Just mention the car racer’s name “Carroll Shelby” and the one word “Cobra” to any automobile enthusiast and you will get a smile. It’s as anyone who knows anything about cars and automobiles knows that “Shelby equals Cobra”. Carroll Shelby however has two other claims to automobile fame – being the “Tiger” and the Shelby GT350 as well as Shelby GT500 classic muscle car models. It can be held that the Shelbies are “the Muscle Cars” of the 1960’s.
The story really began with the A.C. Car Company’s AC Ace and Aceca models. These were small beautifully proportioned sport cars, the Ace being an open model, and the Aceca the closed coupe version. In the beginning they were powered by the company’s own 1926 designed six cylinder engine with overhead camshafts. It was not long before the demands of racing saw the AC engine replaced as an optional extra by the 105 barrel horsepower straight six cylinder unit. The AC was produced in small quantities in the famed Thames Ditton works , and at no time did anyone have any idea that this pleasant little car would become a fire breathing Muscle Car for the American market, and as well go on to form the basis for a world championship GT auto machine.
At that time the AC were quietly building the Ace and Aceca models, a Texan racing driver named Carroll Shelby was knocking on the doors of Detroit’s then “Big Three”, trying to get them to listen to his ideas about making an American super-fast automobile that could serve its owner as a street car Monday -Friday, then with very little work allow him to go racing on the weekend. Carroll’s ideas ran to a European or Japanese-made chassis equipped with an American small-block V-8 engine and transmission.
It seemed that the mighty General Motors were only interested in their own Corvette, which took up all of their development time and money, so they were not interested in listening to Shelby. Chrysler was not interested “sporty “cars at the time. In fact they were having enough trouble selling their own cars and other products at the time to be bothered with any new automotive products or any new car model or automotive lines specifications. Ford it seemed was vaguely stimulated but needed to be “sold” on the idea. Shelby had heard about the new Ford V-8 motor, the 221C! Small block motor, and saw in it the way to really get the ear and attention of the Ford Motor Company. Shelby pulled off the deal by what might be called “one of the oldest tricks in the book”. He told AC that he could interest Ford by using their chassis and he told Ford that he could interest their AC in using their V-8 engine. Most importantly he told both these tales at the same time. Both Ford and AC liked the sound of this idea.
AC next delivered to Shelby’s workshop an engineless AC Ace. In only eight hours Shelby and his fine crew had installed the Ford V-8 into it. It did run, but it was more than obvious to the sports car aficionados that there was more than a fair share of work to be done before it was a finished product ready to be shown to both principles and the auto shows and race tracks as well. Using the expertise and input of an experienced California based British racing /test driver effort and expertise were expounded on the project until the point that a polished product was coaxed along.
Finally the question is asked – where did the name “Cobra” comes from. Legend has it that Shelby Carroll kept a notepad at ready by his bedstead. Legend is that one morning Mr. Carroll awoke after a most deep and productive slumber with this mythical name on his lips ready to be written down on that very notepad. Whether this origin of the dream name of the classic American muscle car is true, or the automotive product name came as a result of years of expertise in the automotive and automotive racing community and marketing “brainstorming” is not clearly known. However what is more than true is that the Muscle Car trade name “Cobra” fit the image, speed and power of the car implying sleek acceleration , deadly acceleration, speed and more than outstanding good looks.