In the 1950s, Carroll Shelby was internationally renowned as one of the most successful racing drivers of his time. His victory in the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans on an Avon-tyred Aston Martin DBR1/300 with his co-driver Roy Salvadori for the David Brown works team was certainly the highlight of Carroll Shelby’s racing career.
In the early 1960s he retired from active motorsport, mainly for health reasons, and founded Shelby American Inc. and began building racing and production cars there. Since he did not have the resources to develop and build a car from scratch, he bought chassis from the British brand AC Ace and fitted them with the powerful American V8 engine from the Ford Motor Company.
Some of the chassis had to be rebuilt and modified to install the larger and heavier V8 small-block. But finally this was achieved in a breathtaking way and the famous Cobra 289 was born. A car of simple engineering but pure power, made for circuit racing in North America. The Cobra went from victory to victory, especially with Ken Miles at the wheel. When Scarab went bankrupt in America, Carroll Shelby acquired the insolvent mass with a workshop, a bulging parts warehouse and a mechanic of world renown – Phil Remington.
In January 1963, Shelby set his sights on the newly formed American SCCA Can Am series, which was open to purpose-built racing cars, sports prototypes, as opposed to the other racing series, which were open exclusively to production cars.
Again lacking the time and resources to develop his own racing car, he picked up the phone and contacted John Cooper, one of the founders of the Cooper Car Company in England. The idea of combining a British chassis with an American engine had worked well before.
Cooper’s latest racing car, the Type 61 “Monaco”, seemed to meet all of Shelby’s requirements and wishes. So Carroll Shelby purchased two Cooper Type 61M chassis, numbers CM/1/63 and CM/3/63, and John Cooper worked closely with Carroll Shelby to modify the Type 61 chassis to meet Shelby’s requirements and especially those of the larger engine before they were shipped to America. A total of probably six King Cobras were built, all powered by 289cu Ford V8 engines and with a total weight of only 640kg, 400hp and 426Nm the race cars were extremely powerful.
The two King Cobras made their debut at the Pacific North West Grand Prix Kent, Washington, in 1963. However, they were unable to finish the race due to technical problems with the water pump.
When the Ford Motor Company hired Carroll Shelby to take on the Scuderia Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and of course win, the six King Cobras were sold to private drivers for US$3000.
The Cooper Monaco Shelby King Cobra pictured here is chassis number # CM/2/63.
It is a frequent guest at the Masters Sports Car Legends races. I really like this race car. The curvy body painted in the classic “Viking Blue” with the two white longitudinal stripes is incredibly balanced in terms of proportions and simply beautiful to look at. The sound of this race car is as cool as it is breathtaking. When you stand right next to the King Cobra and the engine is running, the ground shakes under your feet. Find out more about our photographer Ralph Lüker.