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A conversation with the buyer of CSX2000, the Shelby Cobra prototype

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CSX2000 crosses the auction stage in Monterey. Photo by Jeff Koch.

On August 19, CSX2000, the prototype Shelby Cobra, crossed the auction stage at the RM Sotheby’s sale in Monterey, California. When the hammer dropped, the car had set a record price for an American car sold at auction, reaching $13.75 million with buyer’s fees factored in. The buyer was Greg Miller, on behalf of the Miller family, who already own an impressive collection of Shelby automobiles.

We sat down with Greg to ask a few questions about the purchase of CSX2000, the fate of the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Automobile Museum, and his plans for the future. Below is our conversation.

Shelby Cobra prototype

Photo by Darin Schnabel, courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

KE: Your family has amassed quite a collection of cars with ties to Carroll Shelby, ranging from Cobras through Ford GT40s through Shelby-built Mustangs. Much of the collection was previously housed at the Larry H. Miller museum on the grounds of Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah, with some cars on display at the Shelby American Museum in Boulder, Colorado. Can you update us on the status of the Utah museum, and of the former Miller Motorsports Park?

GM:  First, let me give you a little background. When my family established Miller Motorsports Park, we arranged for a 99-year lease with Tooele County, renewable in five-year increments. As the second five-year term came to an end, the family took a look at the expense of running the facility versus the return, and no matter how we tried, we couldn’t see a way to make it profitable. We opted not to renew the lease with Tooele County after the 10th year, prompting the county to solicit bids from outside parties for ongoing operations of the facility, now called Utah Motorsports Campus.

That meant we had to shutter the museum on the grounds, which was a disappointment. We view ourselves as stewards of these cars more than just owners, and we believe it’s important to share them with the general public. Fifteen of the cars, those with the most significant histories, were sent to the Shelby American Museum in Boulder, Colorado. The rest were put into storage in Salt Lake City, where we hope to open a proper museum to convey Shelby history, and American racing history, in the coming years.

All of us maintain a busy schedule, so there hasn’t been a lot of time for planning, but I’d envision a museum around 20,000 square feet, complete with a shop and classroom space.

Shelby Cobra prototype

Shelby Cobra prototype

Working on CSX2000 in Santa Fe Springs. Photos courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

KE: As the prototype Shelby Cobra, CSX2000 may well be described as the most significant (and historically important) Cobra on the planet. Had you attempted to acquire the car from the Carroll Hall Shelby Trust prior to this sale?

GM: I personally had not, but there’s a story in our family that my dad, Larry Miller, once made inquiries directly to Carroll Shelby about the car. After an offer was made, Carroll’s response was simply, “the car’s worth twice that much,” which ended the discussion.

KE: What are your plans for CSX2000 in regards to restoration or preservation?

GM: The worst possible thing we could do is restore it. It’s got a beautiful patina as is, and per our discussions with Aaron Shelby (Carroll’s grandson), all the modifications were done at Carroll Shelby’s request. As a prototype, I’m not even sure you can call the in-period changes modifications, as this car differs in many ways from the later production Cobras.

We’ll clean the car up and give it a thorough detailing, but our plans are for preservation only.

Shelby Cobra prototype

Photo by Darin Schnabel, courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

KE: The car was originally built in the U.K. using a Ford V-8, which was swapped out with a Ford V-8 when the car was delivered to Shelby American in Santa Fe Springs. To the best of your knowledge, has anyone ever tried to track down the original 221 V-8? Do you know if the 260 V-8 is the original example installed, or was this swapped out during the car’s time at the Carroll Shelby School of High-Performance Driving? If it’s a period-correct replacement (and if records of the original exist), will you be seeking the first 260 V-8?

GM: We haven’t had time to research the engine currently in the car, so I can’t say if it’s the original 260 or not. As for the 221, it’s part of the car’s history, so we may look into this in the future, but it doesn’t really add any significant value to the car or its story. It’s a nice-to-have item, but not a need to have one.

KE: How important was it for you to keep the car in the United States? I’m sure collectors from around the globe were seriously interested in acquiring CSX 2000.

GM: I don’t really have any insight into the other bidders for CSX2000, but keeping the car in America, though the right thing to do, wasn’t our driving factor behind the purchase.

GT40 P1074

GT40 P1074. Photo by Pawel Litwinski, courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

In 2012, I wound up bidding for our family on the 1968 Ford GT40, P1074, used as the Gulf-livery camera car in the filming of Le Mans. Early bidding was aggressive, but I waited for things to slow down before placing our first bid. In the end, it came down to myself and one other bidder, who turned out to be a European collector with a reputation for hoarding cars. I tried every bidding strategy I knew, but it was clear that he wanted the car as badly as we did. After I placed the final and winning bid, I kept thinking “drop the hammer,” which seemed to take an eternity.

After the sale, a gentleman in the row in front of me turned around, placed his hand on my knee and said, “Thank you for keeping the car in America.” It was a good feeling, but that’s never really the only consideration for us in buying a car like this.

Shelby Cobra prototype

Painted yellow, CSX2000 debuts the Shelby Cobra. Image courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

KE: How tense were you during the bidding for CSX2000? Was there a time that you thought, “This might not go my way?”

GM: I wasn’t tense at all – in fact, it was a really enjoyable experience. I’ve represented my family at quite a few auctions, so the rookie jitters are a thing of the past. In Monterey, I was sitting next to restorer and family friend Bill Murray, who looked at me and said, “Greg, are you zoning out? Why aren’t you bidding?”

Bidding early just works against you – why drive the price up unnecessarily? In the case of the CSX2000, I knew how much my family was willing to pay for the car, and I bid accordingly.

Shelby Cobra prototype

CSX2000 cutaway from Sports Car Graphic, August 1962. Image courtesy RM Sotheby’s.

KE: Are there any other cars on your radar? P1046, the 1966 Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 Mk IIA, has recently been restored for owner Rob Kauffman. If this hits the market, are you an interested buyer?

GM: Potentially, but we don’t target specific cars in advance. If it comes to auction and we can buy it for an agreeable price, it fits into our strategy of preserving historic racing cars with ties to Shelby.

KE: We covered your multi-year Expeditions 7 trek around the globe in 2014; do you have any new adventures planned?

GM: These days, I find myself working 70-80 hours per week, which doesn’t leave a lot of time to think up new adventures. A friend and I have discussed the possibility of a north-to-south or a south-to-north traverse of Greenland, but I’d also like to do the drive from London, England, to Capetown, South Africa.

In the Expeditions 7 trip, we drove from Nordkapp, Norway, the northernmost accessible point in the world, to Prague, Czech Republic, but didn’t do much driving below this. Driving from Prague to Capetown would give me a longitudinal circumnavigation by vehicle, which isn’t something a lot of other people can claim on a resume.