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Display Piece

Promotional Shelby chassis born again as a full-fledged Cobra racer

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, BringaTrailer

“For all of its fame, the original Cobra was produced in surprisingly low quantities–just 998 were assembled from 1961 until 1968. (655 leaf-spring 289 Cobras and 343 coil-spring 427 Cobras. These numbers include street cars, competition cars, semi-competition roadsters, etc.)” — Hemmings Motor News, 1962-1967 Shelby Cobra; At age 50, history’s most often imitated and duplicated British-American sports car is more collectible than ever. https://www.hemmings.com/blog/article/1962-1967-shelby-cobra/

True, as cited by Hemmings there were just 998 original Shelby Cobras assembled in Shelby’s heyday during the 1960s, and these cars are exceedingly valuable today. But maybe the key word there is “assembled.” This 289 AC Cobra offered for auction on BringaTrailer.com, is a rarely seen third option when it comes to whether something is or isn’t a real-deal Cobra, as its origins take us all the way back to Shelby American in 1965.

As we all know, Carroll Shelby was a great orchestrator, especially in the realm of motorsport, where he was known for putting the right people in roles and trusting their judgment. Think Ken Miles, Peter Brock and Phil Remington. But Shelby also had a relationship with Ford to maintain, which would occasionally require him to make public appearances, promotional materials and speak in front of Ford executives. And that’s right where the story of this AC begins.

Like all the other AC Cobras in 1964-’65, the chassis under this Cobra was commissioned by Shelby and constructed at AC Cars in the U.K., arriving in California in 1965. Used a display piece to showcase the early Cobra’s underpinnings, the chassis appears in several significant photos at Shelby’s facility. Surrounded by G.T.350s, early Cobras and even a Sunbeam Alpine/Tiger, Shelby talks in front of a crowd of Ford executives at his facility, likely waxing about how these Shelby-tuned vehicles help to advance Ford’s engineering and image with younger buyers.

Most importantly, this early Cobra chassis is featured prominently in at least three photos, making them priceless artifacts to any of its owners over the years. With Shelby’s face and this chassis in the same frame, this chassis is quite a valuable piece. Not only because it’s bona fide Shelby piece, but also in that it highlight’s Shelby’s relationship with Ford.

But from here, the chassis took a strange and somewhat contested path. It seems that Shelby himself hatched the idea to mount a Ford T-bucket body on the chassis, and the car soon ended up at one of Shelby’s sub-contractors, Cal Automotive. Headed up by Tex Collins, Cal Automotive set about mounting a T-bucket body on the chassis and converting it to left-hand drive, under the impression that the car was for Shelby’s personal use.

Once finished, Shelby apparently took the car for a quick spin, but didn’t especially enjoy it. Well, one way or another, Collins took possession of the car and it was assigned a Special Construction title and serial number. Collins sold the car to a friend in the 1970s, and a disgruntled Shelby later remarked that Collins had ripped him off, having allegedly never paid for the chassis.

The wacky Cobra-based T-bucket found a new owner in the late ’80s, who took on the admirable task of reconstructing it as an exacting 289 competition-spec Cobra. Kimmins Custom Fabrication of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, fit a hand-formed aluminum body on the chassis, and the car was completed in 1995 and raced through the late ’90s. At this time, the chassis was given the serial number COB5998, to reflect the COB prefix that would have been assigned to the original right-hand-drive AC chassis.

The current owner acquired the car in 2011, and enlisted the services of Curt Vogt’s Cobra Automotive in Wallingford, Connecticut, to rework the car mechanically and cosmetically. At this time, the shop performed a comprehensive rebuild of the 289 ci V8 and Weber carburetors. To top it all off, the car was finished in the current shade of black with white roundels.

The history of this AC Cobra is outlined in the SAAC Registry, and the car has a clear California title. Complete with spare parts, documentation, historic photos and spare parts, the car is currently offered as a premium listing on BringaTrailer.com with no reserve. The auction closes Wednesday January 15, and the current bid sits at $250,000.

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