What may be the most valuable of all American racing cars almost didn't get built.
"It looks fairly contemporary now," said Peter Brock, who designed the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe for the 1964 racing season, "but when I first showed my sketches [to the Shelby American racing team], they thought it was so ugly they refused to work on it."
Fortunately for Brock, for Shelby American, and for American racing period, the team's newest mechanical crew member, John Ohlsen, a New Zealander who had only recently arrived in southern California, joined Brock and driver and early-believer Ken Miles in working on the car, a car would make its maiden run by setting a track record at Riverside, a car that finished fourth overall – and ahead of all the Ferraris GTOs – in the 1964 24-hour race at Le Mans, a car that in 1965 would bring the world sports car racing championship to the United States.
The car that won that championship – a championship wonderfully clinched on the Fourth of July at Reims, France – was 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe (serial number CSX2601), which will be offered for sale in mid-May at the 22nd annual Dana Mecum Original Spring Classic Auction at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Early in March, the car began something of a victory lap when it was reunited with driver Bob Bondurant, who drove or co-drove the car to all five of its GT-class victories during the 1965 season. From its laps around the track at Bondurant's School of High-Performance driving just south of Phoenix, the car headed to the concours d'elegance at Amelia Island, Florida, and on to Sebring to participate in 12-hour race festivities.
While Brock designed the car with its remarkable 0.29 coefficient of drag, such slick aerodynamics that Bondurant and co-driver Dan Gurney could reach 197 miles per hour on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans, he said at the car's reunion with Bondurant that he'd actually appropriated the car's shape from designs done by a German teenager in the late 1930s.
Brock, himself just a few years beyond his teens when he did his design work, had seen drawings done in Germany in 1938 and 1939 by Baron Reinhold Koenig-Faschenfeld, who was studying under famed aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm. Kamm got credit for the cropped "Kammback" tail because, said Brock, Koenig-Faschenfeld's name was so long and Kamm's was nice and short, plus Kamm was the professor and Koenig-Faschenfeld was still a student.
Amazingly, Brock added, Koenig-Faschenfeld was working on designs not for racing cars or even for cars at all, but for buses and trucks that would travel on Germany's then-new autobahns.
Shelby team chief engineer Phil Remington eventually devised the rear lip spoiler that helped stabilize the car and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, not quite. Brock and Bondurant also talked about how the cars had become obsolete as racers at the end of the 1965 season and were being housed at a race shop in England when British tax officials came to collect duties. To the racers, said Brock, "the cars had no value," and neither Shelby American nor British racer Alan Mann wanted to pay taxes or pay to have the cars shipped back to the United States. To avoid paying duties, Mann finally found someone with a barge who was willing to take a British tax official aboard to verify the cars, all six of them, had been dumped in the sea.
Rather than let the cars that had done so much for American racing meet such a fate, the Shelby team finally paid to have them shipped back to the United States, where they were sold for as little as $800 each. While they no longer were eligible for any racing classes, they could be licensed and driven on the street.
After returning to the U.S., CSX2601 appeared in the movie Red Line 7000. Then, early in 1968, Bondurant bought CSX2601 for $4,000. He sold it later that year for $10,000 – "I thought I'd made a killing," he said – using the money to start his school of high-performance driving.
Shelby sold the car to a man from North Dakota who owned six gas stations spread over 300 miles.
"He used the car to pick up the gas receipts every day," said auction company leader Dana Mecom.
And now, Mecom added, a car so little valued that it nearly was dumped into the sea, a car that at one time was bought and sold for a few thousand dollars, a car that was used to fetch gas station receipts, is expected to bring bids in May in excess of $10 million.
Riverside reunion March 27-29
Bondurant also will participate in the Legends of Riverside reunion and film festival March 27-29 at the Riverside International Automotive Museum in southern California. This is the inaugural year for the event, which incorporates the previous motorsports film festival held near Yosemite National Park.
Dan Gurney will be the Riverside honoree. The film festival will include a tribute to Paul Newman. Also scheduled are a gathering of drivers who raced in the Times Grand Prix in the 1960s, a Cannonball Run reminiscence, and much more. For details, visit www.legendsofriverside.com.
SRO for RM at Amelia Island
It was standing room only for the RM auction at Amelia Island, Florida, where sales of 78 percent of the available collector cars brought in more than $10 million on March 15. Bids were taken in person, by telephone or via the Internet from people residing on four continents, RM said.
"Today's results indicate the market remains stable for quality collector cars with continued passion for the hobby from around the world," said Ian Kelleher, president of RM.
Leading all sales was the $1,072,500 brought by a 1930 Duesenberg Model J convertible coupe with bodywork by Murphy. The car was one of four Duesenberg's used by Pratt & Whitney as test beds for the development of a new supercharger for the R-2800 military aircraft engine used in World War II.
Other high sales at Amelia included:
Mark your calendar – Auction action:
- Walter P. Chrysler's personal 1941 Chrysler Newport dual cowl phaeton Indy 500 pace car ($687,500)
- A 1966 Shelby AC Cobra 427 that has rarely been driven (less than 5000 miles) during 30 years of care by its latest owner ($675,000)
- The famed 1911 Oldsmobile Autocrat "Yellow Peril" race car, which had been owned within Henry Greenway Albert's family for more than 60 years ($660,000)
- An award-winning 1935 Auburn 851SC boattail speedster ($566,500)
- A 1966 Ferrari 275 GTS ($445,000)
- A five-owner (with the last buying the car in the early 1970s) 1937 BMW 328 cabriolet ($302,500)
- A 1932 Ford Model 18 deluxe three-window coupe that went for $165,000, double its pre-auction estimate. The coupe was one of nine cars crossing the block from Grant Oakes' Ford collection, which brought a total of $700,000.
March 20-21: Kruse at Las Vegas; Mecum at Kansas City
March 27-28 – Kruse at Daytona Beach
April 3-5: RM at Toronto
April 4 – Kruse at Chicago
April 9-11: Barrett-Jackson at Palm Beach, Florida
April 17-19 – Kruse at Palm Beach, Florida
April 25 – Kruse at Amarillo, Texas
April 25-26: RM at Novi, Michigan
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