Remembering Carroll Shelby – Page Two
As everyone knows, after the 1960 racing season, Carroll Shelby became even better known for creating Cobras and Shelby Mustangs. But perhaps fewer know that he had ventured into car creation before that.
During the fifties, Shelby, Jim Hall and Jim’s brother, Richard, had a dealership in Dallas—Carroll Shelby Sports Cars, Inc.—and were the Southwest Maserati distributors. In 1957, Brian Lister designed a chassis and body that incorporated a Jaguar engine and transmission. His cars enjoyed considerable success in the UK and on the continent at the hands of Archie Scott-Brown, Masten Gregory and Stirling Moss among others.
It occurred to Carroll and Jim that the Lister could accommodate a small-block American V8. So they went to England, met with Brian and came home with six rollers. Five were sold and Jim installed a Chevrolet engine in the sixth and raced it. Their idea was to become the U.S. Lister distributors. Brian’s 1958 model was to be a production version, but Archie Scott-Brown crashed and died at Spa, so, as Lister said, “The stuffing was removed from my little Cambridge team.” Production petered out and stopped after 1959.
The experience, however, gave Shelby an introduction into putting an American V8 in a British chassis. Hall remarked that, “For me, the Lister was my first step towards building my own car.” (As an aside, Lister-Jaguars did well for a time in the U.S. when the Cunningham Team ran them at the hands of Walt Hansgen, Dick Thompson, Eddie Crawford and Briggs himself).
In 1959, Shelby and Hall dipped their toes into the constructor water. By then, Corvettes were dominating their production-car class. But as tourers, they weren’t in the same class as Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin. Shelby and Hall got the idea of mating a Corvette chassis and drive train to an aluminum body with luxury accouterments.
They teamed up a with wealthy Texas-oilman friend, Gary Laughlin, who was a sports-car-racing enthusiast. Shelby presented the concept to General Motors Vice President Harley Earl and Chief Engineer Ed Cole. Laughlin and Hall were Chevrolet dealers in Texas, so GM ended up selling them three Corvettes sans bodies with 283-CID running gear and Rochester fuel injection, producing 315 bhp.
Next, they made a deal with Italian coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti (Carrozzeria Scaglietti of Modena) to design and build aluminum bodies and coachwork. Scaglietti, then known as Ferrari’s “in-house” fabricator, had designed what many consider one of the most beautiful cars ever made, the 250 GT Ferrari Tour de France. Scaglietti was also responsible for the famous pontoon-fendered Testa Rossa. The Carrozzieria designers came up with something with looks similar to the 250 GT. The result was a car about 400 pounds lighter than a 1959 production Corvette.
The combination of European dash and luxury coupled with American practicality would undoubted appeal to a large number of aficionados. Since the car was actually a stock Corvette masquerading in luxury clothing, it could be serviced by any Chevrolet dealer at a fraction of the expense experienced by Ferrari owners. At the same time, performance was excellent. Surely it was an idea whose time had come!
Variously dubbed the Corvette Italia or the Scaglietti Corvette (later the Chevrolet Cobra), the three were completed and delivered. But when the partners went back to the factory for more Corvette platforms, they were refused. Cole gave all sorts of excuses, but the bottom line was that the General Motors honchos wouldn’t support something they thought would compete with Corvettes. So the project had to be abandoned.
Each of the three—Shelby, Hall and Laughlin—ended up with a car. None however, kept his. Over the years, all have passed through a number of different hands. The Shelby car is now in the collection at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Although ultimately unsuccessful, the two projects—Lister and Italia—were the beginning rather than the end of the story. As the world knows, both Shelby and Hall soon went on to larger and greater things.
After retiring from racing, Shelby’s first venture was the creation of the Shelby School of High Performance Driving opened in 1961. He made an arrangement to rent Riverside Raceway during weekdays. The idea was to teach one student at a time for a week. Shelby hired Pete Brock to manage the school as well as provide much of the instruction. Such was Shelby’s fame that a single $90 ad brought 1,400 replies, each containing a one-dollar bill for the school brochure. John Timanus later joined Brock and Carroll as teachers. One of the students was a young John Morton, who later went to work for Shelby, first as a janitor, then a driver.
In the meantime, Shelby had obtained distributorships for Goodyear racing tires and Champion spark plugs. He operated out of a small office and space rented from Dean Moon at Moon’s shop in Santa Fe Springs, California.
A successful sports car at the time was the British AC sporting a 2-liter engine based on the famous pre-war BMW. In 1961, the engine manufacturer—the Bristol Aeroplane Company—which had obtained the rights to the design from Germany due to war reparations—decided to stop producing the engines. This put AC in a bind and Shelby heard about it. In September he sent a letter proposing that AC make rollers and ship them to him in the U.S. for the installation of a small-block American V-8.
Initially, Shelby had the venerable Chevrolet engine in mind, but then he heard Ford had developed a new casting process that let them make a lightweight V-8 at a low cost. Charles Hurlock at AC wrote back that he would be interested if a suitable engine were available, whereupon Shelby got in touch with Dave Evans at Ford. To make a long story short, Evans sent Shelby two of the new engines and they arrived at Santa Fe Springs in November 1961.
In February 1962, the first AC roller arrived at the Santa Fe Springs shop. In only one day Shelby and Dean Moon installed a Ford 260-CID engine and a Borg-Warner 4-speed transmission. Then the two friends test-drove the car. Sometime later, Shelby named it the Cobra. He said it came to him in a dream while the car was on its way from England to the U.S.
Meanwhile, Lance Reventlow had decided to wind up his Scarab project. The facility—located in Venice, California–became available, so Shelby moved his operation and took over Lance’s lease on the Princeton Drive shop in March 1962. Warren Olson, his wife Simone, and Phil Remington had been working for Lance. Without missing a day, they continued on for Shelby. All of Lance’s tools and machinery were included in the deal.
The new business was named Shelby American and Ray Geddes from Ford came on board to coordinate because Shelby was not experienced with dealing with a large corporation. One of Geddes’ first duties was to keep Ford’s involvement at a low profile due to concerns regarding liability. The prototype Cobra—CSX 2000—was completed in April and shipped to the New York Auto Show where it was featured in the Ford display. As a result, Ford dealers began to place orders along with deposits. In addition, some others signed up to be Cobra dealers. (CSX 2000 is still in Shelby’s personal collection).
The second car (CSX 2001), which became the first production Cobra, was shipped from AC in England directly to Shelby’s buddy (and mine), Ed Hugus—who had a large dealership in Pittsburgh—where an engine and transmission were installed. (CSX2001 presently resides in the Bruce Meyer Collection). Shelby appointed Ed, also a successful race driver, as his first dealer and later distributor for the Eastern United States. Hugus got the next two rollers. Tasca Ford in Providence, RI, also got a few more rollers to complete for East Coast dealers.
Production started in Venice, but it was slow because extensive alterations to the AC chassis were necessary. Nevertheless, in August 1962, papers were submitted to the FIA—the Federation International de L’Automobile—for homologation in the over 2-liter GT class. Acceptance by the FIA meant Cobras would be allowed to compete with other production cars. The FIA requirement, however, was that at least 100 cars had to be completed within 12 months. The FIA ended up approving the application even though, unbeknownst to them, only eight had been made by then.
On October 13, 1962, a Cobra was entered by Shelby American in the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside. Carroll selected Inglewood, California, Honda dealer Bill Krause to drive in the three-hour enduro for production cars that preceded the main event. The race was not only the first ever for a Cobra, but also was the debut of the new model Corvette, the Stingray. At the start, Dave MacDonald in a Stingray led off, followed by Krause. But Dave went out early on with mechanical problems allowing Krause to take over. Bill led for the first half-hour, but then the new Cobra suffered a broken wheel hub. Doug Hooper inherited the lead and won in another Stingray. Afterwards, Shelby remarked, “It was a tough break, but at least it was a consolation to know we were in front when the hub broke.”