Market Finds: What’s A Shelby Cobra With A Colorful History Really Worth?

What’s A Shelby Cobra With A Colorful History Really Worth?

By Petrolicious Productions
August 6, 2015

Photos Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

We need to examine the age-old question: Is it possible to crash—and sometimes burn—the history out of a winning race car?

Sports Car Market’s American Profile from August 2010 questions why a burned-down — then built-up — 289 Cobra goes for 40% above market average. Average values for authentic Cobras continued to rise—up an additional 27% on average in the last five years.

In April 1963, Shelby prepared two cars for Le Mans that summer. Features included Dunlop magnesium wheels with larger fender flares, FIA hood scoops and a 37-gallon fuel tank. The engines, stated to be “moderate tune,” had four Weber downdraught carburetors.

One team car entered by AC Cars, managed by Stirling Moss and driven by Bolton/Sanderson, finished seventh overall, third in the GT category and won the 4-5 liter class. This success resulted in the construction of six more Cobras—designated as Le Mans versions by Shelby and built with rack-and-pinion steering.

The first of these six, CSX 2136, was delivered to Shelby American in June 1963, where it was prepared to compete in the 1963 SCCA/US Road Racing Championship. In addition to its Le Mans features, it received a Derrington “Nassau” exhaust, Halibrand wheels, front wheel-well spats and wider rear flares, Koni shocks, brake cooling scoops, front and rear sway bars, engine oil and differential coolers, driveshaft hoop, and an electric fuel pump.

CSX 2136 joined the Shelby American Team for the September 8 SCCA/USRRC race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Driven by Dave MacDonald and Bob Bondurant, it finished fourth overall and first in the GT class. At Riverside on October 13, Lew Spencer drove it to third in the L.A. Times GT race. MacDonald drove it at the Hawaiian GP later in October to second overall. CSX 2136’s last appearance as a Shelby team car was at the Nassau Speed Weeks on December 8, 1963 where Frank Gardner drove it to seventh overall and first in GT in the Nassau Trophy Race.

Ed Leslie acquired CSX 2136 from the Shelby Team on 30th January 1964 and proceeded to win his class in seven of the 11 SCCA races entered in 1964, including the ARRC finale at Riverside. He also drove 2136 to an overall and GT class win at the Laguna Seca USRRC race on May 3 and a pair of USRRC second places at Riverside on April 26 and Kent on May 10, both times finishing behind Ken Miles in a Team Cobra.

In 1965, CSX 2136 was sold to Foster Alexander who raced it at the ARRC National Championship at Daytona on 28th November, finishing 3rd overall. Subsequently, CSX 2136 raced in B/Production with Stan Bennett and John Bachnover in the Northwest and David Greenblatt in Montreal. This car’s period history ended when the latter was involved in an accident at Circuit Mount Tremblant. It later sustained damage in a garage fire.

In 1980, CSX 2136 was discovered by Ken Eber, who purchased it in damaged “roller” form. Restored for its next owner Steve Baker by specialist Bill Murray, CSX 2136 was returned to its original 1963-64 configuration. Following completion, it won an AACA Junior Competition Car First Place in 1992. Eber swapped a 427 street Cobra to Baker for CSX 2136 to re-acquire it in 1994. 2136 was purchased by Chris Cox in 1997, and sold to the current owner in 2006.

Outstandingly successful with both the Shelby team and Ed Leslie, this is one of the Cobras that established the marque’s unmatched reputation for speed and durability. The sale of CSX 2136 presents the opportunity for a discerning collector to acquire a Cobra of remarkable provenance.

This car sold for $1,010,694 against an estimate of $950k-$1.2m at RM Auctions in Monaco on May 1, 2010.

Ah yes, the wacky and wonderful world of vintage race cars and their complicated life stories.

Let’s start at the beginning. First, in the nomenclature of the Cobra world, CSX2136 is not a Le Mans Cobra. It is what both Shelby and AC Cars called a “Le Mans Replica”—one of the 6 such cars Shelby built following their success with the two actual Le Mans cars.

As the catalog chronicles, 2136 was indeed an incredibly successful Shelby — and later privateer — team car. Like almost any winning race car, it had its fair share of bumps and bruises from 1964-1966. In 1967, Stan Bennett purchased it with a blown motor, fixed it up, and raced it. Somewhere along the way, it was crashed to the extent it needed a new nose.

Bennett sold the repaired car to JohnBachnover during September 1967.Bachnover later sold it to David Greenblatt. Greenblatt continued to race the car until significantly damaging 2136 in the early 1970’s during a race.

To add insult to injury, the heavily damaged 2136 later caught on fire on Greenblatt’s trailer and burned to the ground. Greenblatt was paid for the loss by his insurance carrier, who then took the remains of 2136 and placed them into storage. By 1975, the insurance company lost track of the remains, the owner of the storage facility passed away, and what remained of 2136 was scrapped.

Wait! There’s more!

Grab some popcorn because now the tale gets better:

In 1977, Michael Leicester met Greenblatt, and the conversation turned to 2136. Greenblatt ended up selling Leicester two spare wheels and his 1969 bill of sale from Bachnover for 2136 for the sum of $1 and a sports racing car valued at $3600.

In 1978, Leicester commissioned Brian Angliss—who later bought AC Cars—of England to build him a new Cobra body and chassis, oddly enough also wearing the identifier “CSX2136.”

In 1979, SAAC received a letter from Leicester explaining how he owns the lost Cobra 2136 and how it was undergoing a “ground-up restoration.”

July 1980 saw the new Angliss 2136 Le Mans Replica delivered to Leicester.

In December 1980, Gilles Dubuc stumbled upon—and purchased—the earthly remains of the real CSX2136 in a Canadian junkyard. He later sold them to Ken Eber. Of course, a legal battle soon erupted between Eber, the rightful owner of the only bits of CSX2136 DNA left, and Leicester, who owned the carefully crafted “new” CSX2136. 

Call in the Mounties

Eventually, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were called in to examine Leicester’s ownership documents and his car, and they determined it to be a recreation. The original paperwork for the real 2136 in Leicester’s possession was transferred to Eber, and Leicester was somehow allowed to re-number and call his car “CSX2136R.”

After Chris Cox purchased the car in 1997, he soon sold it to Richard Scaife. Scaife later consigned it to RM Auction’s 2006 Amelia Island sale, where the late John O’Quinn purchased 2136 for $1,650,000.

So, in the case of our subject car, CSX2136, we need to examine the age-old question: Is it possible to crash (and sometimes burn) the history out of a winning race car? Was it a good buy at just over $1m—just a few years after SCM declared it a fair deal at $1.65m?

It all depends on your views on race history versus originality. There is no question that the car in question is all that remains of the original car that won the races and was piloted by some of the best Cobra drivers of all time.

Washington’s axe

A Le Mans Replica Cobra is among the most desirable of all Comp Cobras, and unless you are a blood relative, Cobra restorer/racer extraordinaire Bill Murray won’t restore your Comp Cobra- ever. So, we know 2136 is well restored and well-sorted.

If you are the type that feels George Washington’s axe is still the same axe he used in spite of three new handles and two new heads—and you have been looking for a Comp Cobra that will get you in the door at any vintage event on the planet, then CSX2136 was a great buy.

If you don’t care about racing, but you want to know that the aluminum on your Cobra was hammered out and installed at AC Cars in 1964, then CSX2136 would be considered more sizzle than steak.

The sale price reflects roughly a 100 percent premium over a decent 289 Street Cobra today, but I suspect it also represents at least a 50 percent discount from what 2136 would be worth if Ed Leslie had parked it in a garage in 1965 and it had been dragged out, dust, dents and all, and run over the same RM Monaco auction block.

I guess the answer to my above question, at least on this day in Monaco, is that you can’t crash and burn the history out of a great old race car, but you can crash and burn out a significant part of its value. And in an atypical SCM split judgment on a sale, we believe that 2136 was well bought for an end user who wants to race, and it was well sold if you base a car’s value on how many original bits it retains.

If nothing else, the new owner of 2136 has a great story to tell his buddies about his new car over a few beers.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s) 

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5 years ago

See the pic below

2 years ago
Reply to  jjmcd

I knew Steve Baker when he and Bill Murry were restoring this car. Steve bought it when it looked like the picture above. He went to great lengths and found almost all of the original aluminum body parts for this car. He tracked all of the past owners, and found the original crashed nose that had been replaced during its racing years and stuck in one of the owners attics. He found all of the old crashed panels, and showed me pictures of most of them. They only panel that had not been original was the panel just behind the passenger compartment with the fuel tank filler. All had to be repaired and straightened. He found the original Weber carbs (I don’t think he used them, but had them with the car). His effort to keep as much of the original car as possible was super human. So I think this car is more original than Washington’s axe. Just my opinion.

Paul Misencik
Paul Misencik
8 years ago

The value of “original” competition cars is always sticky. Cars are nothing more than a collection of parts. Parts that break and are replaced with new ones. At some level, all cars that are used, race cars and street cars alike, are constantly in a state of being turned into “unoriginal recreations.”

It’s much harder with competition cars, though, where parts changing is more rapid and where damage and accidents often necessitate fairly sweeping replacements, including bodywork and sections of chassis. Sometimes complete chassis. And to make matters worse, these changes are rarely documented worth a damn, or even actively [i]concealed[/i] in certain cases. (I recall stories of Porsche. in the 1960’s, leaving a crashed rally car chassis in the UK for example, and just using the VIN plate on a new one, ostensibly to save money on transport taxes.)

So even [i]without[/i] a history as murky as this one, your average competition car likely has a pretty murky history indeed. You pay the big bucks because Sandro Munari sat RIGHT HERE IN THIS SEAT, but the reality is that he may not have, and no one would ever know if the seat had been changed in Portugal in 1974, two years after Munari drove the car, without being documented and without anyone really remembering.

To me, both these cars are bullshit. Neither one is substantially the car that competed in all those races. Neither one is substantially the car that the Shelby team took to Nassau and Riverside. That car has been lost forever, so why don’t we just say it? What’s wrong with just saying the car doesn’t exist anymore?

If Picasso’s “Guernica” is lost in a fire, and all that remains is a small fraction of the frame, would we “rebuild” it? Would we have a skilled artists painstakingly recreate the painting, handcraft the frame from scratch, using the small bits that remained, and claim: “Here it is! The historic ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso!”

No, we wouldn’t do that. Because that would be absurd.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Misencik

Thank you for telling it like it is.

I would say that rebuilding a race car that has crashed, then putting back into action to accomplish the task is one thing. But rebuilding a car from a shred of fabric with the intention of taking it to market as “original” is absurd. Fantastic analogy to Guernica.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
8 years ago

I can’t get past the aluminum cover plate.

Let’s make it bigger next time. I think it needs more screws, too. :p

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
8 years ago

I don’t know if it’s just the pictures, but:

I see bunching fabric on the glovebox. Is the door formed that way?
The ride height looks too high.
The exhaust seems to hang too low, especially on the passenger side.

I’m not a Cobra expert, but these things jump out at me… no matter what the car may or may not be worth.

Thanks for sharing.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
8 years ago

This is where the classic car market turns in on itself in its ongoing quest to devour its very existence with common sense going right out the door – egos running rampant and ruling the roost – and the ‘ little man ‘ [ wink wink ] making all the decisions when it comes to dishing out the cash .

Why do I say that ? To be succinct [ yeah I hear y’all sniggering ]

1) Its barely a replica built on a ‘ supposed ‘ and ‘claimed’ original chassis *
2) As such its got no history other than the manufactured and claimed history being put forth
3) The story as Mr Moss points out is self contradictory at best … trying on more than one instance to affirm and deny the same thing at the same time
4) Worse yet . Read the ‘ story ‘ from a philosophical point of view [ got the advanced degree and the T-shirt ] At best the entire tale is the very epitome of circular logic reminding me an awful lot of the stories that went with the ” Easy Rider ” ‘ Captain America ‘ bike that turned out to be a blatant forgery
5) As Mr Shahrabani points out the ‘ facts ‘ that are given are mighty thin .

If thats not enough to dissuade any potential buyers in light of the likely stratospheric price tag I don’t know what is . Fact is though its probably not . So in answer to the question of what is this car really worth ?

What ever somebody is willing/foolish enough to pay for it . Unfortunately

* A) There is no verification and …. B) Seen the confirmed reports over the last two weeks of the ‘ fake ‘ cars sold as authentic at not one but three major auction houses that fooled every expert at said Auction houses with each and every one refusing to own up to their mistakes or refund the buyers money ? Its getting ugly out there folks rivaling the current Fine Art market by the minute

And guess what ? As the prices go higher .. the occurrences of these incidents will only increase .. with the level and quality of the ‘ fakes ‘ along with the stories told and the manufacturing provenances becoming more sophisticated as long as there are buyers out there willing to overpay without doing thorough research themselves before buying .

And errr .. OK … guilty as charged .. your collective sniggering was justified … sigh …………. 🙁

Edward Levin
Edward Levin
8 years ago

2136R is a replica. On the 2136 chassis It really depends on how much of the original fabric remains, but frontline racers get more latitude than most.

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss
8 years ago

I’m confused. “2136 was purchased by Chris Cox in 1997, and sold to the current owner in 2006.” And then a few paragraphs later, “After Chris Cox purchased the car in 1997, he soon sold it to Richard Scaife. Scaife later consigned it to RM Auction’s 2006 Amelia Island sale, where the late John O’Quinn purchased 2136 for $1,650,000.” But then, “This car sold for $1,010,694 against an estimate of $950k-$1.2m at RM Auctions in Monaco on May 1, 2010.” Are we talking about the same car here? If so, is the quote “current owner in 2006” incorrect? Or is one of these the 2136R? Has that car ever been sold?

Benjamin Shahrabani
Benjamin Shahrabani
8 years ago

I would like to see the state of and how much of the remains of 2136 were actually used. But either way, and IMO, it certainly has a better claim to the chassis number than a car cobbled together from “…two spare wheels and his 1969 bill of sale”.

But, I’d take either car to be honest. Doesn’t matter to me!;)

Rob Blasdel
Rob Blasdel
8 years ago

Yes, an important fact of what actually remained was left out of the story. In any event, 2136″R” is just a Cobra kit car, albeit, from the best builder of the genre. Zero race history, zero affiliation or relation to the original. Even when the the “R” car had the original car bill of sale in its “provenance,” it’s quite a stretch of the imagination to call it a ground up restoration of the original CSX2136.