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There’s no doubt that the Shelby Cobra Daytona made automotive history and you may have enjoyed our last post that saw The Smoking Tire take a replica out for a spin, but today we’re looking at the story behind the car. Hagerty have sat down with legendary Peter Brock to hear his side of the story behind designing the iconic car.
Where it all began
Brock originally worked on the Stingray Racer prototype with Bill Mitchell – the epitome of the great designer – and was the youngest design at GM at the time. The experience working with Mitchell is what will set Brock up later in his career.
Brock approached Mitchell and told him that the tail of the concept car needed to be higher, and the nose lower but Mitchell only told him to do as he was told and to this day the tail is too low and the nose too high. But the lessons he learned with GM he was apply to apply to the Shelby Cobra Daytona.
Designing the Shelby Cobra Daytona
The guys were already getting as much horsepower as possible from an engine and so the car had too much drag. Brock drew a rough outline of what the car should look like. It would be a very different looking car to what they’d been designing previously but Carroll Shelby just wanted to know if it would go faster.
Before the war, the Germans had done a lot of work on aerodynamics but most of the research was lost and Brock came across some of the very few German designs. He didn’t understand the language but he understood the numbers and knew what they needed to do.
Shelby was happy to go with the idea but the guys in the design shop saw it as a waste of their time because the design was ugly and looked like a losing proposition. Brock eventually teamed up with a New Zealand designer and the prototype was built within 90 days – from the first drawing to it being ready to race. As the project took shape, more guys came on board and Brock eventually had the best fabricators in the business.
Testing the car
The first test drive was on the 1st February 1964 and it was obvious who did and didn’t believe in the car from those that came to support. Where the roadster was reaching 165mph this reached 185. The chassis was stiffer and so it was much faster out of the corners. Now it could keep up with the Ferraris and they hadn’t even come to modifying the initial prototype yet. The car soon became the centre of attention and Brock knew they were going to Daytona with this.
Although the car was the same speed as the Ferraris, it needed to be faster. There was a 25% increase in fuel efficiency which meant they could overtake on the number of pit stops and at the very last minute they could increase the RPM too to ensure victory. But the race day, there was a fire and they had to park the car up.
When they did win their first race, Ford decided to come in and partner up. But the same week they introduced the GT40 at Le Mans, the Shelby Cobra Daytona was also racing. The GT40 crashed after being aerodynamically unstable and when the second GT40 went out, that crashed too. The Shelby Cobra Daytona went out and simply smoked them all.
Looking back decades later
Looking back on his life, Brock says he was just a kid but had the opportunity to work some of the most influential designers in the industry. They were the ones who made it; they made the car a success. The ideas were all there but it would never have got anywhere without those on the shop floor and their ability to build anything without a full set of drawings.