“Open Checkbook” Cobra Restoration Brings $2.145 Million


Any real-deal Shelby Cobra is valuable. And even more so when it’s a big-block, especially when there’s an actual 427 (as opposed to the tamer 428s installed in some “427” Cobras at Shelby American) under the hood. One with its original drivetrain and body is better still, and one that was never cut up or modified in period is really special.

Then, if it’s given a no-expense-spared restoration, you essentially get this car—CSX3200. At $2.145M, it was the most expensive car at Mecum’s massive Indianapolis auction, and brought almost exactly its condition #1 (“concours” or “best-in-the-world”) value in the Hagerty Price Guide.

The Cobra story is a famous one: little British roadster + Carroll Shelby + Ford V-8 = race-winning performance icon, etc.

But not all Cobras were created equal, and the market doesn’t treat them the same, either. The short(ish) version is that the earlier Cobras, powered by 260 cubic-inch V-8s, are worth the least. Next on the ladder are the 289-powered cars, the earliest of which came with a worm and sector (W&S) steering system. Shelby eventually modified the 289 model with better rack and pinion (R&P) steering. R&P is worth more than W&S.

In 1965, the big-block cars came along with a new 4-inch tube chassis and, at first, Ford’s exotic 427 cubic-inch FE V-8. Then, Shelby built a batch of cars with the cheaper, longer stroke, less racy 428 Police Interceptor engine, although the badge still said 427. Finally, for the last few dozen cars, a real 427 went back in. Of the big-block cars, 428s are worth less than 427s, and most valuable of all are the Competition and Semi-Competition (S/C) 427s. Good race history of course impacts value, as does condition. Some Cobras led hard lives, got wrecked, swapped engines, or were cut up for modifications, so originality matters a lot as well.

Per the World Registry of Cobras & GT40s, the Cobra sold at Indy this year—CSX3200—is the last of the initial run of 100 427 street Cobras before the switch to 428s. Its 427 “center oiler” engine came with two 4-barrel carburetors and was mated to a toploader 4-speed manual. The bodywork has the wide rear hips associated with big-block Cobras, but it came with neither roll bar, hood scoop, nor side exhaust like the race-oriented 427s, which are the ones most copied in countless Cobra replicas.

CSX3200’s original purchase price was $6183 (about $61K adjusted for inflation!). In transit to its first owner, though, it reportedly suffered damage to multiple body panels and a broken wind wing, although the cause was “unknown.” Its damage claim was $86.61. It also sold in 1984 for $27,000 (about $83K adjusted for inflation), according to the registry, and by 1995 had racked up just 16,000 miles.

In more recent years, a collector bought it and had it restored by Legendary Motorcars, highlighted in the video below.

The restorers “basically had an open checkbook to do this,” as the owner wanted a perfect 427 Cobra, but also wanted to use as many of the original pieces as possible, down to the original rivets. He also left the original leather on the seats alone because it was so well-preserved. Since the car has the somewhat rare distinction of never being modified, it currently has its unmolested original aluminum body on top of its original chassis, drivetrain and rear end. The 18,078 showing on the odometer are even represented as the actual mileage.

Mecum Indy is a 9-day car auction, but CSX3200 took less than 4 minutes on the block to be the most expensive car of the week. Given all the above, you can’t say this little Cobra didn’t deserve it.

shelby cobra 427 rear
Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Piston Slap: Urban Sprawl And the Living Room on Wheels?


    The Cobra is my dream car. I have room for one more car in my garage right next to my C2 Corvette. What a day of rejoicing that would be. Honey? What car should we take for coffee today? However, I’m a little short on the 2 whatever million $ right now, the C2 it is. But, it is o.k. to dream.

    Dale – this is why they have Loan Officers at Banks. Or, if that’s not workable, you could call the Saudis! 😂

    A local did a perfect restoration on a competition model. He would bring it to shows in a trailer and even had bras made for the quarter panels to drive it to the show field. It may have been the best I ever saw restored.

    Its too pretty and too pricey to drive with any regularity. For the money you can get a very nice 289 FIA car for a whole lot less. Maybe scare yourself silly with that for starters and work your way up. I’ve heard a lot of the big block with a big bock replicas ‘those guys’ have built end up looking like Perezs car today first thing their buddy said ‘punch it dude!’ soon after delivery. Turned out to be a little different than driving their 2000 and something with all the drivers aids. Someone said, describing what it’s like to really push a 427 – (paraphrasing) ‘ It’s a brutal car that needs to be driven brutally.’ Would you do that after throwing over two million in the pot?

    Except that it’s no longer “a car”. Not really. It’s more like a Picasso, or the Hope Diamond. It’s too “valuable” and rare to be used, so it needs to just sit and be admired. Not really anything wrong with that if that’s your intent, but we need to be realistic about the fact that it’s been changed from being an enthusiast performance car into a trophy to (figuratively) sit on the mantle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *