When Carroll Shelby realized there was prize money for the taking in a USAC-sanctioned West Coast “Fall Series,” he contacted John Cooper in England to supply Cooper Monaco sports racers, modified to accept a 289-cu.in. Ford V-8. Shelby built eight of these cars, which came to be known as “King Cobras,” in 1963-’64, and one, a 1964 Lang-Cooper II “Super King Cobra” built for team driver Dave MacDonald, finished in a unique orange hue and bodied with a Peter Brock design, heads to auction at Bonhams Goodwood Revival sale on Saturday, September 8.
In 1963, the Shelby Cobra was the car to beat in Sports Car Club of America and U.S. Road Racing Championship competition, but a new series aimed at purpose-built sports racers seemed like a golden opportunity for Shelby, who envisioned bags of prize money and, potentially, sponsorship cash from Ford. To shorten development time (and greatly reduce development cost), building a Shelby chassis from the ground up was never a consideration, so instead Shelby turned to an existing, proven platform – the Cooper 61M Monaco sports racer.
The Monaco was designed to be powered by a lightweight, 1.5- or 2.0-liter Coventry Climax engine, and adapting the platform to run a Ford 289-cu.in. V-8, mated to a BMC/Huffaker four-speed transmission (and later, a Colotti four-speed) posed a challenge. Cooper reworked the rolling chassis before delivering them to Shelby, but once in Venice, California, the Shelby crew went over every square inch, re-welding and reinforcing the platform to handle the V-8’s added weight and 400-horsepower output.
Shelby American driver MacDonald quickly demonstrated that the cars were fast enough to be competitive, setting a lap record at Riverside in his first outing behind the wheel. The King Cobras, so named by Car and Driver’s Steve Smith, had an Achilles heel, revealed in their first race at Kent, Washington. Despite the use of oversize radiators, team cars driven by MacDonald and Bob Holbert overheated during the race.
Two weeks later, at Riverside, MacDonald delivered the King Cobra’s first win, with the Shelby American team cars painted in solid Kingfisher blue. At Laguna Seca, the following weekend, MacDonald delivered another win in the car, but at the 10th Annual Bahamas Speed Weeks in December, the King Cobras fell short of the Chevrolet-powered Scarabs and Cooper Monacos. Without financial or technical backing from Ford to continue the program, Carroll Shelby began to lose interest in the King Cobras, focusing his energy instead on the development of the Cobra Daytona Coupe.
Enter Craig Lang, heir to the Olympia Beer fortune and long-time friend of MacDonald. A regular at Shelby’s Venice shop, Lang wanted to ensure that MacDonald had a King Cobra to drive for the 1964 season, so he struck a deal with Carroll Shelby. Lang agreed to buy a King Cobra and run it as another Shelby American team car, under two conditions: It would be prepared and maintained exclusively by Lang, MacDonald, and Wally Peat, and it would be painted tangerine orange, identified as a Lang-Cooper.
Shelby saw no downside to this, as the Lang-Cooper was essentially a team car he didn’t have to pay to run. Work began on the car in early 1964, and the Lang-Cooper made its debut (unpainted, with “Olympia Beer Special” scrawled on its door in magic marker) at the Phoenix National Open on April 19, where MacDonald earned his second King Cobra/Lang-Cooper win of the season. A week later, at Riverside, the Lang-Cooper made its tangerine livery debut, though MacDonald’s day ended with a clutch failure on lap 22.
May 1964 saw MacDonald stretched thin, racing for Shelby American while simultaneously trying to pass his rookie test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and shake down an ill-handling Indy car for owner Mickey Thompson. He ran the Lang-Cooper at Laguna Seca on May 3, finishing second, but his schedule at Indy meant that he was late to arrive at a USRRC race in Kent, Washington, the following weekend.
During practice sessions for the Kent race, Shelby sent team driver Holbert out in the Lang-Cooper for tire testing on a very wet track. Somehow, Holbert lost control of MacDonald’s car and struck a line of cars in pit lane, destroying the car and suffering burns in the accident, which also injured a pair of fellow racers. MacDonald swapped to Holbert’s King Cobra for the race and delivered the Shelby American team another win.
Following the destruction of the Lang-Cooper in Kent, Shelby telephoned Cooper to request express delivery of a replacement Monaco. A bare chassis was available, but a body was not, so Shelby turned to Peter Brock, who’d successfully designed the Cobra Daytona Coupe and had recently finished sketches for a new mid-engine Shelby sports racer, to be built by De Tomaso in Italy. Brock understood the importance of aerodynamics, and penned a design that incorporated a unique feature – a movable rear wing capable of adding downforce in corners or reducing drag on the straights.
While Lang and Peat worked to prepare the chassis in Venice, Brock’s designs were sent to Don Edmunds, who was tasked with creating the Lang-Cooper’s new body. Edmunds objected to the complexity and added weight of a movable wing, and soon convinced Lang and Peat to abandon the idea as well. Work on the car continued at a rapid pace, and the Lang-Cooper II was completed about the time MacDonald was getting on a plane to compete in the 48th Indianapolis 500. It would be his last race, as MacDonald was gravely injured in a lap two crash, succumbing to his injuries later that same day.
MacDonald’s death was devastating to the Shelby American team and ultimately prompted Holbert’s retirement following the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ed Leslie was asked to drive the Lang-Cooper II, but found the car “scary to drive” at speed. To keep it competitive, Lang and Peat decided more power was needed, and swapped the Ford for a Chevy V-8, changing drivers to Charlie Hayes at the same time. Hayes also found the car to be a handful, and after the car lost an engine at an East Coast race, Lang opted to sell the car instead of sinking more money into it.
New owner Skip Scott raced the car just once, before selling the Lang-Cooper II and trading up to a Ford GT40. Art “Poppy” Seylor bought the orange sports racer, updated its suspension, and club raced it at various events through the 1969 season, before selling it to a Georgia buyer with ambitious ideas of building a very fast street car. Work on the project soon halted, and for a number of years the car sat in the owner’s yard, falling victim to vandals and thieves.
In 1977, the Lang-Cooper II was discovered in a South Carolina scrapyard by Bill Warner, then an industrial filtration salesman and part-time Road & Track freelancer (and later, founder of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance). After documenting that the tattered race car was indeed the lost Lang-Cooper II, Warner purchased the car, later restoring it with the help of Wally Peat, Jack Roush (who supplied a period-correct 289 race engine), fabricator Colin Day, and Colotti gearbox expert Alf Francis.
After the work was finished in 1986, Warner vintage raced the car for three years before selling it to Pat Ryan. For a time, the Lang-Cooper II was displayed as part of the Prisma Collection Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and was then raced by Sam White, appearing at the 1997 Monterey Historics as part of a Carroll Shelby Tribute.
The current owner, a Swiss collector, acquired the car in late 2003, hiring original designer Peter Brock to consult on the car’s comprehensive restoration. Fittingly, it made its public re-debut at the 2006 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, and was later raced to a second-in-class finish by John Morton at the 2006 Monterey Historics. It has since appeared at the Goodwood Revival, as well as other vintage events throughout Europe. The Lang-Cooper II is also featured in Peter Brock’s latest book, The Road to Modena: Origins and History of the Shelby – De Tomaso P70 Can-Am Sports Racer.
Bonhams is anticipating a selling price between £205,000 and £300,000 ($320,000-$380,000) when the Lang-Cooper II crosses the block on August 8 in Chichester, England. For additional information on the Goodwood Revival sale, visit Bonhams.com.