Few cars enjoy such universal adoration as the Cobra, be they of AC (British) or Shelby (American) origin. This adoration was in evidence at the Revival last year when F1 test driver Giedo van der Garde and David Hart triumphed with the latter’s Cobra in the TT race.
When we discussed our ambitious plans to photograph 12 of the world’s most revered classic sports and racing cars whilst the Revival meeting was taking place (!), we knew that a Cobra had to feature somewhere. Fortunately for us, renowned French driver and keen Goodwood attendee Ludovic Caron had been invited, which meant that he had his 1963 Shelby Cobra with him for he and Le Mans veteran Nicolas Minassian to drive. CSX2127 (Cobras are often known by their chassis numbers) is not just a Cobra, but it is in fact one of the Cobras.
With his production plans up and running, Carroll Shelby set up Shelby American – a ‘works’ racing team with the objective of doing a lot of winning, firstly in American club racing and later in Europe (Shelby’s distaste for Enzo Ferrari was not something he hid). The first year of Shelby American’s involvement in racing was 1963, for which three cars were chosen to represent the factory. One of those three hallowed Cobras was CSX2127 …
The car was driven in period by Carroll Shelby himself, 1961 F1 World Champion Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Ken Miles, Bob Holbert and a number of prominent racers. The car usually placed in the top four in its first year of racing at venues like Sebring, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen and even the Hawaiian Grand Prix and at Nassau in the Bahamas. It continued to race right up until 1973, when a prolonged period of inactivity befell the car as it passed through the hands of several US collectors and did not race.
‘A 1963 car was the one I wanted,’ Ludovic tells us of his determination to own one of the original ‘works’ cars. ‘I’d known of this car for a long time which was owned by a man in South Carolina. I spoke to him, but he didn’t want to sell it.’ This is an all-too-common story, however persistence often pays off. ‘I kept in touch and we carried on talking for another two years. Then, suddenly, he agreed in principle to sell the car to me!’
The story doesn’t end there though. Having received the news that the vendor was willing to part with the Cobra, Ludovic moved quickly and was at the vendor’s workshop in South Carolina inside of 24 hours. The thing is, this was 2004 and the French government had just denounced America’s involvement in the second Iraq war. ‘This wouldn’t have been a problem,’ Ludovic continues, ‘because until then he’d assumed that I was Swiss. When he found out that I was French he refused to even allow me in the workshop!’
Ludovic found himself a hotel and did some thinking. He reminded himself that his priority was to secure the Cobra – even if it meant embellishing the truth somewhat – and ‘phoned the vendor again. ‘I did my best to assure him that I personally supported America’s position about Iraq and that I had no time for [then-French President] Jacques Chirac! He still seemed wary of me, but two days later we had a deal… ‘
With the car finally secured, Ludovic met Carroll Shelby himself who was glad of his intention to race the car again. ‘Shelby was great. He helped me to meet some of the main people from back in the day: Dan Gurney, (engineer) Phil Remington… although sadly I didn’t get the chance to meet Phil Hill before he passed away.’
Despite being in ‘very good’ condition, CSX2127 needed a fire extinguisher and an FIA-approved fuel tank before it was fit to take part in the 2005 Tour Auto. ‘After that I received an invitation from Lord March to race at the Revival meeting, where I was very proud to have been paired with Richard Attwood. My first time out in practice I was thinking “where on earth am I?” but Richard helped me to learn the track. It was a great pleasure to race with him at Goodwood.’
And what are his thoughts now he has had a lot of time to get to know the car? ‘It’s a beast… but one that you love! It’s so powerful. In fact the power is greater than the balance of the car. An E-Type Jaguar for example is far more balanced. The Cobra is always on the edge!’
Photography: Antony Fraser