Shelby King-Cobra CM/6/64

In the late 1950s, a new European-style road-racing series was introduced in the U.S. by the United States Auto Club (USAC). A new type of race car was developed to compete in this series. It could accurately be described as a combination sports car and purpose-built race car. Cars of the genre became known as “sports racers” and the series was the "Fall Series," so named because the races were held in the fall.

These tube-frame, rear-engined race cars with their enclosed bodywork became quite popular with race fans. The race calendar soon had sports racers competing at Kent (WA), Mosport (ON, Canada), Laguna Seca and Riverside (CA). As the interest grew, so did the number of races, the caliber of the drivers, the purses and the machines. One of the best sports racers was designed and built by John Cooper in England. By the early 1960s, the Cooper-Monacos, as they had become known, were enlarged just enough to accommodate American, small-block V-8 engines. As fast as they had been with twin-cam inline 4-cylinder engines, the cars became much faster when fitted with a V-8. No doubt, the popularity of the race series increased with the introduction of the V-8 cars.

Carroll Shelby decided he wanted to get into this race series. He figured correctly that developing a design from scratch would take too long, so he ordered two 1963 Cooper-Monacos, CM/1/63, CM/3/63 from England and installed full-race Ford/Cobra V-8s in both. Their early success was an eye-opener. In the first outing, Bob Holbert broke the track record in practice at Kent, followed by a win by Dave MacDonald at Riverside two weeks later and another Macdonald win at Laguna Seca the following week. The performance of the cars was sporadic, but very impressive. Impressive enough that Shelby ordered four new 1964 chassis from Cooper. As delivered to Shelby, they were chassis number CM/1/64, CM/4/64, CM/5/64 and CM/6/64. The team never officially called the cars "King Cobras," but an AutoWeek writer had coined the term and the name stuck, with the press and fans alike. Running a full 1964 calendar, the Shelby team successfully competed all over the country (and Canada). It’s most impressive performance was the overall win at the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix by Parnelli Jones in CM/6/64. Bob Bondurant finished 5th overall in CM/5/64.

Circumstances came together in 1964 that would end Shelby’s involvement in the Fall Series. New rules for 1965 would render the Shelby cars obsolete. This would have posed no problem for Shelby because he certainly had the resources to develop new cars. But Ford came to Shelby around the same time and asked him to take over the Ford GT program that had so far failed to bear fruit in Europe. He couldn’t do both, so the sports racer effort came to an end.

As a postscript, the series evolved into the fabulously successful SCCA Canadian-American (Can-Am) Challenge that saw McLarens, Lolas, Chapparals and Porsches fight it out well into the 1970s. One can only wonder what excitement Shelby would have brought to the game.