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Street, Comp and Back Again: CSX 3000 Cobra Comes Full Circle

Original 427 street Cobra CSX 3281 offered for sale

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, eBay

Side pipes, roll bars, hood scoops and jack-point bumpers, these are the things we’ve come to associate with Shelby’s 427 Cobra roadster. And while these elements are crucial to the Cobra’s mystique, the fact of the matter is that the majority of 427 Cobras built would have looked more like this car upon delivery — a fully restored CSX 3000 series street car. But like many other 427 street models, CSX3281 saw its fair share of racy mods through the years before being (mostly) returned to its original street car configuration. Offered here on eBay in near perfect restored condition, this rare opportunity knocks to the tune of $1.5 million.

Finding the limit of reliable performance in the 289 competition Cobras to be somewhere around 380 hp, Shelby was on the hunt for a larger power plant for the Cobra by 1963-’64. It initially seemed that an all-aluminum 390 FE might be the answer, but Shelby could neither acquire reasonable quantities of these engines, or make them work well in the Cobra. So Shelby’s crew began developing a new chassis in conjunction with Ford that would support the cast-iron block 427 FE engine. the iron FE was a heavy beast, but Ford was producing the engine in reasonable quantities and it was proven successful in drag racing and NASCAR through the early 1960s.

Production of the MkIII Cobra began in 1965 with significant revisions from the earlier small-block cars. The chassis main tubes were upped to 4 inches and coil springs replaced the original transverse leaf setup. The new car was widened significantly to accommodate larger wheels and tires, and the radiator opening was also increased in size. The standard engine was Ford’s fire-breathing 427 ci FE engine, producing roughly 480 hp in S/C trim.

Shelby planned to sell 100 cars to satisfy demand and homologate the car for FIA GT class competition use, but initial sales of comp-spec cars were slow, and Shelby didn’t meet the production mark for 1965. The majority of 427 cars were destined for street use though, and many unsold comp-spec cars were converted for road duty as well. These street models were easily distinguishable from competition models for their lack of hood scoops, roll bars and side pipes. It’s also well documented that several street-spec cars were sold with cheaper 428 ci FE engines, which made for a hot setup in many road-going Ford sedans and full sizes, but didn’t offer 427 levels of excitement. Shelby wound up replacing several of these with 427s when customers complained.

Given the success of Shelby’s Cobras in sports car racing through the 1960s, it comes as no surprise that they became more iconic and desirable through the years. People wanted the car they saw on TV and on the race tracks, and as such, many unsuspecting street-spec roadsters were converted to S/C spec with the addition of Halibrand wheels, scoops, roll bars, etc. This car, CSX 3281 is one such example. It was shipped to Michigan when new, looking much as it does today with sunburst wheels, a green exterior and your standard street car accessories. Its original 428 ci FE remained in the car until the late 1970s, when it was finally upgraded to a 427 side-oiler FE. Sometime after that, the car received the whole gamut of competition modifications, including wider rear fenders, quick jacks and a 43-gallon fuel tank. By the late ’70s, the car wouldn’t have been very recognizable, now wearing Halibrand wheels, side pipes, a roll bar and a comp-spec fuel filler.

But like all high-profile collectors, the value of CSX 3281 finally mandated a factory original restoration, which is the condition the car is in today. But if you know where to look, a couple clues into the car’s prior life are present. For one, CSX 3281 is still powered by the replacement 427 ci FE engine. And other than concerns about originality, I think most people would prefer it that way. I also believe the car is still wearing enlarged rear fenders from its S/C-spec days, or so it appears when you consider the tire fitment compared to known originals. It’s tough to be sure though, as each set of fenders seems different from the last after all these years.

The listed price of $1,495,550 might initially leave you with sticker shock, but I bet it’s not too far off the mark for this car. Considering the best, most original 427 street cars get roughly $2,500,000, I think this one could be in the ballpark.

Find CSX 3281 here on eBay.

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427 Shelby Cobra