The Definitive Carroll Shelby Documentary

I have to admit, I have a bit of a compulsive nature. Ever since I saw the movie Ford v Ferrari and posted about it, I have been interested in learning more about specifically Shelby American and their cars.

And I’m even more amazed at what this small company achieved in international racing.

This Netflix documentary really covers it all. With narration from Shelby, his sons and grandsons, Edsel Ford and his son, Henry Ford III, Peter Brock…the list goes on and on.

The only thing I will say – with a minor spoiler – is about the background of the Cobra Daytona Coupe.

The Definitive Carroll Shelby Documentary

1 of 6 Cobra Daytona Coupes made

It was simply a Cobra Chassis with a radically redesigned body by Peter Brock. Shelby needed a car that could challenge the Ferrari GTO, and the Cobras would hit aerodynamic resistance at about 155 mph.

Brock was only 22 or so and had come from GM styling (where he helped design the Corvette Stingray). He researched work the Germans did on streamlined bodies from the 1930s, and with a lot of skepticism from the Shelby people, designed this body to go on a Cobra.

The car went much faster – 183 mph tested by Ken Miles at Riverside – than the conventional Cobra even though it was heavier by a few hundred lbs. And it was easily beating the Ferraris. Besides the much higher top speed on an unchanged Cobra chassis, the unconventional aerodynamic body gave it 25% better fuel efficiency. Which meant fewer pit stops. Many races are won or lost not on the track, but by the pit crew.

And it was made in less than 90 days by a handful – less than 10 – people. On virtually no budget.

Won the GT Class at LeMans in 1964 and probably would have won overall even beating the prototypes, but for an order to take it slower because of some damage.

Here’s a good article in Road and Track Magazine.

A few years ago, I was at a local car museum and looking through the old magazines they had for sale.

In the late 60s, you could see ads for 1950s Mercedes 300SL Gullwings or Cobras for $4500 or so. The Gullwing now is over a million.

I had to smile at an ad I saw in a late 60s Road and Track Magazine for 1 of the 6 Daytona Coupes made. Engine was detuned for the street. Seller wanted $11,000 for it.

Which, in the late 60s, was a lot of money when you could get a new E-Type Jag for $5500 or so.

But as you can see from above, one of the 6 recently sold for over $7 million.

And in the documentary they are talking about the end of the season and Ford wanted Shelby to focus all of his resources on the GT40.

Shelby didn’t even want to pay to have these 6 to be brought back to the US. Told the team manager to just take them on a barge and dump them in the North Sea. Despite winning the GT Class internationally.

Which he couldn’t do so he had them shipped back in the cheapest manner possible – on top of a ship exposed to the elements – at his own expense.

They were just old race cars. *

Anyway it is an outstanding documentary.

I guess I have talked enough about cars for awhile. But you know what pushes my buttons.


**Update 12/04/19 0000 – I know I am just repeating hearsay and admittedly how such things get started – evolving into something else completely different, but I thought I would tell you a small story from a late friend, Robert Sanigar.

He was what I would call a master mechanic in the classic sense – no knowledge of modern electronics, but he worked on engines from VWs to V12 Ferraris, although he came to prefer Mercedes.

As long as I am rambling a bit just before bed, a sub-story just to give you an idea of his expertise.

He used to be part of a pit crew in the early 60s, and met such legends as Jim Clark, Roger Penske (he was a champion driver before becoming a billionaire), and Dan Gurney at places like Riverside. He crewed a “Pooper” – a Porsche-powered Cooper, for the man who would become Sacramento’s Mercedes-Benz dealer, George Grinzewitsch, Sr. And in 1962, George was rated #7 in the country against greats like Dan Gurney  and Roger Penske at places like Riverside.  And self-taught in driving.

So Bob was there.

A club member has had for years a Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster, 1,800 made from 1957-1963. It evolved from the Gullwing (with some refinements), but suffice it to say, it could be a challenge to work on. You really had to know what you were doing.

Although retired he would work on club members cars from his home, and I “helped” him evenings for 7 years and while working into the night, heard his stories. I wish that I could remember 25% of what he tried to teach me.

One day our member with the 300SL came in and needed new motor mounts. And he told Bob that he knew it was a very complicated operation (whatever it was), and he expected Bob to have it for a few days.

Bob called him in a few hours – job done – and when asked how he did it, Bob just smiled.

Anyway with Bob’s contacts he told me that one year after LeMans members of the pit crew were offered a GT40 for the princely sum of $1 – with the provision that Ford had the first rights to buy it back. And the new owner had to pay to have them shipped back.

I don’t know whether all members were offered this, or crew chiefs, of even if this is true.

And if it was true, it had to have been in ’64 or ’65, before they finally had the design dialed in and won convincingly.

Point is, for a long time old race cars were just considered something to be discarded and junked when no longer competitive. Today those early cars would still be worth millions with a LeMans history.

As are the Cobra Daytona Coupes that Shelby wanted to be simply dumped in the ocean.


Update 12/08/19 – As is my compulsive nature, I was watching another YouTube video – Pete Brock being interviewed by Shelby American in Las Vegas – and Pete was saying at the end of the 1965 Season a UK tax man was telling the team leader that if the cars weren’t removed he would tax them or take them out to the ocean and dump them. (As with all international teams the cars they bring in to race are expected to leave). 

And since Shelby was now devoting his full attention to refining the GT40, these cars were not his priority. 

Anyway while this interview is annoyingly broken into 5 5 minute segments (!?) Pete certainly ought to know. 

05/28/23 Here is another great interview of Shelby. Called the “Lost Interview”, it was done late in his life and at 1.5 hours, he covers a lot of things in his life.

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One response to “The Definitive Carroll Shelby Documentary

  1. Pingback: A Cobra Experience | The Lexicans

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