Collector Cars – Mounted and Stuffed

With the news that within the last few days Carroll Shelby’s personal 1965 427 Cobra just sold at auction for almost $6 million, and the very first production Cobra of his collection sold for – gasp – $14 million, and the fact that your correspondent (Lex seemed to have inspired quite a few humble correspondents!), tired of this COVID-19 lifestyle, is visiting the Cobra Museum tomorrow (the one day of the month it is open!), thought I’d opine a bit on this crazy market.

Like virtually all iconic cars, the Cobra was the inspiration of one man. The Corvette had Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL had Rudi Uhlenhaut, and the Cobra had….Carroll Shelby.

Technically speaking, Duntov wasn’t the father of the Corvette, it being born in 1953 as the brainchild of GM making a show car. But Duntov gave it the performance. And I have previously written about the history of the 300SL “Gullwing”.

Prior to seeing the movie Ford vs Ferrari, I had known a bit about Carroll Shelby and Shelby American. I grew up during that time.

I can remember in 1967, when I was 17 years old, going to the opening of our downtown Macy’s Dept store, and seeing a new Cobra 427 on display from the local Ford dealer.

I stared at that car, just a little bigger than an MGB and about 2500 lbs, with an engine about 500 hp. Saw the price sticker of, as I recall, about $8,000, and thought at the time “Who would pay that kind of money for that?

When the first production Cobra was made (the $14 million one), it had a much smaller engine, a 260 ci V8. But because the body was so light, the speed was incredible. Road and Track Magazine tested it in 1962 and recorded a speed of 0-60 in 4.6 seconds – impressive even today.

But Shelby followed the formula Colin Chapman (of Lotus cars) and Ferdinand Porsche did in the early days – you get speed from either a more powerful engine or a lighter body.

Shelby made only a bit more than 1,000 Cobras, small block V8s and large block, but the car’s influence was huge. It achieved legendary status.

I always had wisdom and taste in cars. After all, I turned down a friend’s 10 year old Porsche 356B for…a brand new Ford Pinto! It is a story I like to tell among car guys and truth be told, most of us have that kind of story. Of the ones we were too dumb to recognize as icons. A friend in the early 70s turned down a Gullwing for a VW van. They were just old, expensive-to-maintain sports cars.

But it makes for a good story.

But getting back to Shelby-American.

I told the manager of the Cobra Museum that it was amazing to think that this little company, comprised of a retired racer and some California hot-rodders, plus an automotive engineer that Shelby admitted brought him to the success he knew – came from ground zero (developing the first Cobra in 1962) to winning LeMans in 1966.

The movie didn’t really mention Phil, but I believe it was he that turned the AC Ace into the Cobra. It was he who revised the Ford GT both through mechanical and aerodynamic modifications. (where races are won or lost with the pit crew, he devised a “quick change” component for the GT-40’s brake calipers). Imagine what that race does to the brakes going from 30 mph to 230 mph back to 30 – lap after lap. For 24 hours. The brake disks are glowing red from the heat.

Anyway, back to the title.

A friend of mine in my car club asked me if I wanted to go with him to a BBQ at a home for the Gull Wing Group. His wife wasn’t feeling too well. I considered the invitation for, what, about 5 seconds and accepted.

This was a group formed in 1961 by owners of the 300SL – both coupe (“Gullwing”) and roadster (which succeeded the coupe in 1957). They were, and are, enthusiasts who like to drive their cars. They will drive them 1000s of miles to national conventions. And a few years after their founding, because parts were getting hard to find (they made about 3,000 both coupes and roadsters between 1954 and 1963) they started making a few parts themselves. That was before Daimler wisely considered this car to be a “heritage brand” and keep them on the road with available factory parts.

Speaking of “cars that got away”, when the new Pagoda came out in 1963, there were some 300SLs languishing on dealer lots unsold. These cars are now selling for close to $1 million….and up. They made 29 “alloy bodied” 300SLs, don’t know how many survive today or what one of those would be worth.

Anyway, along the way to the BBQ my friend was lamenting the fates of these cars. He was saying that for what they sell for these days they are put into climate-controlled garages and rarely see the light.

They are “mounted and stuffed”.

And that is a shame, to my way of thinking.

I’d think Zora, Rudi and Carroll would be a bit sad…

But then, I guess you aren’t going to leave a $6 million Cobra at the Dairy Queen lot while you go in to have a tastee-freeze.

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