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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

the everyman.

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

exciting time.

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

Cobra roadster.

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.


Spring 2016 29

– Rick Kopec

Awake after a 40 year sleep.