This innocuous appearing blue AC set before you just so happens to be one of, if not the most significant sports cars in automotive history to ever grace an American powerplant. You see, this vehicle is CSX2000, the very first Shelby Cobra to ever be produced. But you already knew that there was something special about this car, didn’t you? Upon first glance at it’s photos, the automotive connoisseur in you already immediately noted it’s well earned patina, ruling out the possibility of it being a later produced replica, especially when you consider that the majority of replicas wear wider flared bodies. This one’s narrow body, early unfamiliar looking vintage badges and all original looking interior were all tell tale signs that this was possibly an exceptionally iconic car that you are looking at, but would you have known that this Cobra should also possibly be considered the ultimate production car engine swap of all times? Perhaps a bit of a grandiose statement at first read, but let’s take a closer look at this car’s history and then you can be the judge yourself of that and also decide if it’s worth the claimed $20 million plus dollar estimate that has been placed as it’s value…
When Carroll Shelby retired from racing, he planned on producing an all new car of his own, so on his travels to Europe for racing he visited many of the coachbuilders at the time. They were great craftsmen with extreme talent at making lightweight bodies for chassis designed for handling, but were not wealthy enough of companies to produce engines of their own design for them as well.
(the picture above shows the car at it arrived to the shop after they had pulled the “AC” badge off the trunk, but not before removing the shipping label or repairing the dent it had received during transport.)
As a proud apple pie eating American, Carroll figured that the best recipe for creating the ultimate sports car would be to mate a U.S. made V8 engine with one of these slick European cars and take them to the track to dominate. It wasn’t an original idea though, as this combination had been conceived and used in the Modified class already, but mostly by racers who were customizing their own cars and not with plans or the available funds for making more for production. Carroll, on the other hand, had all of the right connections with all of the top executives in the auto industry that he met while socializing with his grand personality during his racing career, which he utilized to the full extent.
Shelby first brought an idea to GM of producing a Scaglietti bodied car with a Chevy V8, but they ultimately turned it down most likely because they already had the Corvette and didn’t find any need to have another sports car in their lineup to compete against it with. So when Carroll then learned that AC Cars had lost their supplier of Bristol engines, he contacted them and asked if they’d be interested in joining collaborations by letting him use his contacts at Ford. They had coincidentally just told him about a new small block 260 cubic inch V8 that they had developed for the Fairlane, which would fit almost perfectly into the British car’s engine bay. Although the English company had other engine supplier offers at the time, they ended up accepting his offer and shortly after sent him his very first motor-less car, which just so happens to be this very car featured here, CSX2000. .
Not satisfied with the stock rating of 164 horsepower, Carroll had his engine builder modify it to closer to 260 horsepower with a performance 4 barrel carb, solid lifters, a more aggressive cam, some revisions to the head and a higher compression ratio, followed by “XHP-260-1” painted valve covers, which of course added 20 of those horsepower alone. You have to remember that all of these modifications were ground breaking at the time, as this was a newly developed engine and there were no off-the-shelf supply of aftermarket parts available to them back then. Interestingly, a 4 speed Borg Warner T-10 transmission was also utilized to handle the excess power, which was mostly standard fare. He strengthened components such as chassis tubes, put different spindles and hub carriers and rear differential on, and “…changed those old buddy springs..”. “AC” badges were removed and “Shelby” was hand painted onto it’s nose, the final step in making it his very own.
Every time CSX2000 was taken to a new car show or had another magazine feature it on their pages, he had it painted a different color to appear like he was producing a lot of them and they were flying off the shelf. The consummate salesman and brilliant early marketeer, no doubt.
Over the years, the dash, bumpers, lights, seats, wheels, body panel shape, location of the fuel filler and other changes were made over the years of Cobra production, a model name that came to him in his sleep.
Only 75 examples of the 260 cubic inch Cobra as said to have been made, this being the very first one. Now to revisit the original question posed in the first paragraph: would you consider this to be automotive history’s ultimate production car engine swap? We know our answer, you will have to decide your own…