Carroll Shelby's triumphant Cobra

Carroll Shelby was an airman; a chicken farmer; a racing driver; and inventor of the Shelby Cobra, probably the most copied car ever!

He was a very brave and determined man. He was born with health issues; he had leaking heart valves, which affected him for the rest of his days; but despite all that he became a racing driver with all the stress that that entailed. He was a good one too.

During World War II he was a flight instructor; his health issues kept him from being fit for active service. After the war he raised chickens but a disease problem wiped out all his lifestock and he went bankrupt. Lesser men would have opted for a quiet life but he took up motor racing instead and soon notching up his first wins.

In 1954, though, tragedy struck. He entered the Carrera Pan Americana Mexico; this was reckoned at the time to be possibly the most dangerous race in the world. His car hit a rock and somersaulted several times, leaving him with cuts, broken bones and two smashed elbows. Before he was fully recovered though he was back at racing again, clocking up even more victories including a win in an Aston Martin DBR1 in the 24 Hours Le Mans race.

He was suffering more pains from his heart though and was forced to give up racing. He now needed a new challenge.

AC Cars at the time were building a lightweight two seater roadster, the Ace, powered by a Bristol six cylinder engine, but Bristol announced that they were ceasing manufacture of it and AC decided to abandon the Ace. Shelby heard about this and asked if they would be interested in building a chassis for him, suitable to take a big American V-8 engine! They agreed and Shelby created one of the most important muscle cars of the era.

The first AC Ace, minus engine and gearbox, was sent over to him by air freight. Shelby and his associates fitted a Ford 'Windsor Series' 3.6 litre V8 engine and a Borg Warner four-speed gearbox and the first Shelby Cobra (he had dreamt of the name Cobra and liked it so much when he woke up that he adopted it) was on the road shortly afterwards.

In April 1962 a Cobra was displayed at the New York Auto Show, appearing on the Ford stand; it attracted a lot of attention both from dealers and potential buyers and so Shelby's company, Shelby American, committed to building them. Further development went ahead including larger engines.

The first race a corporate one was entered in was the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix; this was not the best start since it couldn't finish the race because of a broken rear hub. However more races followed with more successes and even Enzo Ferrari began to get worried when Cobras began to beat his cars too.

Shelby Cobras, or rather replicas of them, are still produced to this day; hardly surprising since original ones can fetch enormous sums of money. Some of these replicas have been authorised by Shelby, but many have not and it has been estimated that about 60,000 of them have been made worldwide! Anyone intending to buy a Shelby Cobra nowadays would be well advised to be extremely careful and make sure when and how it was built, because fake ones abound.