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Shelby Cobra Fifty Years

Book Review

by Ryan King

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The Shelby Cobra is the standard by which all other performance cars are judged — and for good reason.

Though modern performance cars bristle with decades of technological improvement, many continue to struggle to match the Cobra's capabilities, let alone exceed them.

The Cobra may be best known for its incredible statistics, but it wasn't the numbers alone that created the legend. It was the way it achieved those figures, and the way it and the man that created it — Carroll Shelby — impacted car culture and the automobile industry at large that made it a legend never rivaled.

The continued influence of Shelby's Cobra on the automotive world make it hard to believe it was created 50 years ago at a hot rod shop in Southern California, but it was. In Shelby Cobra Fifty Years, author Colin Comer takes an in-depth look at the legendary car and the larger-than-life icon that created it. Filled with anecdotes and notes on historical people and events, as well as it's effect on the fans that love it, this book is a must read for serious Cobra enthusiasts and average car buffs alike.

The following is a look at the subject of each chapter.

The Book

Chapter 1: Dreams As Big As Texas: Carroll Shelby

Carroll Shelby's story, like his Cobra, really is larger than life. This chapter introduces you to his life story, as well as a couple of individuals who were paramount to the success of the Cobra: Phil Remington and Ed Hugus. It also gives a very intimate look at the influences that gave Shelby the inspiration to create what the author, myself, and many others consider the greatest sports car ever built.

Chapter 2: The Revolution Begins: Shelby Launches Full-Scale Attack, Code Name "Cobra"

The original Cobra is probably the piece of Cobra history I am fuzziest about, but not anymore. Chapter 2 is a fascinating look back at the story of the early small-block car and the events that truly shaped the Cobra legend. While story upon story have been written about the big-block Cobra, it was the small-block that really gave the car its rich heritage. This chapter even delves into the tale behind the popular song "Hey, Little Cobra," which was a personal favorite of mine growing up.

Chapter 3: The Evolution of the Revolution: Go Big or Go Home

This is my favorite part of Cobra history. The lore around the big-block Cobra is truly legendary. While it was the small-block car that actually earned the Cobra's reputation as a race-dominating sports car, it was the big block that created a legacy that was larger than life. It's not hard to see why, either. Weighing in at right around 2,500 pounds and packing a 425-485 horsepower 427 cubic inch (7.0L) V8 engine, it was literally the height of absurdity in the Muscle Car Era and it became the performance car by which all others would — to this day — be judged. This chapter also goes into great detail about the development of the vehicle, the legends that surround it, and the people that made it all happen.

Chapter 4: Step into the Ring: Famous Cobra Rivalries

The Cobra bloodied a lot of noses when it hit the scene in 1962 and it continued to do so in various venues all the way up through its demise in 1967. The rivalries that developed out of the Cobra's successes are some of the greatest automotive stories in history. The two most famous (or infamous) of those rivalries are those with the Corvette and Ferrari. This chapter takes an inside look at the events that transpired to create those epic car wars.

Chapter 5: The End of the Line, or Was It?

The production run for the Cobra may have ended in November of 1967, but the legacy lives on. Not simply because of the car's tremendous attributes, but also because of the people who love them. This chapter goes behind the scenes to look at the Cobra/Shelby car culture that developed around it and propagated awareness of its legendary heritage through events, clubs, and the collecting and disseminating of history and information about each car.

Chapter 6: Costly Cobra Trinkets: The Sum of the Parts

One of the reasons for the success of the Cobra was the marketing surrounding it. At the time, Shelby used groundbreaking promotions and merchandising to advertise his unique British/American hybrid, which lead to a diverse source of collectible memorabilia more abundant than the cars themselves. Due to the popularity of the car, the world of Cobra collectibles has taken off as well. With the cost of Cobras rising, it's not surprising that people are buying up the promotional items when the cost of the real thing out stretches their wallets. In Chapter 6, the author gives the reader a close-up look inside the world of Shelby collectible items and memorabilia.

Chapter 7: The Cobra Returns?

Unlike most great legends, the Cobra's story wasn't over with its demise. When its production run ended in 1967 the fans kept it going through events, stories, driving, and racing. That led to such a high demand for the cars that people simply couldn't get their hands on them due to small numbers and skyrocketing prices. The result is that the Cobra became the single most copied car in automotive history — which got Shelby back in the game. He stopped the unauthorized copies of his beloved masterpiece and with a twist, did it again — he made more Cobras. First with a continuation run of a few unused VINs, then through his own line of kit cars, as well as a few licensed manufacturers. Chapter 7 explores the Cobra's afterlife and gives a glimpse of Cobra production at Shelby American.

Appendix: Important Cobra Facts and Figures

The Appendix finishes up this book with the production figures for America's most brutal and legendary sports car. The Cobra had many changes during it's short 998 vehicle production run and this section takes you through those changes as well as providing some anecdotes about the major alterations.


In Shelby Cobra Fifty Years, Colin Comer gives you a fascinating and passionate look into the car that has epitomized performance for half a century. It's a beautifully illustrated and designed book, that's both enjoyable to read and elegant enough to be displayed on any car aficionado's coffee table. I highly recommend it to all.

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For more information contact Motorbooks on the web at www.motorbooks.com, by phone 1.800.826.6600, or by email at customerservice@motorbooks.com.

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