Shelby Daytona Coupe

By: Michael Browning

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From the archives: With only six built in total, this $8million Ferrari beater remains the crown jewel of American motor racing

Originally published in Unique Cars #305, Nov/Dec 2009

Shelby Daytona Coupe

By any standard it was an audacious assault; eight American hot rodders, in 1965, packing a toolbox and setting off to Europe to try and beat Ferrari on its own turf with their homespun Ford V8-engined coupe.

But these weren’t rednecks with a moonshine runner, and their sleek, hand-built Shelby Daytona Coupe proved to be a world-beater, writing an exciting new chapter in racing history. Against the most feared force in international motor racing, the Cobra Daytonas gave Carroll Shelby and the United States their first World Manufacturers Championship.


Gorgeous from any angle in its ‘Reims’ blue and white livery, this 1965 championship-winning Shelby is one of the most valuable cars of all time

Harder, faster…

The Daytona project began two years earlier. By 1963, Carroll Shelby’s new Ford V8-engined AC Cobra sportscar had established its supremacy over the previously dominant Corvettes on the short road courses of America. Shelby also took the roadster to Europe and prepared a hardtop version for Le Mans but placed fourth in class behind the Ferrari GTOs.

But Shelby and Ford shared a more ambitious goal: to beat Ferrari and become the first American team to win the coveted F.I.A. World Manufacturers Championship for GT cars.


Convinced by talented young designer Pete Brock (then just 27) that the Cobra could be transformed into a GT winner, Shelby gave the go ahead to re-body his 289-cube Cobra with a closed cockpit for better aerodynamics. Meanwhile, the chassis and suspension were substantially reworked by Bob Negstad.

| Read next: Carroll Shelby - the man behind the legend

The resulting coupe had a much lower centre of gravity and less aerodynamic drag than the roadster.


"People thought the Daytonas looked pretty strange in those days," Brock recalls. "The high point of its roof was over the driver’s head, which reduced turbulence around the windscreen and aerodynamically it was very good, while the combination of the tapering roofline and the chopped-off rear-end kept the air attached to the body surface and further reduced drag.

"The principles I used weren’t really new. Back in the late 1930s, a German aerodynamicist, Baron Reinhard Koenig-Fachsenfeld, figured out how to make buses faster and more efficient on the autobahns by making them tapered. So the whole idea for this came from 1939 and that bus design."


Chopped rear end helped reduce drag; looks good too

By October 1963, early tests at California’s Riverside Raceway showed positive results, with the coupe reaching 186mph (306km/h), some 20mph (32km/h) more than the open Cobra could muster.

So close!

Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert had the honor of debuting the Cobra Daytona at the 1964 Daytona Continental and in practice the car proved even faster than the Shelby crew expected.


"It was so fast we decided to drop its engine revs by 1000rpm, but even then it was still much, much faster than the fastest Ferrari there," recalls Brock.

The race itself looked promising, with the coupe dominating the first half until a fire in the pits forced the team to retire. However, Shelby was so pleased with the performance of his new car that he adopted the ‘Daytona’ name for it.

| Read next: 50+ years of Shelby Mustang

Three weeks later, Shelby American returned to take on the 12 Hours of Sebring with the same drivers. This time they beat Ferrari and placed fourth overall, leading the GT class. Ford immediately offered Shelby financial backing for an assault on European GT racing; the manufacturer very anxious to win on international fronts, and Ford was in the midst of creating the GT40 after an attempt to buy Ferrari went sour.


Twin sidepipes, Halibrand ‘knock-off’ alloys and tall Goodyear rubber shout ’60s

Building on that initial success and another class win at Sebring in March 1964, a second Daytona Coupe was built in Modena, Italy, at Carozzeria Grand Sport, which went on to construct a further four Daytona Coupes.

Cobra Daytonas set the fastest GT class time at the Le Mans test weekend and it was a sign of things to come. Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant driving chassis CSX2299 took the GT class win at Le Mans in front of several Ferraris. Things looked promising for the sought-after GT title.

| Read next: Shelby Cobra CSX2000 sells for US$13.8M (2016)

For the rest of the season, competition was fierce with Ferrari and the Coppa Inter-Europa at Monza looked likely to decide the title in the Daytona’s favour.


Unfortunately, the event was canceled with Ferrari leading the title by just a few points. As a result, the season remains one of the great ‘what ifs’ in Cobra history, prompting Carroll Shelby to declare famously, "Next year, Ferrari’s ass is mine!" 

Getting serious

Shelby, therefore, entered 1965 with a steely new resolve and a bit of good news, as after their ’64 success Ferrari decided not to enter any factory-supported cars in the GT series that year.


Classic Weber-fed 289 V8 made less than 300kW but was good enough to beat Ferrari V12s 

Taking no chances, four more complete cars arrived from Carrozzeria Grand Sport before the start of the season at Daytona, amongst them the recently completed chassis CSX2601. Driven by Bob Johnson and Tom Payne, it retired in the eighth hour with a blown engine, but another Coupe went on to win the GT class and finish second overall, the best yet for a Daytona in a race open to prototypes.

At Monza on April 25, Bob Bondurant and co-driver Allan Grant took ‘2601’ to eighth overall and first in the GT class. A second and first in GT followed at Spa and the Nurburgring respectively, however the Le Mans 24 Hours proved disastrous for the entire Ford contingent. 


While the Ford GT40 teams regrouped after Le Mans, Shelby’s dedicated crew – some of whom had devoted more than three years to the Daytona Coupe project – readied the cars for the 12 Heures du Reims, in France, with the GT World Championship within their grasp.

Ferrari defended its honour with seven prototypes and a trio of GTOs but Team Shelby was not to be denied. Prophetically on July 4, 1965, Bob Bondurant drove Daytona Cobra Coupe, CSX2601, across the finish line to secure the coveted title.


"What was really satisfying is that we did it with a production Ford engine," recalls Brock. "Here was a group of hot rodders in California who had made the fastest GT car in the world!"

Legend survives

Bondurant raced 2601 one last time at Sicily’s Coppa di Enna, taking third overall and first in GT. After being shipped back to Los Angeles, the car was leased to Paramount Pictures for the cult movie Redline 7000, before being purchased by Bondurant, who sold it in 1969.


"Carroll Shelby’s goal was to go to Europe and beat the Ferraris and we had done it," recalled Bondurant when he was recently reunited with CSX2601. "It was a really special car for me as I drove it in four races out of the six in 1965 and every time I ran in Europe, we won!"

After that, the Daytona spent some time on the road, once belonging to a North Dakota businessman who used it almost daily for long road trips.


Now restored and in its famous Reims livery, CSX2601 today survives, with its five brethren, as one of the most famous Cobras and with the best competition record of all the Daytonas, which together embodied the American competitive spirit against overwhelming odds.

CSX2601’s second finest moment came this year, not on the racetrack, but at auction. At Mecum’s Spring Classic sale in May, bidding stalled at US$6.8million and it was passed in. Regrouping with the endorsement of driver Bob Bondurant and designer Pete Brock as part of a carefully orchestrated media campaign, Mecum tried again at its Monterey Auction in August and this time the till rang.


State-of-the-art racing cockpit circa 1965 is a study in functional beauty

While it again failed to equal pre-auction hype and the predicted US$10m-plus, US$7.25m was a record for an American car at auction and amongst the top 10 sales of collectable cars sold at auction.

Bondurant was delighted.

"When I drove the car for the first time in 20 years just before the auction, it felt like I’d never got out of it," he said emotionally after a media track session at Laguna Seca. "It’s a very special car."


Top 10 collector car auction prices (2009)

  1. US$12.4 million – 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, RM Auctions/Sotheby’s, Maranello, 2009
  2. US$10.9 million – 1961 Ferrari California 250 GT  SWB Spyder, RM Auctions/Sotheby’s, Maranello, 2008
  3. US$9.8 million – 1931 Bugatti Royale Type 41 Kellner Coupe, Christies, London, 1987
  4. US$9.3 million – 1962 Ferrari 330 TRI/LM, RM Auctions/Sotheby’s, Maranello, 2007
  5. US$8.2million – 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K, RM Auctions, London, 2007
  6. US$7.9 million – 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC  Atalante Coupe, Gooding & Co, California, 2008
  7. US$7.4million, 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK, Bonhams, Goodwood, 2004
  8. US$7.254 million – 1904 Rolls-Royce, Bonhams UK, 2007
  9. US$7.25 million – 1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX2601, Monterey, 2009
  10. US$6.9 million – 1964 Ferrari 250LM, RM Auctions/Sotheby’s, Maranello, 2008


Ultimate barn find

Five Shelby Daytona cars were constructed in Italy, but one car, known to collectors as CSX2287, was manufactured in the US.

While ownership records were recorded for five cars, records for the sixth car were lost in the mid-’70s. For a long time car historians and collectors feared the sixth car was lost.

In 2001, the car was discovered in a rental storage unit in California. The owner had committed suicide and the car had remained undiscovered for about three decades.

Due to its then-estimated worth of US$4 million, it was part of an extensive legal battle between the owner’s mother and a friend, who was left the contents of the storage unit in her will.

Increasingly bizarre, an earlier owner of the car appears to have been music producer Phil Spector (who was jailed for murder), had been known to drive it on the streets of Los Angeles.


Bob Bondurant’s Shelby (#26) wins at Reims in ’65 to secure World GT Championship

Built for high-speed sprints, the cabin became uncomfortably warm as the car engine heated up, among other problems.

"It wasn’t a street car; it was a race car," Carroll Shelby said. Still, Spector drove it on the streets, and legend is that he racked up so many speeding tickets, his lawyer advised him to get rid of the car before he lost his licence.

The discovery of this car has been dubbed as the greatest find in the history of American car collecting.

Shelby Daytona CSX2287 has since been mechanically reconditioned and is on display at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, USA.


In the pits at Sebring

Enviable record

The Daytona Coupe CSX2601 was the most successful of the six cars built by Team Shelby for GT racing in 1964 and ’65.

This is its proud 1965 race record: Daytona, USA (DNF); Sebring, USA (2nd GTIII class); Monza, Italy (1st GTIII); Spa, Belgium (2nd GTIII); Nurburgring, Germany (1st GTIII); Le Mans, France (DNF); Reims, France (1st GTIII); Enna, Italy (1st GTIII)


Shelby Daytona Coupe, 1964-65 specs

Production: 6
Body/chassis: two-door coupe, aluminium body over steel spaceframe
Weight: 1043kg
Engine: 4.7-litre Ford V8, two valves per cylinder, 4 x 48 IDM Weber carburetors. Compression ratio: 10.8:1
Power/torque: 287kW @ 6750rpm/ 461Nm @ 4000rpm
Drivetrain: front engine, RWD
Transmission: Borg Warner T-10M four-speed. Final drive ratio 3.09:1
Suspension: Front and rear lower wishbones with transverse leaf springs, Koni adjustable telescopic shock absorbers
Brakes: Drums all ’round
Wheels/tyres: Halibrand alloys with 7.75x15 inch Goodyear ‘Stock Car Specials’
Performance: 0-100km/h – 4.0secs. Top speed – 306km/h


From Unique Cars #305, Nov/Dec 2009

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