Film clips show MacDonald almost sideways and he never lifts or moves the wheel as he slides through the turn, lap after lap. It is breathtaking to watch

In 1963, Carroll Shelby needed a car to compete in the USAC-sanctioned Fall Series on the West Coast, which evolved later into the SCCA Canadian American Challenge Series, the Can-Am.

Shelby's Cobras had already won SCCA's A/Sports Racing title and the USRRC Championship, but the season was almost over. He had time, he had drivers, he needed a car.

Shelby's solution was to go back to Europe and buy two mid-engined Cooper Monaco sports racers-CM/1/63 and CM/3/63-and to adapt them to his full-race 289 cubic inch Ford V8s. The cars carried four Weber carburetors and a BMC/Huffaker 4-speed transaxle, soon replaced by a Colotti 4-speed.

The first two cars competed in the 1963 Fall Series. CM/1/63 was driven by Dave MacDonald and CM/3/63 by Bob Holbert, until his retirement in 1964. After that it was driven by Dave MacDonald, Ken Miles, Augie Pabst, Skip Scott, Ed Leslie, and Ronnie Bucknum. In 1966 it sold to Alex Budurin with the current ZF 5-speed, but Budurin died and his widow sold it to Dwayne Zinola, who won a national championship with it. Don Ivey owned it next, blew it up, and sold it to Robert Green, who completed a sympathetic restoration in 1991.

It now looks as it would have in 1963, and is the only survivor of the first King Cobra season.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1963 Shelby King Cobra Cooper Type 61M
Number Produced:8 Shelby (12 total T61M)
Original List Price:$12,000
Distributor Caps:$20
Chassis Number Location:Tag on dash
Club Info:Shelby American Automobile Club P.O. Box 788, Sharon, CT 06069
Investment Grade:A

This Shelby King Cobra Cooper Type 61M sold for $935,000 at RM’s Amelia Island sale on March 10, 2007.

Carroll Shelby has been one of the most talented opportunists in American automobile racing. With both the AC Cobra and the Shelby Mustang, he demonstrated a remarkable ability to take existing cars and components and recombine, redefine, or reconfigure them to create what have become iconic and immensely successful racing cars.

In the summer of 1963, actually-get-paid-for-it professional sports car racing was just getting started in the United States in a series for purpose-built sports racing cars with more or less unlimited engine size. The production-based Cobras wouldn’t have much of a chance, but it was an attractive challenge for Shelby. All he needed was a suitable car. It needed to be cheap, available on very short notice, and sturdy enough to handle a 289 Ford V8.

Cooper Monaco the car to beat

Like the AC Bristol, the Cooper Monaco was at the end of its shelf life when Shelby came knocking. Designed in 1958 for the 1959 season, the Monaco was the first successful mid-engined sports racer built to accept 2-liter and larger engines. The design concept was appropriate to both Cooper and the era, which is to say pretty agricultural by later standards. It was a derivation of the 1958 Formula 1 design and used four large-diameter tubes in a more or less box-kite arrangement. For the Monaco, the tubes bulged out from the front suspension to the rear cockpit bulkhead to allow two seats inside, then back to a narrow rear suspension pickup.

Though the F1 Coopers of the era had wonderfully stiff chassis, the wider Monaco layout was notoriously “interactive,” to use a current euphemism. It was immediately successful, however, and in 1959 and 1960 was the car to beat. As competition arrived on the market (particularly the Lotus 19), the Monaco gained a stiffer frame, upgraded suspension, and improved body design. Through 1962, these were designated Monaco Mk I through IV and were designed for the Climax FPF 2- to 2.5-liter engines that were the dominant English race engine of the time.

In late 1962, the concept was redesigned to accept the 1962 F1 suspension and a seriously revised frame design, wrapped with a much more slippery body. The intended power was the 2.7-liter FPF engine developed for Indianapolis, but the engine bay was intentionally built large enough for a V8. Now designated the T61M, it was still called a Monaco. The 1962 prototype was the only T61M to actually get a Climax, as the early 1963 cars were built on spec and sat unsold without engine packages well into the season.

Shelby faced a simple choice. The Lotus 19 was an excellent design but consensus was that it just wasn’t strong enough to carry an American V8. The Cooper had room for a V8, and several chassis were immediately available. In fact, “available” might be an understatement; by late summer 1963, at most one of the four cars built had been sold, and Cooper was in a bind.

Once the first two rolling chassis arrived at Shelby’s shop, the team had less than a month to turn them into contending race cars. The chassis were disassembled and strengthened for a 289 Ford engine and Colotti transaxle. Shelby only had one day of testing at Riverside before shipping the cars off to Kent (Seattle), Washington, for their debut on September 29.

Set records out of the box

The cars were fast out of the box, setting track records at Riverside and Kent, but they were not sorted, and both retired from the actual race. Dave MacDonald won the remaining two races (Riverside and Laguna Seca), but Holbert broke in both. The cars were not the dominant force Shelby would have liked.

At the end of 1963, Shelby bought two more chassis, then four more in 1964 for a total of eight “real” Shelby King Cobras. There were four other T61M chassis sold, and they all got V8s, but not through Shelby (and not all Ford, for that matter) to make a total of twelve T61 Monacos built.

For the nascent U.S. professional road race series of ’63 and ’64, it was a successful but by no means dominant car-an old design in a world that was changing fast. In many ways, the T61M marks the transition from the flexible chassis, skinny tire, drive-it-sideways cars of the ’50s to the stiff-chassis, real suspension and sticky tire, keep-it-stuck-to-the-track cars that followed.

And it was the end of truly flamboyant driving. Check out film clips of MacDonald driving the King Cobra at Riverside. Turn 6 was two 90-degree rights that were really a double-apex 180. Footage shows MacDonald coming into view almost sideways and he never lifts or seems to move the steering wheel as he slides through the whole turn, lap after lap. It is breathtaking to watch.

The King Cobra presents a quandary for a vintage racer/collector. It’s too new and too fast to run with Scarabs, Maseratis, and Listers of the early ’60s, but nowhere near sophisticated enough to be competitive with the McLarens and Chaparrals that followed.

It’s like a perpetual 17th birthday, stuck between being a kid and an adult. This Shelby King Cobra Cooper Type 61M has been modified to a later style, which I don’t like. It’s slammed to the weeds, clearly stiffly sprung, and carries more tire than 1964 ever dreamed was possible. The retro-grouch in me hangs on to the image of the King Cobra leaned way over on its skinny-tired tiptoes with MacDonald doing lurid slides through every corner.

Because in many ways this is neither fish nor fowl, setting a value is tough. It’s not a Shelby and it’s not a Cobra-it’s a Cooper that Shelby American bought and raced for a while. Though historically important, it doesn’t fit comfortably into any normal race grid, so the owner will be stuck by himself at the track.

It’s more a car for a Cobra guy who wants to complete his collection than for a vintage racer. Performance-related comps are tough to find, but I’d say they’re in the $250,000 to $400,000 range. Go halfway between that and-due to the Shelby-added heritage-the $2m value of a racing Cobra, and you’ll hit what this car sold for, so I’d say it was market correct.

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