By Larry Edsall
Nineteen sixty-three. Shelby Cobras were dominating American sports car racing, and designer Pete Brock and the car builders at Shelby American were busy working on a Kamm-tailed coupe to challenge Ferrari on the world racing circuit. Then along came the Sports Car Club of America with plans for its first professional motor sports series, racing for prize money, not just trophies. Called the Fall Series, it was not for production-style sports cars such as Shelby’s roadsters but for pure, purpose-built “sports-racing” specials — purebred racers with big engines mounted behind the cockpit. (It wasn’t long before the Fall Series blossomed into the Canadian-American Challenge Cup, the now fabled and fabulous Can-Am series.)
Obviously, the Shelby team would compete. First, however, it needed a proper vehicle.
So Carroll Shelby did what he had done before; he went to England to find a chassis into which he might fit one of his powerful V8 Ford engines. What Shelby found was the Cooper Monaco. He eventually ended up modifying six such cars for his racing team. The only still all original survivor among what were dubbed the “King Cobras” — Shelby CM/3/63 — is among the Salon Collection here at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction.
Among the first to get back to auto racing in England after World War II were the father-and-son team of Charles and John Cooper. At first they combined front suspension components from a couple of scrapped Fiat 500 Topolini, made wheels from scrapyard aluminum and brake drums from the cylinder liners of marine diesel engines, and fashioned other components from steel no longer needed for air-raid shelters to produce a race car powered by a 500cc motorcycle engine.
Soon they had purpose-built Formula 2 racers and would become famous for their Grand Prix machines and for the car that launched the rear-engine revolution in the Indianapolis 500. They also turned the boxy British Mini into the rally-winning Mini Cooper.
In 1961 the Coopers applied their car-building expertise to a sports-racer, which they named Monaco in honor of Maurice Trintignant’s victory in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in a Cooper-Climax. The Coopers’ Monaco would be raced in the United States by the likes of Roger Penske, Hap Sharp, Bruce McLaren and others, including Briggs Cunningham’s fabled team.
Shelby’s first Cooper Monacos were CM/1/63 and CM/3/63. Not only did the cars get race-ready Ford 289 V8s, but also Huffaker 4-speed gearboxes (which were later swapped out for Colottis), and they modified the tube-frame chassis and suspension components to deal with the 400 or so horsepower that now would propel the lightweight vehicle with limited rubber to keep it on the track.
Dave MacDonald drove the CM/1/63 car and Bob Holbert the CM/3/63 in the Fall Series. Also driving the 3/63 for the Shelby team were MacDonald, Ken Miles, Augie Pabst, Ship Scott, Ed Leslie and Ronnie Bucknum. Parnelli Jones also raced the car before Shelby sold it.
In 15 races during the course of three seasons of the Fall Series, U.S. Road Racing Championship and the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix, the car also won four pole positions.
MacDonald drove the 3/63 to victory in the U.S. Road Racing Championship series race in 1964 at Kent, Wash., and Leslie took it to victory at Greenwood Roadway in Iowa. Miles and Pabst co-drove to a third-place finish that season at Mosport Park in Canada.
But as was the case with so many once state-of-the-art racing cars, “by the end of the 1964 season, the King Cobras were rendered obsolete old race cars by the new competition from the likes of McLaren and Lola…,” Colin Comer writes in his definitive “The Complete Book of Shelby Automobiles: Cobras, Mustangs, and Super Snakes.” “And just like that, Shelby sold off his King Cobras, along with all of their spares, and went on to his new race car — the Ford GT40.”
Shelby’s CM/3/63 — though now fitted with the 5-speed ZF gearbox that Parnelli Jones had driven in another of Shelby’s Cooper Monacos — was sold to Alex Budurin of Tucson. Budurin died before he could race the car, but his widow sold it to Sunnyvale, Calif., club racer Dwayne Zinola.
Zinola won a national championship with the car and then sold it to Robert Green of Santa Cruz, Calif., who restored it after visiting with Shelby and having him personally authenticate the car, down to the engine block with a January 14, 1964 date code.
This car — the only King Cobra surviving within its Shelby configuration and components — has had three owners since Green, including the consignor offering it here at Barrett-Jackson. “Other King Cobras have been built up from bits,” the consignor said. “This has every original panel, original engine, original gearbox.”
The car comes with two letters from Shelby himself authenticating its provenance and with documentation from the Shelby American Automobile Club verifying it is “the only original surviving factory team King Cobra in existence.”
To prepare for the auction, Rand E. Bailey, the Wisconsin-based Shelby specialist and SAAC judge, performed a sympathetic restoration with the intent to carefully preserve the car’s originality.
The car is presented in its original Viking Blue with double white racing stripes and is considered one of the rarest and most historic of cars raced by the Shelby team, for which it was driven by a succession of outstanding racers in what was the country’s top sports car racing series.
Not only is this the only original King Cobra in existence today, but it is also one of the few factory team cars built by Carroll Shelby and raced by his factory team drivers as opposed to the numerous production cars that he built.
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