Carroll Shelby – The Edgar Ferrari and Maserati Years Page Two
After Seafair came Shelby’s two victories in our 857 at Montgomery, New York, then a win in Jim Kimberly’s OSCA MT4 at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, before he was back in the Edgar 410’s seat to contest the SCCA National Road Races at Palm Springs the first week in November, a huge event in West Coast sports car racing. The town was jumpin’. There were parties every night, bongos beating into the dawn of each day. Thing was, they could have been war drums. Phil Hill was in town, just back from his Ferrari factory drives in Europe and armed with George Tilp’s 857 to take on Shelby and the Palm Springs field. Exactly as it was in February, so it was again here in November, with an 857 versus 410 duel to be fought—this time by America’s best, Phil Hill and Carroll Shelby.
As I wrote a few years ago of our 410 at Palm Spring in November 1956: “The 29-year old Hill had matured during his season abroad, netting himself two victories for Scuderia Ferrari. That night, pushing 34, Shelby ate steak—‘cooked through’ as he always had it—and turned in early. The rest of us non-drivers, and even some who’d compete in Sunday’s races, were off to party until the sun rose a fiery spike.”
There are those who say that Palm Springs battle between Shelby and Hill was the best ever seen in sports car racing in the U.S. during the ‘50s. I believe it might have been. It was certainly one of the most exciting to watch. Heading the pack for the entire 30 laps they diced side-by-side and nose-to-tail—Shelby’s 410 quicker on the straights, Hill’s 3.5-liter Monza catching up in the turns, even passing his 4.9-litered antagonist three times. With autumn afternoon light fading, they were still at it right to the flag, Carroll winning a half-second ahead of Phil.
I knew Shelby pretty well by then and was starting to think of him as a member of our family—ten years older than me, kind of like an uncle, or brother, I’m not sure which. He was around all the time. For my parents, Shel, as we were calling him, was the perfect fit—winning races on track for us and fun to be with off track, always. He would later tell me, “When we weren’t racing, we were laughing, either packed into a rental Buick for practice runs up Mount Washington’s hillclimb or living high at the Plaza Hotel and New York’s night clubs. I loved to drive for John because there was always something going on, something that would make a lifelong impression.”
A month after the November ’56 win at Palm Springs, the Edgar team was back at it in the Bahamas at Nassau’s Windsor Field, with Shelby again in the 410 Sport. He won the preliminary there on December 7th and, same day, began the delayed-start 70-mile Governor’s Cup that was soon cloaked in darkness on a road race course marked with black oil drums. In a word, the whole thing was insane. Be that as it may, Shelby drove the 410 hard as ever, winning in the dense sub-tropical night with a literally “blindingly” fast 99-mph average. I was not there for Speed Week, but my fun-loving parents later recounted that Bahamian midnight when Dirty Dick’s bar “turned like a ship in a tempest” with post-race revelers and drivers alike.
The December 9th Nassau Trophy was the Speed Week’s feature race, 210 miles, and Shelby wanted it to be his third win in the span of three days. Three times as long as the Governors’ Cup he’d already won, he knew the coral composite racing surface this time would be murder on tires. On went a fresh set of Englebert rubber that Chinetti had sent to Miami. Trouble was, they were cotton cord tires, wrong to begin with and vulnerable to what they were required to endure. Shelby pitted from an early lead, his tires shot. Stirling Moss won the race in a 300S Maserati inline-6. About that poignant dénouement I wrote: “Landaker threw a tarp over [the 410], and Speed Week ended appropriately with champagne and decorum served up at Lady Oakes’ Hillcrest House on that long ago Sunday eve in the British West Indies.”
Shelby came away from Nassau with two wins and a broken shoulder he got playing touch football with a coconut at the beginning of Speed Week. And, nothing to sneeze at, he landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Driver of the Year.” John Edgar, on the other hand, had his mind focused on how the road racing would go in the coming season. Impressed with Stirling’s Maserati win at Windsor Field, my father’s thoughts were turning toward what the Orsi family and Officine Alfieri Maserati in Modena might mean to him, as well as to his top driver and new best friend, Carroll Shelby.
Near the end of January ‘57 we all rode in my mother’s powder blue Mark II Lincoln Continental from my parents’ house above Hollywood’s Sunset Strip out to the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona. It was pouring rain and Shelby was pissed. He didn’t like the layout, and while leading the Consolation race in the 410, as he recalled, “I stood on it and hit a puddle, and I lost it.” The Ferrari went backward off track into a fence. “It was stupid,” Shelby said, “to race a big car like that on that little ‘ol’ chicken-shit course.” He climbed into the Continental with us and we opened a thermos of margaritas.
Havana was the next really big race, but before that came New Smyrna Beach in Florida, just south of Daytona. Landaker hauled the 410 there for Shelby, along with the Edgar team’s aging 375 Plus for former Scuderia Marzotto pilot Piero Carini to drive in Cuba, where Shelby would again be in the 410. The Edgar team’s Porsche driver Ruth Levy was at New Smyrna and Shelby invited her to try the 375 Plus. She did, and turned it upside-down in the sand. Carroll fared a lot better in the 410, winning both the preliminary and main, while keeping the car unscathed and ready for Havana. He called our 410 “the best Ferrari I ever drove.”
An international grid for this inaugural Gran Premio de Cuba in late February 1957 featured some of the world’s most noted drivers—Moss, Castelloti, Gendebien, Alfonso de Portago and Phil Hill, to name a few. Juan Manuel Fangio was there in a factory 300S Maserati, while Shelby grinned from the Edgar Ferrari 410, paradoxically, as you’ll recall, originally built for Fangio. It was frightening to consider what might take place on the Malecón shoreline boulevard and other Havana streets lined with tens of thousands of spectators. In the race, Carini was a DNF. Shelby led for a lap early on in our 410 to ultimately finish second. It was the king, Fangio, in the works 3.0-liter Maser who won the GP and gold trophy presented by Cuba’s president-dictator, Fulgencia Batista.