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Shelby Cobra Fifty Years (by Colin Comer)


Cover

Cover

Sample Color Picture

Sample Color Picture

Sample Page with B&W Photo

Sample Page with B&W Photo

Sample Page with Historical Photos

Sample Page with Historical Photos

Sample Page with Historical Photos

Sample Page with Historical Photos

 

Book Review: "Shelby Cobra Fifty Years"
Author: Colin Comer

Carroll Shelby is nothing if not a promoter. Though in the early days he was “all hat and no cattle” with sheer true grit he propelled himself to the top of the sports car world for a time.

There have been many books on Shelby since, most concentrating on the cars and not as much on Shelby’s own life (for instance, I have yet to see a book covering where his ancestors came from—the name Shelby strikes me as Irish…) At any rate, the problem with writing a book on Shelby and Cobras is that there has been fifty years of  mythmaking, some of which Shelby is responsible for (Shelby’s  first book , The Cobra Story, written with  John Bentley , was done in 1965 even while Cobras were still being hand-pushed down the assembly line.) Methinks the job of a historian is to weed through the puffery and find the real facts and Comer, having owned several Cobras, is well equipped to do this job and shows it.

Colin Comer has written a couple of previous books on Cobras and Shelbys . Comer is fortunate to have a really good helpmate in his wife, who he credits for diligently searchinged far and wide for pictures. I was worried I’d see the same-old same-old in pictures but he dug up some new ones. I think this book will be bought by amateur historians, model car makers, and those who own or want to own a replica Cobra. I remember Bob Shaw, from California spending years to make his replica Cobra historically accurate – so us enthusiasts treasure each “original era” shot of Cobras just as they were run at Sebring, Daytona, LeMans, etc.

The paper used for the book is superb - color reproduction is very good. I have seen Jeff Burgy’s pictures of Ford’s experimental Cobra designs before but never so brilliantly reproduced. He made some photographer’s work looks better than it was originally!

The captions are very informative, the author including serial numbers in many cases. Unfortunately he skipped the research on the A.C. cars sold in England and once again repeats the myth that Shelby had the nose redesigned from the A.C. roadster to the 260 Cobra when in fact A.C. made 27 Ford Zephyr-powered A.C. roadsters  with the same nose as the 260 Cobra. Yank historians seem to always err on the side of giving Shelby credit at the expense of A.C. (whilst British historians do the opposite implying at times that Shelby was a mere Johnny-come-lately on the A.C. scene…)  

Comer gets a little confused when he goes off the farm to discuss Ferraris. He introduces the theory that  Ferrari tried to register the 250LM as a GT car because it was an “evolution of type” but if he bought some Ferrari books he’d know the 250LM was originally refused homologation as a production GT car for the exact same reason as the 427 Cobra—both firms failed to build the minimum number of 100 cars.  So both firms had to run the cars as prototypes, where they weren’t competitive.

I am sure Comer knows Pete Brock so I am surprised that Brock didn’t tell him how much he lobbied an unwilling Shelby to let him go ahead and do a 427 Cobra coupe. Comer makes it sound like Shelby thought of it and assigned Brock to do the ill-fated car. History has many interpretations but Brock is just a phone call away and I believe Brock’s version, that Shelby only did the car to get Brock off his back, and that’s why it went to the low-idder.

Comer does, to his credit mention the “hole” in the 427 Cobra build sequence - a hole Comer says he filled with 9 cars - but never actually says what year the chassis were laid down that Shelby sold with the “missing” serial numbers. One wonders if Shelby would have withheld writing the forward if more time would have been spent on that subject (which was amply aired in a series of LA Times articles)?

The cavalier way that Shelby-American operated at times is revealed in a laughing-out-loud letter from a Shelby official to an angry 427 owner who discovered that his car arrived with the meeker 428. Shelby’s man breezily dismisses the 427 owner’s  complaint, saying that Ford’s use of the name “427” was merely a matter of nomenclature as the Shelby Mustang GT500 didn’t displace 500 cubic inches either. Al Dowd, a Shelby executive, once told me the real story:  “If you looked like a weenie, we gave you one with the 428.” Take that, weenie!

Where this book excels is art, both in historical pictures and luscious color of restored cars. Lately some books on Sixties have shown clothing of the era-and I think clothing is a growth area for nostalgia buffs. It’s not enough to have replicas of the cars, we want Cobra jackets, and even Cobra jewelry — and this book shows us that and even some brochures and original era ads.

By far the best reason to buy this book though, is for the pictures of the cars as raced.   I have been horrified by some replica Cobras being so cavalierly trimmed out (with the wrong wheels, wrong side view mirrors, etc.) so I’m hoping with good reference material like this at hand, more owners will want to make their original CSX2000 or CSX3000 car a "period correct" car. Or more replica owners will try to get more of a "real look." Of course you can’t do anything about the replicas who have the wrong body configuration. And it doesn’t help that Shelby changed the body style of the 427 Cobra at least three times (slab-side, etc.)

Colin Comer segues into the modern Cobras Shelby makes quite tastefully, not bashing the rival kit car makers with whom Shelby has battled in court, but instead praising the quality of the best repros.

Motorbooks is to be congratulated for giving Comer enough budget to make a really satisfying book. A little more research for the next edition and it will be damn near perfect. Already the price is perfect. Although the cover price is $50, it’s only  $26.40 on Amazon.com. So just pass by Starbucks five times and with the money you've saved, you can afford buy this book.

Hardcover: 256 pages, 12.2 x 10.1 x 1.1 inches, 3.4 pounds
Publisher: Motorbooks; First edition (October 22, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0760340293 
ISBN-13: 978-0760340295

 

The Reviewer: Wallace Wyss wrote three books on Shelby & Cobras. His latest venture is his first novel, the action-thriller "Ferrari Hunters" (available from www.albaco.com)