Shelby’s Forty Years of Venom

LAS VEGAS—Could anything be hotter than 103-degree temperatures in Sin City? Just take a look at Carroll Shelby’s brand new limited edition 40th anniversary Cobra. At last weekend’s eBay’s Motors and Music Auction, the first 2002 427/CSX4000 Cobra, a rebirth of the legendary 1960s classic, was put up for bid as a special feature of the collector car extravaganza. Carrying Registration #1 of the forty 289s and the more powerful 427s being built this year, the Anniversary Cobra is considered another of Shelby’s rare creations and was sold for the top bid of $205,000 to an Indianapolis lady who said she’d always dreamed of owning a Shelby Cobra. Carroll promised to deliver it to her door personally.

She beat back bids from baseball legend Reggie Jackson, and one of the owners of the Sacramento Kings who jetted in for barely a few hours and jetted back in time to see his team play the Lakers. Fortunately, the lady’s car came with an engine, one of Ford’s 427 cu-in V-8s, and a four-speed toploader transmission. Both the 289 and the 427 are normally sold without either, and are, basically, rolling chasses.

During a Shelby factory tour the day before the auction we were told that the remaining thirty-eight Anniversary Cobras (Carroll kept one for himself and yes, he paid for it) can cost up to $100,000 or more each, depending on customizing and different components. On the 427, chassis units range from $44,900 to $67,845. Other prices include paint, $6,000; a 42-gallon fuel tank with foam racing fuel cell, $2,400, and just $64 for an aluminum side mirror. The 289 chassis units cost from $41,400 to $71,300. Extras include Cobra paint stripes, $995, a heater/defroster for $275, and reasonably-priced 15” radials for $606.

Powertrains can add another $30,000. Obviously, these are not turnkey, ready-to-drive cars. Buyers must pay a dealer to install a powertrain unless they want to use the Cobra as a flowerpot.

Heritage relieved

Hand-built at the factory adjacent to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he often tests his cars, the snappy little roadsters are modeled on the original 1962 Cobras inside and out, with a few additional comforts thrown in. The 289 is fiberglass-bodied. The 427, with a slightly larger frame but with an identically sized wheelbase, is aluminum-bodied, polished to perfection by a group of convicts incarcerated at Indian Springs prison up the road.

“We send components to them and get a body back. This way they’re learning a trade, so that when they are released they have some skills they can usefully employ when they’re looking for a job,” said marketing director Gary Patterson. Two former inmates learned so well they now have fulltime employment at Shelby American, Inc.

Eschewing an assembly-line approach, the workers of the hand-built cars can turn them out at a rate of between two to eight a week in a variety of bodies, helped along by the fact they don’t have to handle powertrains. Both versions have Dana 44 gears, dual piston Baer caliper brakes, and rack and pinion steering. Suspensions are different; the 289 has FIA leaf spring, while the 427 is equipped with a standard coil-over system.

The Cobra can be built ready to race or as a street car. Both interiors have traditional door map pockets, foot box vents, ashtray, and analog clock, while the tubular style grille and trunk bumper hark back to its design of four decades ago. New millennium upgrades include adjustable foot pedals. The racer version, like the one Shelby took to Europe in 1962 and blew everyone off the tracks, comes FIA-prepared. Both models carry special 40th Anniversary hood, trunk, and side emblems. For a small car, the Cobra has a large gas tank, holding 23 gallons, and fuel is pumped in through the giant-sized chrome Le Mans cap.

Profiles in entourage

Who buys these built-to-order Cobras? Guys who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the high-water mark for muscle cars peaked. At the time, as young men, they could only look and drool, but now some can afford to own one.

“They’re so eager to get their hands on a Cobra they come into the factory and take pictures as their models are being built,” said Patterson. “They know every detail of Cobra history and Carroll’s racing successes, and the fact that it is the only American car to beat Ferrari.” Once they get them home, some owners tinker with their Cobras, tweaking this and that and sometimes having to call Shelby for advice.

The original 1962 to 1965 models can bring between $150,000 to $500,000, and Shelby’s first ever Cobra sold for $7 million. While the 40th Anniversary model was the high bid of the auction, another Cobra, a 1963 289 model, pulled in a respectable $124,000. Elvis Presley’s 1974 Fleetwood sold for $58,300, and a 1996 Bentley Azure convertible sold for $126,000.

The music side of the Motors and Music auction, a first for Las Vegas, saw serious car collectors mingling with rock stars. On the block were a Jimi Hendrix/Bappa guitar that received a bid of $500,000, a pair of Buddy Holly shoes that sold for $1,437, and a cowboy hat that belonged to Madonna, that brought a high bid of $2,300. Elvis Presley’s birth certificate was sold for $8,337.

If you’re looking for an automotive investment, one of the special limited edition indigo blue Anniversary cars could fit the bill.

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