A special chapter in the Cobra's history is it's racing career. Racing driver Carroll Shelby conceived the Cobra with the intention to win races with it to generate good publicity for the car and kindling sales. These days the popular myth is that the Cobra dominated GT racing in its days, but this is, like all myths, not completely true.
After that disappointing finish at Le Mans Ford and Shelby decided to concentrate their international racing efforts on the Lola based GT40 project. The GT40 still needed a lot of development and to fill the gap until the GT40 could be entered competitively Shelby agreed to a proposal by young designer Peter Brock to create an aerodynamic coupe body on the chassis of the Cobra 289. This option had occurred as a result of a recent change in FIA homologation rules for GT racing cars. Now it had become possible to either change the body or the chassis of the car without making another 100 examples of it to qualify it as a GT car. The intention of this was to make slight enhancements possible for small manufacturers taking part in the series, like fitting wider tires or extra air intakes, but there were no exact boundaries defined. This made fitting the sleek GTO body on the 250 GT berlinetta chassis possible for Ferrari and Brock envisioned something similar for the Cobra 289.
In his previous work for GM Peter Brock had encountered a theory by German doctor Kamm from the 1930s. His argument was that in order to create the most aerodynamical shape at the rear of a car you could create a "virtual tail" by designing flowing tapered lines and then sharply truncate the end where practical. This way the airflow would form a tail behind the truncated body resulting in nearly the same low drag for the car as it would have with a (unpractical) long tapered body. Brock decided to apply this "Kamm-tail" on the Cobra coupe, which was very innovative at the time. At the same time Brock tried to make the coupe good looking, and though he met a lot of skepticism, also within the Shelby organization, the first test with the coupe in February 1964 proved his design was a winner.
Then a winning spree of almost 2 years started with a successful 1964 Le Mans race. Two Daytona coupes were entered and they were so quick that they left all competition behind and ran with the cars in the faster prototype class. Drivers Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant took 4th overall and 1st in the GT class, defeating the magnificent Ferraris 250 GTO. More victories followed but after cancellation of the Italian Monza race the Cobra Daytona coupe just nearly missed the GT World Championship crown which was snapped up by Ferrari's 250 GTO.
That last bit is hard to believe nowadays. The Daytona coupes are the most valuable of all original Cobras, each of them worth over a million US dollars, at least ten times as much as a Cobra roadster. And rightfully so, it's a beautiful beast looking like it's all coiled for a huge jump forward and it's packing an enormous punch. The Daytona coupes are largely responsible, certainly outside the US, for the Cobra's fabled racing heritage in which the "regular" Cobra roadsters played a minor part. In that respect it's a pity that there wasn't a street version developed of the Daytona coupe, sort of like a reinvented AC Aceca, at the right time it might have rendered the Cobra an image similar to that of Ferrari instead of being a specialty car.
For some insight into the replicas made of the AC Shelby Cobra you can check out the additional "AC Shelby Cobra: attack of the clones" picture gallery page.
If you want to read more about the history and the aspects of the Cobra I can recommend David Butcher's very elaborate 289 Homepage.
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