Ford and Carroll Shelby went head-to-head with Ferrari at Le Mans with the mid-engined GT40, which resulted in four back-to-back victories for Ford in the famed endurance race from 1966 to 1969. Before that, the team campaigned another fixed roof GT racer with the Shelby Daytona Coupe.
Ultimately an even rarer machine than the GT40, of which only six examples of this striking fastback were ever built. Despite its short racing career, the Daytona Coupe’s legacy both on and off the track is the stuff of legend.
The original AC Bristol based Shelby Cobra made its racing debut at the 1962 Three-Hour Invitational Endurance Race, the very same event which Chevrolet had chosen to introduce its new Corvette Z06. Nearly 500 pounds lighter than the Corvette, the Cobra proved to be very competitive on US road courses, but its open roof design was an obvious aerodynamic disadvantage at high speeds.
If Shelby was going to take on Ferrari’s 250 GTO on fast international tracks like Circuit de la Sarthe, a substantial redesign of the Cobra with a coupe body would be necessary for the car to be competitive among the top contenders.
In 1963, Shelby put in-house designer Peter Brock to the task of creating the Daytona’s aerodynamic bodywork while engineer Bob Negstad began work on designing the Daytona’s new suspension. Created in less than three months at the Shelby America race shop in Venice, California, Brock and test driver Ken Miles had a Daytona prototype out at Riverside Raceway for its inaugural shakedown, hitting 186 miles per hour down the track’s mile-long main straight.
Miles reported at the time that the car needed some aero tweaking, as it was said to have “almost flown, lightening the steering a great deal” at speeds over 160 miles per hour. After another month of development, Miles signed off on the finalized design of the Daytona Coupe, which began clocking speeds of over 190 mph.
Weighing in at a mere 2,300 pounds, the Daytona Coupe was powered by a Ford-sourced 289 cubic-inch small-block V8 that made 390 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 341 pound-feet of torque. That grunt was sent to the rear wheels by way of a four speed manual gearbox.
The first Shelby Cobra Coupe, as it was initially known, made its racing debut at the 1964 edition of the Daytona Continental 2000 km endurance race at Daytona Speedway, the longest endurance race in the United States at the time. A promising performance was unfortunately cut short when the entire Shelby team was forced to pull out of the race due to a fire that broke out in the pits. Despite the disappointing result, the company renamed the Cobra Coupe the Cobra Daytona Coupe in honor of its impressive performance during that race.
Although they raced for just two seasons before being axed by Ford in favor of GT40 development, each of the six Daytona Coupes that were built would go on to lead some fairly remarkable lives.
The first prototype and the only Daytona Coupe built entirely at Shelby America, chassis CSX2287, competed at Sebring, Spa Francorchamps, Le Mans, and various other international circuits, taking first place in the GT class and fourth overall at the 1964 12 Hours of Sebring.
That same year, it went on to lead in the GT class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans before being disqualified in the 10th hour of the race due to an illegal jump start in the pits after an alternator failure. CSX2287 later set no less than 25 USAC/FIA world records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, in November 1965, while driven by Craig Breedlove, Bobby Tatroe and Tom Greatorex before ending its racing career.
The car was later sold to infamous record producer Phil Spector who, as legend would have it, drove the Daytona Coupe on the streets of Los Angeles until he racked up so many speeding tickets in it that his lawyer advised him to get rid of the car before he had his license revoked.
Its whereabouts remained unknown for decades until it was re-discovered in 2001 in a rental storage unit. It has since been mechanically reconditioned and is now on display at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia.
Chassis # CSX2299 was the second example built and the first to be completed by Carrozzeria Gransport in Modena, Italy. This Daytona Coupe would go on to four FIA events, including the GT III class at Le Mans in 1964 with legendary drivers Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant clocking over 196 MPH on the Mulsanne straight. It would also set lap records at Le Mans, Reims and Rouen that same year, and another at Oulton Park in 1965. It is currently housed in Miller Motorsports Park museum in Tooele, Utah.
CSX2300 was used by Alan Mann Racing in the 1965 Nurburgring 1000 km race where it finished third in the GT 3 class and 12th overall. Incidentally, Carroll Shelby himself later owned this particular Daytona. On August 19th, 2000, it was sold by RM Auctions for a hefty $4.4 million.
CSX2601 was the fourth Daytona Coupe built – and the third to be completed by Carrozzeria Gransport. It competed in eight FIA races in 1965 and would go on to win four of them in the GT 3 class, with drivers Bob Bondurant, Tom Payne, Bob Johnson, Jo Schlesser, Jochen Neerpasch and Allen Grant at the helm.
It also ended up being used in the 1965 feature film Redline 7000 starring James Caan. More recently, CSX2601 sold for a whopping $7.25 million at Mecum’s inaugural Monterey auction on August 15th, 2009, setting the record for the highest price paid for an American car at a public auction.
Chassis # CSX2602 competed in six races in the 1965 season with limited success. After Ford had used up their allotment of ten entries in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, they convinced privateer racer Georges Filipinetti to purchase this car from Alan Mann Racing to use as his entry that year. The car would suffer engine failure ten hours into the race, putting an end to its run for the podium at Le Mans. It would ultimately be the last race the car was entered in.
Despite being the lowest chassis number, CSX2286 was actually the last Daytona Coupe built and the only chassis intended to house a 390 cubic inch big block V8. This required Carrozzeria Gransport to stretch the body and frame to accommodate the larger motor, which delayed the completion of the car. It was ready just in time for the 1964 Le Mans race, but suffered the misfortune of being badly damaged. While being moved from Italy to Le Mans the transport truck carrying it was involved in an accident.
During preparation for the 1965 season, the car was converted back to standard proportions and a 289ci V8 was installed rather than the big block that had been originally intended. It ran only one race that year, the 24 Hours of LeMans, where clutch failure took it out of the race in the 15th hour after running as high up as third place. It was later used as a promotional vehicle by Ford’s motorsport division.
In 2012, billionaire and current owner S. Robson Walton severely damaged the car when he crashed at Laguna Seca during Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. It has since be repaired and is reported to be ready to race again.
Last year, the Daytona Coupe’s place in history was cemented even further when the original Shelby America-built Daytona Coupe prototype was named as the first vehicle to be added to the National Historic Vehicle Register. This specifies that all documentation related to the car will be added to the permanent archives of the Library of Congress–an honor which even its higher profile replacement, the GT40, cannot claim. For only six cars, the Shelby Daytona sure has a lot of stories to tell, and plenty of history to share.