2004 Shelby Cobra Concept. Photos courtesy Ford Motor Company.
In the 1960s, Carroll Shelby and Ford were indelibly linked, but the relationship had soured by the mid-1970s. After a few years of lending his name to Mopar products, Ford lured Shelby back to the blue oval in 2003, and the first re-collaboration between Ford and Shelby, the Shelby Cobra Concept, debuted to the public at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show. On November 3, this functional (but not street legal) prototype will be offered for sale to the public for the first time at the Greensboro Auto Auction (GAA), with all proceeds going to support the restoration of Fair Lane, the Dearborn, Michigan, estate that once served as home to Henry and Clara Ford.
The relationship between Ford and Shelby took a turn for the worse when the Texan sued the automaker over the use of the GT-350 name on the 1984 Mustang. Though the issue was settled out of court, by that time Shelby was already working his magic (and putting his name) on a series of high-performance compacts from Dodge. Later, this product line would grow to include everything from the Dodge Shadow-based Shelby CSX to the Shelby Lancer sedan and even the Shelby Dakota pickup, though far more Chrysler products incorporated Shelby parts. He even served as a technical advisor during the development of the Dodge Viper, a performance car very much in the mold of the original Shelby Cobra.
By the dawn of the 21st century, the relationship between Shelby and Chrysler had run its course. Seeing the upward pricing trend of original Shelby Mustangs at auction, Ford executives sensed that the time was right to renew their ties with Carroll, and at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance an olive branch was extended in the form of the GT40 concept. Initially, Shelby signed on as an advisor to the project, and the first result of the renewed relationship was the 2004 Shelby Cobra Concept, which originally went by the internal code name “Daisy.”
Like the original 427 Cobra, Daisy featured a massive front-mounted engine sending power to the rear wheels, covered in exaggerated and muscular flared fenders. It was minimalist, too, built without modern amenities like air conditioning or a radio, since in Shelby’s own words the Miata-sized concept was all about “…a massive motor in a tiny, lightweight car.”
In some ways, that’s where the similarities ended. Instead of a V-8, the Cobra Concept used an aluminum-block V-10, created by grafting two more cylinders on Ford’s 4.6-liter V-8. Displacement was upped to 6.4 liters, and the dual overhead-camshaft, fuel-injected engine reportedly produced 605 horsepower and 501 pound-feet of torque. Instead of a transmission, the concept used a transaxle borrowed from the Ford GT, under development for production. To improve the balance of the car, the engine was moved back as close to the firewall as possible, essentially making the concept a front-mid engine car.
Underpinning the Cobra Concept was an aluminum chassis derived from the Ford GT, shortened by nearly two feet (including seven inches in the wheelbase) and modified to accept the front-mid engine and rear transaxle. The Ford GT donated suspension components and brakes as well, and to demonstrate the concept was meant as more than a trailer queen, the finished product even used a dry sump lubrication system. From conception to construction, Ford’s Advanced Product Creation team had produced the new Cobra in just five months, an astonishingly short period of time for a functional prototype.
Even Ford wasn’t patient enough to wait for the car’s official introduction at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, enlisting Shelby to drive selected journalists around California’s Irwindale Speedway to demonstrate that the car was more than just a clay model or fiberglass replica. Though speeds were electronically limited to 100 mph, Shelby reportedly thrilled those on hand with burnouts and powerslides, clearly delivering the message that Shelby, and hence Ford, could still deliver the goods.
If that was the good news, here was the bad: The public was enamored with the thought of a new Cobra, but less so with the looks of the proposed car. The concept lacked the distinctive oval grille that helped define the original Cobras, though then-head of Ford design J Mays insisted this was deliberate, to prevent the car from looking too much like a replica Cobra. Even the interior, with its dash crafted from billet aluminum, left fans wanting more. Sure, it was minimalist, but if anything it was too minimalist to be appealing to the masses.
A year after Shelby chauffeured journalists around Irwindale, a select few were given the chance to drive the car on track, albeit at a somewhat leisurely pace. It’s suspension tuning had been improved, and a new fuel injection system replaced the original, which used velocity stacks and slide valve throttle bodies that proved difficult to tune. Though Ford hadn’t committed to production, it was clear that the automaker was still entertaining the idea of creating a stablemate to its range-topping GT.
Then, in 2005, Ford showed a new Shelby-influenced concept, the GR-1. Based on the Shelby Daytona Coupe, it quickly captured the imagination of journalists and consumers, and the Cobra concept was largely forgotten. It remained in Ford’s possession, stored in a Dearborn warehouse, until donated by the automaker (with the help of Edsel Ford II) in support of Fair Lane’s restoration and reinterpretation.
To protect itself against the potential liability of selling a driveable vehicle that likely wasn’t built with NHTSA standards in mind, Ford will render the Cobra inoperable prior to sale by removing the transaxle. The V-10, however, remains in place, meaning that its next owner will at least be able to appreciate Daisy’s sound, if not her fury.
Prior to its trip across the auction block in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Friday, November 3, Daisy will be making a trio of appearances at this year’s Monterey Car Week, including McCall’s Motorworks Revival on August 16; The Quail, A Motorsport Gathering on August 18; and the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion on August 19-20. One additional appearance may take place at Fair Lane prior to the car’s sale, but the date and time remain pending.