Darin Schnabel ©2016, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

This very first Cobra, CSX2000, arrived in the United States in February 1962. It was personally picked up at the Los Angeles airport by Carroll Shelby and Dean Moon before being brought back to Moon’s shop, where they installed the 260-ci V8 Ford engine with a Ford gearbox in a matter of hours. And with that, CSX2000 was running.

The entire company’s finances rested on this prototype — and securing a successful deal for Shelby American that involved AC Cars and Ford. One of the car’s earliest functions was as a press car. What the press failed to realize was that every Shelby Cobra in different colors was in fact the very same car — CSX 2000, repainted repeatedly in a stunt of Shelby’s own invention.

Sports Car Graphic was successfully won over, decisively stating, “We can safely say that it is one of the most impressive production sports cars we’ve ever driven.”

In June of that year, Car Life tested CSX2000, running an astonishing 4.2-second, 0–60 mph time. Road & Track accomplished the same for its September issue, recording a top speed of 153 mph with a standing quarter mile of 13.8 seconds at 112 mph.

In the years that followed, CSX2000 has remained an irreplaceable part of the Shelby organization. As the car sits today, it is breathtakingly original with the workmanship of Shelby American visible throughout.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1962 Shelby Cobra CSX2000
Years Produced:1962
Number Produced:One
Original List Price:The car was never put up for sale
SCM Valuation:In many ways, this is a one-of-one car, so the current median and high sales prices are the same: $13,750,000
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$40
Chassis Number Location:Tag in engine compartment
Engine Number Location:Stamped on block
Club Info:Shelby American Automobile Club
Alternatives:1964 Shelby Daytona coupe, 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 S/C
Investment Grade:A+

This car, Lot 117, sold for $13,750,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction on August 19, 2016.

RM Sotheby’s compared this car, one built in a garage no less, to the “Mona Lisa.” For once, this can actually be considered a fair comparison and not just auction copy hyperbole.

Why? Because the car is the first Shelby Cobra — and it is unquestionably one of the most significant cars in existence. And yes, I am biased, but what this odd combination of a Ford V8 in an AC Ace created is just staggering.

Had this car been just another failed Anglo-American cross-pollination experiment, it would have gone down as a “special” that few would remember as more than just a curiosity. But CSX2000 had a magical combination of factors — and an owner/creator/salesman par excellence at the helm who wouldn’t quit until he made the idea stick.

And stick CSX2000 did.

The small start of something big

In 1962, this car cemented the existence of Shelby American and paved the way for the dominant Cobras that followed. Cobras quickly snagged USRRC, SCCA and FIA World Champion titles. This pushed manufacturers worldwide to raise their level of competition in an attempt to beat Shelby’s Cobras. As a result, the sport gained tremendously on many levels. Fierce rivalries played out from Riverside to Le Mans, bringing fans to the track fences and creating legends that remain today.

In just a few short years, from this unlikely seed grew the Cobra Daytona coupes, the 427 Cobras, Ford’s win over Ferrari at Le Mans, and the 1965 GT350 that took Iacocca’s Mustang from being a “secretary’s car” to an aspirational performance car now over 50 years in continuous production. Not to mention cars like the Dodge Viper that were produced in an attempt to re-create the Cobra magic.

So can we overestimate the importance of this little “sport car” (as Shelby called it) bolted together by some Southern California hot-rodders in Dean Moon’s shop late one night? I don’t think so.

Let’s also not forget the other fact that makes CSX2000 unique: It survived, a rarity for any prototype car, especially one from a fledgling manufacturer who used it for everything from road tests to duty at his Carroll Shelby’s School of High Performance Driving.

Always Carroll Shelby’s car

Long after Shelby American was shuttered — and through all of Carroll Shelby’s trials, tribulations, and reincarnations over the ensuing decades — he hung onto CSX2000.

For a man often quoted as saying his favorite car was “the next one,” such a clearly sentimental attachment is telling — even Carroll knew what this car meant to him and his brand. How could he ever sell it? The answer was easy, even for him. He simply wouldn’t.

Now, as for the actual car, it’s just an old used up warhorse. It smokes like a train, the interior is in shreds, and it has been painted more times than most cars are waxed — including one time in recent years that erased wonderful patina on its exterior.

The car doesn’t even have a title, as it was never sold and was essentially built as a transcontinental kit car.

But none of this matters one bit because it is, well, the “Mona Lisa.” If this car were an early Cobra, built even 10 chassis numbers later, it wouldn’t be worth the buyer’s premium paid here. But as close as those cars are, none of them are this car, and just like in horseshoes and hand grenades, close doesn’t count.

Family and trust drama

So why was this car even for sale? Well, it wouldn’t be a Carroll Shelby deal without a little excitement. Carroll placed CSX2000 into his Carroll Hall Shelby trust before he passed. And the trustees of the CHS Trust put it up for auction, reportedly as instructed by Carroll — yet against the wishes of the Shelby family — who are quick to point out that Carroll’s seventh wife, Cleo, is not included among them. And, to add a little more excitement, Cleo, for various reasons including breach of fiduciary duty, is currently suing the trust.

There was also talk of an injunction to stop the sale in Monterey, but that clearly didn’t get pushed through. Since this is a car magazine and not a law journal, I’m not going to get into all that in detail, but I think this backstory deserved mention.

A priceless car finds a price

Going into the auction, CSX2000 was reported as having a $15,000,000 reserve, far less than Carroll had claimed to have been offered for the car when he was alive — and also less than a lot of people claimed they were ready to pay on the day of the sale.

But talk is cheap, and the first Cobra isn’t. When the bidding reached $10,000,000, it was down to just two bidders, and RM Sotheby’s announced the car was for sale.

Over the next few minutes it crept to its eventual hammer price of $12,500,000, at which point ownership transferred to the Miller family — and what could be considered the first owners of CSX2000 after 54 years of being “in inventory” with Shelby American.

Carroll’s grandson Aaron Shelby drove CSX2000 onto the RM Sotheby’s stage and commented afterwards, “While selling CSX2000 was not the preference of the Shelby family, the trustees felt they had an obligation to sell the car as part of their fiduciary responsibility to the Carroll Hall Shelby Trust. Once the decision was made to sell the car, I decided my responsibility as a director and co-president of the foundation was to help promote the sale. My father, Patrick, did indeed bid on the Cobra.

“Once his maximum price was eclipsed, Greg Miller won the auction. If my family was not going to have the car, you could not ask for a better caretaker than Greg Miller and his family. It was sad that the car would no longer be part of the family. However, I greatly enjoyed driving CSX2000 up on the block to witness the highest price ever paid for an American car. That is a testament to Carroll’s legacy.”

A new, public home

Part of the SCM template for these auction profiles is for the writer to decide if a car was well sold or well bought.

Considering what this car represents, and the simple fact that it exists, I think any price paid would have been considered well bought. And I agree with Aaron Shelby — it is great that it landed with the Millers, who will keep it on display and in circulation, so many more generations can visit where it all started — with this little (now) blue car Carroll Shelby decided to call CSX2000.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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