Great snakes: Concours of America showcases 16 Shelby AC Cobras

With all due respect to the Toyota Prius, more than half a century ago Carroll Shelby created a hybrid of a very different sort (in other words, a lot more fun) by combining potent American V-8 horsepower with a light, lively British chassis wrapped in classic roadster coachwork.

Over a seven-year period beginning in 1962, the Shelby American enterprise produced 1,003 sports cars for street and competition use. Unfortunately, this venture lost heaps of cash in spite of enthusiastic support from the Ford Motor Company. Although Shelby is gone, the legend he created is stronger than ever.

More than any other kind of car show, a Concours d’Elegance brings together cars that are individually rarely seen in public and puts them all together in one group of glorious eye candy. Shelby’s AC Cobras rank among the most revered (and replicated) roadsters ever created. Even so, the selection of 16 Cobras at the 2017 Concours d’Elegance of America at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Mich., was a bucket list of rare and special Shelbys. Here are a few of the highlights:

1963 Shelby AC Cobra 289
1963 Shelby AC Cobra 289 owned by Bill Couch of Washington, Mich.

Owner Couch stripped off five coats of paint to reveal the original hand-crafted aluminum coachwork created by AC Cars in England. Appropriately, Carroll Shelby’s autograph resides at a prominent forward location. The fiberglass hardtop adorning this Cobra was an original factory option.

1964 Shelby AC Cobra 289
1964 Shelby AC Cobra 289 owned by The Cobra Experience of Briones, Calif.

This Shelby-built replica of the three cars raced at LeMans in 1963 is equipped with a 37-gallon fuel tank, a hotter 289-cubic-inch V-8, a narrow windscreen, and other competition mods. The period-correct Halibrand knock-off wheels are cast magnesium. The car earned one of three red ribbons bestowed upon the Cobra class at St. John’s.

1965 Shelby AC Cobra 289 Mk II
1965 Shelby AC Cobra 289 Mk II owned by Tom Cotter of Davidson, N.C.

Tom Cotter, host of Hagerty’s Barn Find Hunter video series, discovered this Cobra 16 years ago in Walnut Creek, Calif., with only 41,000 registered miles. Except for a paint job in the 1980s, the car has received little in the way of restoration. Cotter and Peter Egan drove it coast to coast for a Road & Track adventure story (find out how the suitcase ended up on the luggage rack). Like many Cobras, it has been blessed with Carroll Shelby’s signature on the glove box door.

1966 Shelby AC Cobra 427 S/C
1966 Shelby AC Cobra 427 S/C owned by Steven Juliano of Pelham, N.Y.

Cobras carrying an S/C designation are dual-purpose machines equipped to be driven on both the street and in competition. This ’66 edition was the very last car sold by the Shelby American organization through a retail dealer.

1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427
1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427 owned by Bob Rubens of Naperville, Ill.

This “narrow hip” big-block Cobra is one of 32 built. The chrome-plated side pipes demand care to avoid scalded ankles, a hardship more than compensated for by the provocative music trumpeted from these pipes.

1965 Shelby AC Cobra Competition 427
1965 Shelby AC Cobra Competition 427 owned by Gary and Kathy Bartlett of Muncie, Ind.

Shelby built only ten 427 Cobras for competition use. This prime example earned the “Best Sound” award at the 2016 Concours d’Elegance of America.

1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427
1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427 owned by Robert Gingold of Great Neck, N.Y.

This competition Cobra was last raced in 1967, and it took approximately 6,000 restoration hours to return the big-block car to its original glory.

1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427 (Josh Scott)
1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427 owned by Tom Celani of Novi, Mich.

The factory rated the Cobra’s original big-block Ford V-8 at a modest 355 horsepower. That was enough to propel these light roadsters to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and a top speed over 130 mph, stunning performance in the 1960s. This car earned a special recognition gold ribbon, the lone Cobra to receive one at the Concours of America.