Est. 340hp, 289 cu. in. overhead valve V8 engine, four-speed transmission, ladder-type steel tubing chassis with independent front and rear suspension via A-arms, transverse leaf springs and tubular shock absorbers, four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 90"
From the book The Cobra Ferrari Wars by Michael L. Shoen
'But the people who said that the 289 (Cobra) wasn't a good handling car didn't know what they were talking about. Compared to what? That Cobra handled like a dream -- and was fast too.' ' Dan Gurney
While legions of motorsports enthusiasts continue to be thrilled by the epic Ford-Ferrari rivalry of the 1960s, few may recall that relations between Henry Ford II and Il Commendatore were initially far more cordial. In fact, in 1952, Ferrari presented Henry Ford II with a 212/225 Barchetta by Touring, modified to suit American tastes of the era with whitewall tires and exhausts exiting through the rear bodywork. There is even some speculation that this very car provided some of the design cues for the successful first-generation Ford Thunderbird models of 1955-1957. The relationship between Italy's home of the 'Cavallino Rampante' and America's 'Blue Oval' soured just one decade later, however, as a failed buyout of Ferrari by Ford sparked one of the most exciting motorsports duels ever to fire up the French countryside.
Henry Ford II attempted to buy Ferrari twice but was unsuccessful on both attempts. Initially welcomed by the Italian company, a deal was all but agreed upon until Enzo Ferrari called it off in 1963 after reaching an agreement with Fiat. This arrangement provided Ferrari with enough financial backing to continue with racing while still promising to preserve Ferrari's independence.
Henry Ford II did not take this rejection lightly, nor would he allow himself to be humiliated. The event sparked a great rivalry, with Henry deciding he would go to war with Ferrari to prove that Ford was not inferior to his Italian counterparts in any way. Pride, above all, was at stake. In order to accomplish his goal, Ford decided that there was no better place to compete and beat Ferrari than at the long distance races, and not just any long distance race, but the world-famous 24 Hour of Le Mans at the Sarthe circuit.
Ferrari had seen great success at Le Mans, having won this esteemed race six times by the early 1960s. This was about to change, however, as Henry Ford II joined forces with Carroll Shelby in order to mount his now legendary assault on the racing team adorned with the Cavallino Rampante. Both men were determined to end Ferrari's long domination of international sports car racing. Shelby's grit, experience and strong connections in American racing circles were a perfect marriage with Ford's engineering department and financial clout. And so the Shelby-Ford onslaught began with the legendary 289 Cobra. As Carroll Shelby said, "We knew, plus or minus, what the capabilities of the Ferrari were, and we knew we would beat it."
Carroll Shelby had already initiated homologation paperwork with the FIA to make the Cobra eligible for international competition. As such, the first Cobras had to be turned into race cars - no small matter - which included installing roll bars, quick jack pickups, racing windshields, competition belts, cooling scoops, and a whole myriad of safety and reliability items. He had his sights set on the Championship.
After initial outings at Riverside and Nassau, the mechanical talents of Phil Remington were augmented by the skills of Ken Miles, who concentrated on chassis development by testing anti-roll bar sizes, Koni shock absorbers, and various suspension components. Through late 1962, the engineers and mechanics at Shelby were improving a sports car that was only getting faster and more competitive.
By January 1963, only five months after the first Cobras had arrived at Shelby's operations in Venice, the first racing Cobra completed 500 miles of tire testing at Riverside. Just one month later, the Shelby team entered two Cobras in the SCCA Divisional race on the same track. In only its third competitive appearance, the Cobras of MacDonald and Miles finished first and second. By June 1964 the Cobras of Shelby-American won the biggest race of all in Europe, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the Cobra finishing a remarkable fourth overall and first in the GT class, defeating Enzo's Scuderia Ferrari.
The Cobra presented here, chassis CSX 2142, is one of the most important Cobras ever to make its way onto a racetrack. It was one of two AC Cobra Roadsters to be entered by the factory at the 1963 Le Mans race, the other one being a right-hand drive example. Both cars competed with the stunning and aerodynamic semi-fastback alloy hardtop. This was the first car that was fitted with the hardtop, which improved its aerodynamics and thereby increased top speed on the Le Mans circuit. The two cars were also equipped with oversize 30.8-gallon fuel tanks, hood scoops, side cooling vents and light alloy Dunlop wheels. All the modifications were specifically made with the Le Mans victory in mind.
Carrying Surrey registration 645 CGT, CSX 2142 was entered by Ed Hugus, Shelby's East Coast representative, who shared the wheel of the white and blue Cobra with Peter Jopp. They chose Stirling Moss to manage the American Ford entry but engine trouble in the tenth hour of the grueling race meant that the car had to retire early. This was indeed the first attempt by Carroll Shelby and Henry Ford II to defeat the Ferraris at Le Mans and, as such, was responsible for sparking the famous Cobra-Ferrari wars.
Following its participation at Le Mans, CSX 2142 and its sister car were acquired, without engines, by John Willment, a well-known Ford dealer with a racing shop. After being fitted with new engines and undergoing testing at Brands Hatch, both cars were entered in the 1963 RAC Tourist Trophy at Goodwood. Both cars had to be withdrawn, however, as the modified wheels and suspension parts were not acceptable. CSX 2142 competed the following month in the Autosport 3 Hours at Snetterton, with Bob Olthoff behind the wheel. Thereafter, it was shipped to South Africa where it raced in late 1963.
Ford of France subsequently purchased the car, which was driven by the successful French racing driver Jo Schlesser at the Rallye de Picardie (May 1964). Schlesser was also a noted Formula 1 driver, who was later killed in the 1968 French Grand Prix. Still registered as 645 CGT, the white Cobra had since been re-finished in darker livery. Schlesser would finish second overall in that race before entering the Rallye de La Baule the following month, in which he finished third overall. Schlesser then raced in the Mont Ventoux Hill Climb one week later, finishing first in his class. He competed in the Mont Dore Hill Climb in August (first in GT class) but, due to damage sustained by his Cobra, had to start the Tour de Corse in November with a Ferrari 250 GT.
Schlesser continued racing the CSX 2142 in 1965. While he finished third and first overall in the Rallye du Limousin and Rallye de Lorraine, respectively, he did not finish the Rallye Routes du Nord nor Rallye de la Baule. Finally, in June 1965, Schlesser did not start the Mont Venoux race due to fire damage sustained during practice.
CSX 2142 was subsequently sold the same summer in its damaged state to Jean Marie Vincent, without registration documents and with its original English registration number (645 CGT), as it was never custom declared in France. That same year Vincent also acquired another Cobra, chassis COX 6010, which was raced by Jean de Mortemart at Le Mans in 1964. Finished in light blue with a standard hardtop, this car had sustained frontal damage.
Utilizing parts from both CSX 2142 and COX 6010, Vincent was able to assemble his AC Cobra. According to conversations with Vincent, the resulting car effectively had the rear end, two-thirds of the bodywork and the interior from the Mortemart car and the front end and transmission from CSX 2142. The bodywork from 2142 could not be salvaged due to the aforementioned fire damage.
Following completion, the car was sold to Michel Gaudard in late 1965, or early 1966, who damaged the engine while driving back to Paris from Cabourg. After leaving the Cobra with Garage Intersport in Paris, the car was ultimately parked in an underground garage in a Parisian suburb. It remained there for some three years, until it was briefly sent to a scrap yard in Clamart, from where it was purchased by Bernard Ma'tre in 1969. Ma'tre sold the car to Bernard Alter, who delivered it to Bernard Afchain. Afchain brought the car to proper 1963 Le Mans specifications, utilizing original aluminum Cobra body panels as well as new brakes and suspension components acquired in the UK.
Completed in 1983/1984, Afchain obtained a 'Carte grise de collection', stating chassis number CSX 2142, in May 1989. The following year, CSX 2142 was sold to Bernard M'rian, who retained ownership for a mere three months. In fact, the car was returned to Afchain, who ultimately sold it in 1997 to Yvan Mah'. Mah' used the car both on the road and at such events as the Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or Montlh'ry and Le Mans Legends, campaigned as chassis CSX 2142 and reunited with its 645 CGT registration.
After 37 years of private French ownership, it was finally returned to the UK in 2003 to be fully restored and prepared by Simon Hadfield with meticulous attention to originality and detail. Since then, it has been a front-running car at the Goodwood Revival where it has been seen battling with Ferrari 250 GTOs, Ferrari 330LMBs and Lightweight E-Types. CSX 2142 has been a regular contender at other international events (including prestigious FIA historic races) and the Tour Auto, having led the field on many tracks and special stages. Recently 100-percent authenticated by the Cobra Registrar and perfectly sorted, it is well-suited for further competitive historic racing and would make a fantastic addition to any important collection. As the first American Ford entry at Le Mans, it effectively represents the beginning of the famous Ford vs. Ferrari war ' a remarkable piece of both Shelby American and Le Mans 24 Hour history.