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The "Last Cobra" On The Block

A condensed version of the wind-up that the folks at Mecum have put out to frame one of the most interesting automobiles to come to public auction in a long time - and truly one of the most LA-centric.

By Doug Stokes

Mon, Jul 12, 2021 12:28 PM PST

… From the Top Speed website: “This 2004 Ford Shelby Cobra Concept Could Be Worth Millions.” And from the Autoevoloution website:  “You hear phrases like ‘incredible offering,’ ‘ultimate collectible,’ or ‘historically-charged item’ a lot in conversation about certain vehicles. It’s rare to find one for which all these apply - and a bunch of others, as well.” 

Those comments and MANY more, all racing through the ether, chattering breathlessly about the upcoming Mecum auction in Monterey, California in mid-August, all add one very salient fact about the car that is far better known (now anyway) by it’s kinda milquetoast code name “Daisy”: A wild six hundred (plus) horsepower open two-seater was personally tested by the legendary Carroll Shelby himself at Irwindale Speedway.

The Shelby Cobra was an LA car from the very first little weak-kneed AC Ace sportscar that a retired racer/poultry farmer and a couple of guys at Dean Moon’s shop over in Santa Fe Springs yanked an arthritic 2-liter “English tea-cup” motor out of and stuffed a (husky by comparison) 260 Ford Fairlane V-8 engine in it’s place. That was back in 1962, and the Cobra lore, legend, and lust has never stopped growing to this day. 

Here’s a condensed version of the wind-up that the folks at Mecum have put out to frame one of the most interesting automobiles to come to public auction in a long time, and truly one of the most LA-centric:

A flyer for the public auction at Mecum in Monterey

It’s fondly known as “Daisy”— a one-of-one, fully functional concept car— and it’s now slated to cross the Mecum auction block in Monterey this August. When Carroll Shelby and Chris Theodore announced at Pebble Beach in August of 2003 that “Ford and Shelby were joining forces to develop high-performance vehicles,” few knew that a secret project, code-named Daisy, was already underway to design and develop a new Cobra. 

Intended as a follow-on product to the 2005 Ford GT, Daisy was more than a typical concept car. Built by Ford with the full cooperation and participation of Carroll Shelby, Daisy was developed as a fully functional prototype to establish production feasibility. Working with Carroll Shelby, Chris Theodore, former Ford Vice President of Product Development, and J Mays, Group Vice President of Product Design, oversaw the design and build. The entire design and build process was documented on the one hour “Rides” television episode “Codename: Daisy,” during which Shelby stated, “There are so many things left in the world that I want to do … and building a new Cobra is No. 1.”

miniature Shelby Cobra standing on Doug Stoke's desk
A scale model of the Shelby Cobra signed by the designer Chris Theodore

The 2004 Shelby Cobra Concept is powered by a 6.4L/605 HP 40-valve aluminum V-10 with dry-sump lubrication. It is one of four experimental engines produced by Ford’s Advanced Powertrain group (the other three remain in Ford’s possession). Power is transferred through a torque tube to the rear-mounted Ricardo 6-speed Ford GT manual transaxle.

The all-aluminum space frame chassis was designed by Ford’s Advanced Product Creation team, utilizing Ford GT extrusions and castings, along with a bespoke billet aluminum front structure. The front and rear independent suspensions are from the Ford GT, tuned specifically for Daisy. Steering is power-assisted rack-and-pinion, and stopping power is provided by Brembo cross-drilled and ventilated discs with four-piston monoblock calipers. The show car was fitted with custom BF Goodrich Racing Slicks (not for road use) mounted on unique seven-spoke BBS billet wheels, and it was fitted with BBS three-piece wheels and Michelin tires for Shelby’s drive at the Irwindale Speedway.

By December of 2003, Daisy was ready for a photo shoot with Carroll Shelby followed by two days of testing at the Irwindale Speedway in California. During those two days, Shelby put more than 150 miles on Daisy doing high speed runs around the oval, taking journalists for rides, and doing a flurry of donuts on the infield. At the end of day two, he said, “It turned out just beautiful, didn’t it? I’m very happy with the car. At 81 years old, how lucky can you get to be part of a continuation of something that happened 40 years ago? It’s going to be a real ass kicker!” 

Perhaps Matt Stone of Motor Trend summed it up best; after a test ride with Shelby, Stone noted that it was of little concern to Shelby “that he was driving a multi-million-dollar hand-built prototype, as he stabs the gas and takes the racer’s low line through a long, sweeping corner,” and concluded, “There’s one final reason Ford should—no, must—give us the Cobra: to put the final, iconic punctuation mark on Carroll Shelby’s extraordinary life, with a car that’s worthy of the name.”

The Shelby Cobra Concept was introduced at the 2004 North American International Auto Show in Detroit by Bill Ford and Carroll Shelby to great fanfare.

Shelby Cobra Daisy at Irwindale Speedway
Shelby Cobra Daisy doing doughnuts on the track at Irwindale Speedway
The Shelby Cobra "Daisy" at Irwindale Speedway

Although Daisy was intended for production in 2007, the looming “Great Recession” precluded program approval, making this car one of one and “The Last Shelby Cobra.” To Theodore’s delight, he purchased the Shelby Cobra Concept at a charity auction, with proceeds going towards the restoration of the Fair Lane mansion, the home of Henry and Clara Ford. 

Ford had disabled Daisy for liability purposes, so Theodore took her to the very team that had assembled the chassis: Technosports in Livonia, Michigan. It was restored to running condition by fitting a new transmission output shaft manufactured to original specifications by Livernois Motorsports of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, and it was also fitted with a new twin-plate clutch, flywheel, wiring harness, spark plugs and mufflers, and all fluids were replaced as well.  Theodore. Daisy is also the subject of the award-winning book, “The Last Shelby Cobra, My Times with Carroll Shelby” by Chris Theodore.

The 2004 Shelby Cobra Concept is now titled and licensed for the road. Designed and built by Ford in cooperation with Carroll Shelby, racer, team owner, manufacturer and “The most interesting man in the world,” Daisy received Shelby’s signature of approval after his Irwindale test drive. Appropriately, Daisy is now ready for the next chapter in its storied history as it heads for the Mecum auction block this August at Monterey 2021—the site of the Shelby/Ford announcement 18 years earlier. Accompanying Daisy will be a Letter of Authenticity from Ford Motor Company, a detailed Daisy build book presented to Ford COO Nick Sheele, extensive photographs taken during design and development with Carroll Shelby, and a certificate from the Shelby Registry.

Editor’s note: Don Taylor’s review of Chris Theodore’s very personal, comprehensive, and well-illustrated telling of Daisy’s inception and impact is still available here. We recommend the book.

Author's Note: I’ve seemed to be in the right place at the right time with regards to Cobras. I rode (with Mister Shelby) in the first one on a hot lap of the 2.5 mile Pomona Fairgrounds road race course in 1972, and - thirty-one years later - was the PR VP at Irwindale Speedway in 2003 when Mister Shelby and Mister Theodore came by for a couple of days to give what became the last Cobra a bit of a workout there.

A note from LACar editor Roy Nakano:

One of my favorite old Cobra stories: A 23-year old Herbie Hancock buys one of the first Cobras (260 cid 2-bbl) from a snooty dealer that doesn't think he can afford it. Hancock buys it with $6,000 cash. Miles Davis tells him to get rid of it ("It's too dangerous!"). Almost 60 years later, he still has the car and it's worth 2 million...

About The Author

Doug Stokes's profile picture

Doug Stokes

Doug has a long and wide-ranging history in the motoring business. He served five years as the Executive Director of the International Kart Federation, and was the PR guy for the Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix. He worked racing PR for both Honda and Suzuki and was a senior PR person on the first Los Angeles (Vintage) Grand Prix. He was also the first PR Manager for Perris Auto Speedway, and spent over 20 years as the VP of Communications at Irwindale Speedway. Stokes is the recipient of the American Autowriters and Broadcaster’s 2005 Chapman Award for Excellence in Public Relations and was honored in 2015 by the Motor Press Guild with their Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. “… I’ve also been reviewing automobiles and books for over 20 years, and really enjoy my LA Car assignments.” he added.

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