It has been 50 years since the first Cobra hit the street. A cobbled-together English sports car body that was already long in the tooth, the engineers stuffed inside it a big American V8--not a new idea at all,
a concept already tried with various levels of success by Allard and Cunningham among others. Though the combination should only have been another small footnote in automotive history, this marriage worked. For multiple reasons including outstanding PR, successful race-on-Sunday/sell-on-Monday advertising, great looks and brutal performance, the Cobra became an automotive icon and the most copied car of all time.
This book, another in the long line of Cobra books, does a nice job of positioning the car within its era. It delves more into the key personalities involved as opposed to a pure numbers book on the specs of the cars. There are already many of those types of tomes in print. This book is really a picture book with enough text provided to give a thorough background on how it all came together. Adding to the history are the interviews with many of the key individuals that brought these cars to life.
The photography is excellent, and some of the vintage pictures--both of the cars on the street and at the track--are worth the price of admission. They really give a flavor to this bygone era, the early
Sixties that gave birth to a car like the Cobra. These cars were developed without government regulation impacting any aspect of their design,
an open canvas that allowed Carroll Shelby to bring together a bunch of creative hot rodders to build this aluminum ox cart with a big motor.
The fact that a chicken farmer and ex-racecar driver from Texas with a bad heart turned out to be one of the great automotive entrepreneurs of all time just adds color to the entire story. Carroll Shelby changed the automotive landscape. With a tiny operation
(albeit with backing by Ford), he beat the all powerful General Motors/Chevrolet monoliths on the racetrack. He turned Corvettes into weaving and rolling chicanes since his Cobra was 1,000 pounds lighter. After finishing off the Stingrays, he turned his sights across the Atlantic to take on Enzo Ferrari and his Italian stable. There was no love lost between the two. Shelby had driven for Ferrari earlier in his career, and Carroll did not care for Ferrari's imperious attitude and disdain for his drivers. Even with old man Ferrari using every trick up his sleeve--even going so far as to having rules changed that favored his cars or dropping out of competition to avoid the Shelby
onslaught--eventually in 1964 and '65, Shelby's cars handily beat the Ferraris on racetracks throughout Europe and North America. Shelby had his revenge.
Any weakness within the book is the author's 100-percent immersion in the Cobra/Shelby world. He tends to position everything and everyone on a pedestal. Sometime taking a bit of an outsider's view can lend a little more credence to the history being reviewed. This writer remembers a time during the first and second gas embargos in the early
Seventies when no one wanted the gas-guzzling Cobras. They could not be given away. Even during the initial build of the cars in the
Sixties, they were not an easy sell due to their cost and lack of any creature comforts. Financially the entire operation was always a step away from insolvency. The author tends to navigate around these low points in the car's history. Objectivity is not always a bad thing.
Carroll Shelby died on May 10, 2012 in his native Texas, a true loss to the automotive world. He was a huge personality and enriched the automobile landscape. One of the last of the big names that really shaped the enthusiast car world, he was part of a select group made up of Colin Chapman, Enzo Ferrari, and Ferdinand Porsche. All of them are gone now, and the car world is a more boring place without them.