1964 Shelby 289 Cobra

1964 Shelby 289 Cobra. Sold for $1,072,500Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Chassis no. CSX 2561 

271 bhp, 289 cu. in. OHV V-8 engine with four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, independent front and rear suspension with A-arms, transverse leaf springs and tubular shock absorbers, rack-and-pinion steering, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 90 in. 

  • An original 289-powered Cobra
  • Well-documented history in the SAAC World Registry
  • Recently sorted and driven successfully on the Copperstate 1000
  • A factory demonstrator with numerous correct accessories

The notion of producing a hybrid sports car in the 1960s was, at its core, quite simple. While British manufacturers retained the edge in styling, road holding, and superb braking, American firms held a distinct horsepower advantage. This “best of both worlds” concept was, of course, nothing new. Post-war Allards, Cunninghams, and Nash-Healeys used the same basic premise. Carroll Shelby, however, considered chassis from Austin-Healey, Jensen, and Bristol before settling on AC, after hearing that the builders of the stylish and sturdy Ace had lost their engine supplier when Bristol ceased production.

Attractive, lightweight, and proven, the AC Ace could, by Shelby’s thinking, be turned into a successful production racer by replacing its aging six-cylinder engine with a powerful, deep-breathing V-8. In September 1961, Shelby wrote Charles Hurlock, of AC Cars, to propose a hybrid car using the AC sports car body and chassis. “I’m interested,” wrote Hurlock, “if a suitable V-8 could be found.” Shelby moved quickly when Ray Brock, Editor of Hot Rod magazine, told him of Ford’s new, lightweight small-block V-8. Soon after, Shelby had an early 221–cubic inch example installed in a stock AC Ace. In fact, the V-8 weighed just slightly more than the six-cylinder Bristol.

Ford engineer Dave Evans then offered Shelby an even better solution. A high-performance 260–cubic inch small-block V-8 was already in production for Ford’s Falcon, and two engines would be on the way to him soon. They were immediately sent by airfreight overseas, and on February 1, 1962, Carroll Shelby flew to England to test drive the new Shelby “Cobra.” The rest, as they say, is history.

This Shelby 289 Cobra, chassis CSX 2561, was originally billed to Shelby American on August 25, 1964, and was shipped to Los Angeles aboard the SS Alblasserdyk. It was originally finished as it appears today, in white with a red interior, and equipped with Class “A” accessories (whitewall tires and a luggage rack) and the very uncommon C4 automatic transmission, a feature reportedly fitted to fewer than 20 Cobras by the factory. The transmission was fitted to the Cobra using a floor linkage, modified from the one created for the Ford Mustang, keeping the car’s sporty pretensions intact.

The car was initially used by Shelby American as a demonstrator and then invoiced to Hayward Ford Motors of Hayward, California, on January 27, 1965. It was sold new as a “Factory Demonstrator” at the sizable price of $5,250 to Edwin Ovilice of Oakland, California. It later passed to another Oakland resident, Jim McCarthy, in the late ’70s and then to Morn Sinai of Hayward in the early 1980s.

After two further short-term owners, the Cobra was acquired in 1983 by Jim Yancey of Paris, Texas, who retained ownership of the car for 10 years. In 1993, it was acquired from him by Guy Eavers of Staunton, Virginia, with whom it was listed in the most recent Shelby American Automobile Club World Registry of Cobras & GT40s. Later, it was part of a prominent sports car collection in California before joining its consignor’s notable stable on the East Coast.

The Cobra has never been wrecked and retains the vast majority of its original components, as well as its original aluminum body, and is finished in the correct colors. Overall fit and finish of the body, paint, upholstery, and engine bay is outstanding, and the interior, with its black dashboard and Stewart Warner gauges, is stunning and purposeful. As a “road-going” Cobra, the car is equipped with virtually all available factory accessories, including chromed wire wheels, a soft top, a spare wire wheel, a front grille guard and rear bumper, a chrome air cleaner, aluminum Cobra valve covers, adjustable “wind wings,” tinted sun visors, competition seat belts, chrome exhaust pipe tips, and an outside rear-view mirror.

In its current ownership, the car has been sorted considerably, with numerous corrections made throughout to bring it back to proper authenticity, including a new rear filler cap and proper trunk finishes. Following completion of the work, for which invoices remain on file in excess of $38,000, it was driven enthusiastically on the Copperstate 1000 in 2014, completing the event successfully. It is further equipped with a proper all-aluminum Borg-Warner four-speed T-10 transmission, although the parts for the automatic transmission do remain with the car. Not only is the current transmission thrilling to drive, the rarity of the automatic transmission must not be underestimated. As such, the car’s current specification offers the best of both worlds.

Quick, comfortable, tight, and a fine driver, this superbly equipped Cobra is all that one would want in a high-performance machine. No doubt Carroll Shelby would be proud. 

RM Sotheby’s, ARIZONA, 28-29 January 2016