Most race cars are the result of
evolution, because at the very top lev-
els, rarely is a car competitive for more
than one season. There are exceptions,
of course, but seldom does a race car
remain the same for a second season
unless it is sold to a lower level team
without the resources to improve it.
While the top cars are competing, de-
signers, engineers and fabricators are
working on improvements for the fol-
lowing year – or on a totally new car.
At the very top levels of racing, other
manufacturers are chasing the cur-
rent leaders. They never stop.
In the 1950s, sports car racing in
this country was a pure amateur
sport. Drivers competed for trophies,
silver cups, trays and pewter mugs.
Cash prizes were not only unheard of
but considered inelegant and uncul-
tured. Sports cars tended to be expen-
sive and sports car racing was in the
same category as polo and country
club memberships – not something for
As interest in sports car racing
grew, it expanded from participant-
only competition to full-fledged spec-
tator events. The primary sanctioning
body in this country was the Sports
Car Club of America, run by hide-
bound traditionalists who mimicked
the originators of organized sports car
racing in England. The SCCA was
headquartered in Connecticut, and
oversaw amateur events across the
country, with the exception of a group
of west coast renegades called the Cal-
ifornia Sports Car Club. The Cal Club
was not anchored to the philosophy of
the SCCA. They held their own events.
They had their own rules and their
own driver certification requirements.
In 1958 a third sanctioning body
stepped into the arena in California.
The United States Auto Club recog-
nized there was a void in sports car
racing in this country. They had been
running open wheel and stock-bodied
racing. Sports cars were just another
type of racing, but it was still racing.
USAC recognized that a profes-
sional road racing series which offered
major cash purses would attract
world-class drivers. At the same time
it would generate an increase in the
evolution of sports racing cars. They
organized the first
Los Angeles Times-
Mirror Grand Prix
in October of 1958.
USAC requested and received FIA ap-
proval for a two hundred-mile event
planned for Riverside International
Raceway. They offered a hefty cash
prize expecting it to attract name driv-
ers in top cars. It did: more than
30,000 showed up.
Flushed with success, they made
plans for the following year and the
event was even more successful.
Within a few years a full-blown “Fall
Series” was scheduled, with races in
Laguna Seca and Kent,Washington as
well as Riverside. Purses grew and at-
tracted European car builders who
joined American manufacturers in cre-
ating cars specially for this series. Top
European drivers whose names had
been associated with Grand Prix For-
mula One events, like Jim Clark, John
Surtees, Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren
and Jack Brabham were joined by top
American talent like Phil Hill, Dan
Gurney, Roger Penske and Jim Hall.
Most of the top cars were powered by
American V8s. “Unlimited” sports car
racing virtually exploded. Automobile
magazines had all they could do to
keep up with the almost daily innova-
tions in suspensions, brakes, aerody-
namics and engines. It was truly an
By 1963 the SCCA finally saw the
light and entered into professional
racing. They initiated the United
States Road Racing Championship,
eight separate events across the coun-
try with cash prizes for winning driv-
ers and points for drivers and
manufacturers. It was no coincidence
that the SCCA rules for modified
sports cars matched exactly those of
the West Coast Fall Series.
Carroll Shelby hungrily eyed the
west coast series. He understood the
prestige and publicity that the winner
would receive. Shelby American al-
ready had a team of top drivers, fabri-
cators, mechanics and engine builders
necessary to field a serious effort that
could result in that success. All they
needed was a car, and it wasn’t a
Shelby’s ear was continually to the
ground. A number of manufacturers
were preparing new, rear-engined
sports racers for the fall, among them
John Cooper in England. Shelby
American had the talent to create a
car of its own but lacked the time that
would take. Cooper had been building
a rear-engined sports racer powered
by a four-cylinder Coventry Climax
Grand Prix engine for a few years.
Shelby contacted Cooper and ordered
four of his Cooper-Monacos, beefed up
to accept full-race 289 Cobra engines.
The first car arrived in February and
received a full-spec Cobra race engine.
The SHELBY AMERICAN
Spring 2016 29
– Rick Kopec
Awake after a 40 year sleep.