car ceases production doesn’t mean the end of the story, at least in the Cobra’s case, and Comer concludes the book with two chapters about the Cobra’s revival, and continuing production through the continuation cars, plus a chapter on the plethora of marketing, advertising and memorabilia associated with the marque.
Interviews and reminiscences from people that brought the car to life, including Chuck Cantwell, John Morton, Henry Ford III, Kati Remington-Blackledge, and others, add a human perspective, but perhaps most impressive, all this is backed up by literally hundreds of wonderful vintage, and contemporary photographs.
Carroll Shelby died on May 10, 2012, a palpable loss to the automotive community. A car like his Cobra will never be repeated. If you hanker to know more about the machine that emanated a ground-shaking rumble from its side-pipes, and do not already own Comer’s earlier Shelby Cobra: 50 Years, you cannot do better than this superb book.