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The Fighter: The Daytona Cobra Coupe’s Last Race

Carroll Shelby’s two Daytona Cobra Coupes’ impressive showing in their first season in the US and Europe in 1964 finally convinced some cool-eyed skeptics within Ford management that the ex-Texas chicken farmer and his small team of Southern California racers might actually have the “right stuff” to compete on an international level. They awarded Shelby their nascent Ford GT40 program for 1965. Ford’s master plan was to have Shelby cancel his Cobra program at the end of ’64 so the Texan’s experienced crew could focus entirely on their GT40 program.

Ray Geddes, a financial and operations manager at Ford, however, realized that while Ford’s still-problematic GT40 program was still being sorted out, Shelby’s Daytona Cobras could continue to lead Ford’s charge against Ferrari in the GT category. All Ford had to do was find a team other than Shelby’s to run them. Alan Mann Racing in the UK was the natural choice. Mann’s privateer successes with Ford rally cars in Britain had led to Ford contracting him to run a combined Ford team for the 1964 season. As a result of Mann’s success, he was contracted by Ford to run Shelby’s Daytona Coupes in Europe in ‘65. Their impressive goal would be to secure the FIA’s World GT Championship against Jaguar, Ferrari and Aston Martin, while Shelby’s California team focused their attention on sorting out Ford’s GT40 program in the Prototype category.

Shelby team mechanic Charlie Agapiou, an ex-pat Brit who had been working on the Daytonas during the ’64 season was the perfect choice to be the crew chief for Mann’s British Cobra team in Europe. Shelby team-driver Bob Bondurant approached Carroll and asked if he could drive for Mann’s Cobra team. Bondurant felt his future career lay in having a successful race season in Europe and he’d won Le Mans in ’64 in Daytona Coupe CSX 2299 with co-driver Dan Gurney. Carroll gave the okay and Bondurant flew into Heathrow to be picked up and report for team duty. It didn’t go as Bondo’ had envisioned. Bob got off his flight in Heathrow to find Mann had come to the airport personally to meet him. Bondurant introduced himself at which time Mann handed him a return ticket for a flight back to the ‘States! He explained he already had his own ace drivers, British stars, Sir John Whitmore and Jack Sears, and thus he didn’t need Bob. Thinking quickly, Bob explained he’d been personally approved by Shelby and extolled the virtues of Mann having a third driver. Mann finally reluctantly relented, making it clear Bob was never to place above his English countrymen. Bob agreed, but later shared that at the moment a fire had been lit within him and he made it a personal goal to make sure he won as often as he could.

This background leads us to the story of Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX 2601, seen here at the last race of the '65 season in August of ‘65 at Enna, Sicily, driven by Bondurant. The damage shows the ferocity of the fight between Bondo’ and his Mann teammate, Jack Sears, who was driving Daytona CSX 2299.

Bondo had already secured the FIA World GT Championship in CSX 2601 a month earlier at the Reims 12 Hour in France. With the championship secured and going into the last race of the season in Italy, team manager Mann once again ordered Bondo' to run second, probably thinking this time he would acquiesce. Bob agreed if, they were really going to race against the Ferraris. Bondo’ knew the Daytonas were faster than the three Ferrari LM prototypes and felt he could win overall. Mann however, only cared about the GT win points and told Sears to cruise. Knowing it was the last race ever for the Daytonas, Bondurant decided to, once again, ignore team orders and go for the overall win, which would mean challenging Sears as well. At first Bondurant followed team orders allowing Sears to lead, but this was letting the Ferraris get too far ahead!  Bondurant went for the lead, but his English teammate kept dropping a wheel off the track to keep the American at bay, heaving stones and debris at the American. It was a vicious fight, but Bondo’ finally fought his way by and went after the Ferraris.

Bondo passed all three Ferraris and would have won overall, but a "SLOW... TIRES" sign from the Goodyear rep’ on pit row forced him to back off. Was it an order from Mann or Goodyear? Bondo reluctantly let Nino Vacarella, in the fastest LM, by but still took the GT win. After the checker Bondo' checked his tires… they were down to the cord! The rest of the Coupe wasn’t in great shape either as Bondo had refused to back away from Sears’ attempts to thwart his attack.

After the race, the five Daytona Coupes in Europe were gathered back at Mann’s race shop to be returned to Shelby’s in the U.S. They were in the UK under bond and had to be exported out of the country by a certain date or pay a hefty tax. Shelby refused to pay the cost of having them shipped back, now being focused on the Ford GT program. After many pleading Telexes to Shelby’s office explaining the situation, with no response, Mann finally explained that if they weren’t shipped out of the country in time, the tax authorities would dump them into the North Sea. Still no response.

Alan Mann ultimately couldn’t stand the thought that these American champions would be destroyed and lost to history. He paid to have them shipped back to Shelby’s out of his own pocket. By doing so the man whose British patriotism was so strong that he’d ordered Bondurant to let his British drivers win, saved for history what is arguably America’s Greatest Race Car.

BRE Archives

Why this Photo of the BRE Hino Samurai Brings Back Memories of One of My Favorite Race Stories. Peter Brock

The BRE and Aerovault crews gathered in the showroom to wish me happy birthday a couple of weeks ago. The showroom has what Gayle calls the “Peter Brock History Walls”. She’s taken images from when I had my first car in 1952 (an MG TC) thru my time at GM (late ‘50s), my history with Shelby (’61-’65), my BRE team (’66-’72) and my hang gliding company starting in ‘73, Ultralight Products (UP) and mounted them on the walls with dates and descriptions. A person can spend some serious time in that room.

While “shooting the breeze” with the guys while b-day cake was being cut, I was asked what my favorite image is in the room. Wow, how do you answer that? However, I quickly gravitated to this photo from 1967 at the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway. The photo was taken when the BRE Hino Samurai I designed was going through tech for the race. In the photo, a tech official is telling me he isn’t going to sign-off on the car. On the other side of the car, my honorary team manager, Toshiro Mifune (pronounced Mifoony) is preparing to protest. Mifune was the most recognizable face in Japan having acted in some 150 movies. He played Mr. Honda in Grand Prix and was most well known as being a fierce (and sometimes crazy) Samurai warrior in Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai movies, especially my favorite, The Seven Samurai. His fierce on-screen performances were in stark contrast to his quiet and gentle nature off the screen. He loved cars and he was happy to accept my offer to be our honorary team manager for the race (I learned early on at Le Mans in France that it’s helpful to have a national “local” on the team). It certainly didn’t hurt that I had named this GT car of my design, the Samurai.

I had a strong relationship with Hino going back to 1964 when a U.S. actor, Bob Dunham, acting in Japan playing an American in their films, approached me about prepping a small Hino sedan race car for him that he could race in the states whenever he was back visiting. The car had good success and soon I had negotiated with Hino to let me run two Hino Contessas, one for Bob and one for myself to race and to also design and build a GT car for them that would run at Le Mans, the BRE Hino Samurai. Early in ’67 as I was designing and building the Samurai, a gentleman from Toyota walked into my BRE shop in southern California. He said he was there to see what I was working on for Hino. I told him that was confidential and asked him to leave. He said he’d be back. I immediately called my main contact at Hino and told him what happened. My contact said Toyota was making a bid to buy part of Hino. Toyota would benefit from Hino’s truck building expertise and Toyota would build their cars. He said very likely Toyota would become my new bosses so I should show the Toyota person whatever he wanted.

The next day the Toyota person came back and I let him in. He saw us building the Samurai and asked me what it was. I told him it was a GT car that would race at Le Mans in June and before that, the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway (Toyota owned Fuji Speedway). He didn’t say anything but I could tell he was pretty surprised. He came back the following week and told me Toyota didn’t need a GT race car and that I should stop the project. I explained I was under contract with Hino to finish the car and I had too much time and expenses invested to stop before being paid. To make a long story short, he ultimately asked me what amount of money I needed to stop the project. I contacted Hino again to make sure this was okay and they recommended I proceed with the offer. I told the guy what I would accept. He ultimately came back and said they’d pay it. Not really sure what was going to happen I continued to work on the car until payment was received and I knew the deal was real. He would occasionally stop by the shop to look around but he never brought the money. A week or two before the race he stopped visiting altogether.

With no payment I finished the car and loaded it onto a plane for Japan. The Samurai was a press sensation. What I did not know at the time, and only learned months after the race, was that Toyota had given the guy’s boss the money to pay me. Every week when the guy came by the shop, he saw the bare chassis in the center of the shop floor, the bonnet against one wall, front body work along another, etc. He didn’t understand how race cars are modular and told his boss he thought there was no chance the car would be finished. If the car wasn’t going to be finished there was no reason to give me the money so his boss pocketed the money for himself, told his bosses I had been paid, the car wouldn’t be at Fuji and told his guy not to bother coming by the shop again.

Toyota execs seeing myself and the glorious Samurai arrive in Tokyo were furious! They thought I had double crossed them. I not only learned later what happened with the money but I also found out that the reason Toyota didn’t want the car to become a reality is that they knew Hino’s stock price would go up if people saw Hino unveil this amazing GT race car at the Grand Prix. A higher stock price would mean Toyota would have to pay more to purchase part of the company. I was costing Toyota millions. They had blood in their eyes and I had no idea what was happening.

Toyota, owning Fuji Speedway, told the track officials they couldn’t pass the Samurai through tech. At each station a tech would come up with some reason the car wouldn’t pass, a tail light here, a seat belt arrangement there. Whatever they came up with we quickly fixed and the car would proceed to the next station. Toyota was seething. They went to the last station and told the tech official that under no circumstances was the car to pass tech.

That’s where we were when this photo was taken. Mifune being the star he was and the sensational looking Samurai coming in from the states (its name didn’t hurt either), there were tv camera crews and reporters following us the entire route. In the photo you can see people holding up recorders, microphones, etc off to the side. The tech, not having anything to point to that was wrong on the car, just proclaimed the car didn’t pass. When we asked why he said he didn’t have to tell us, it just doesn’t pass. Mifune challenged the official saying he must give us a reason. As you probably know, “saving face” is an important concept in the Japanese culture. To lose face is to lose respect or suffer embarrassment. The official turned to Mifune and mockingly asked him; “Who are you?” There couldn’t have been a worse insult for the most famous face in all of Japan. As cameras and recorders rolled, the gentleman Mifune put his hands on his hips (the moment seen in the photo), tensed up to where the veins on his neck were popping and his face turned purple, and turned into a Samurai warrior before our very eyes! The guttural onslaught Mifune unleashed upon the official was something I had never seen, nor seen since. The official practically melted into the pavement and the car was passed!

During practice I discovered the belly pan on the Samurai was scraping on the track’s surface from all of its downforce. It wasn’t something we were going to be able to fix and the car couldn’t run like this. Continuing to get pressure from Toyota not to run the car, without them knowing there was a problem with the car, I worked out an agreement that we would only do some slow parade laps and I would never run the Hino Samurai again. In return Toyota would allow me to design and build a GT car for them, the Toyota JP6. And that my friends, is another story (-:

If you would like to see more of the BRE Hino Samurai you can view our photo archives here and artwork here, which you can also puchase if you'd like your own!

Peter Brock to Receive Carroll Shelby Spirit Award

Carroll Shelby International will honor Peter Brock with the “Carroll Shelby Spirit Award” during the 2022 Monterey Collector Car Week, the company announced. Brock will be celebrated at the Team Shelby VIP Experience dinner on Aug. 20 in Carmel Valley.

“An astute judge of talent, Carroll Shelby surrounded himself with brilliant people throughout his life,” said Joe Conway, Co-CEO of Carroll Shelby International and CEO of Shelby American. “Peter Brock was an important part of Shelby’s success both on and off the track during the 1960s. We’re very grateful for his contributions to the company during his tenure at Shelby American and look forward to recognizing him at the dinner later this year.”

Past Carroll Shelby Spirit Award recipients include Ken Miles, Bob Bondurant, Allen Grant, Edsel B. Ford II, Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney. Ford CEO Jim Farley received the award at the Team Shelby dinner in Monterey last year.

“Peter Brock was my grandfather’s first full-time employee at the Carroll Shelby School of High Performance Driving,” said Aaron Shelby, board member of Carroll Shelby International. “From penning the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe to designing Carroll’s iconic race team clothing and improving the Shelby GT350’s performance, he was involved in so many key elements of Shelby American. Peter’s impressive achievements continued after his time at Shelby American and his influence is still felt in the auto industry.”

California native Brock has been designing for 70 years, the company said, and at just 19 years old, was part of Bill Mitchell’s General Motors studio team. Within a ten-year period, he penned what would become the Corvette Stingray, the World Championship Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, the Nethercutt Mirage, the Hino Samurai and more, according to Carroll Shelby International.

Brock studied German aerodynamics of the 1930s and 40s and applied those principles to the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe while part of the Shelby American racing team, the team said. The car gained 25 miles per hour to hit 200 mph down the straight aways.

“Thanks to films like ‘Ford v Ferrari’, many people know that Shelby American won Le Mans in 1966,” said Neil Cummings, Co-CEO of Carroll Shelby International and CEO of Carroll Shelby Licensing. “However, Shelby American also earned a class win at Le Mans in 1964 with the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Penned by Peter Brock, built by Ken Miles’s team and driven by Dan Gurney with Bob Bondurant, it almost won the race overall. The next year, the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe won the FIA Sportscar World Championship, the only time an American manufacturer has earned the title. Peter’s contribution to those victories, as well as his many other remarkable successes certainly earned him this award.”

After his time with Shelby American, Peter created BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises) and formed a winning Datsun 510 racing team. Working with Shelby licensee Superformance years later, Peter created an evolution of the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe with advanced suspension and better aerodynamics, the company said. To transport the car, he created an aerodynamic aluminum trailer that increases the stability of the towing experience. Its success led Peter and his wife and business partner, Gayle to create “Aerovault” trailers.

The board will honor Brock during a private dinner during Collector Car Week in Carmel Valley. Celebrities scheduled to attend include Peter Miles (son of Shelby driver Ken Miles), 1965 Shelby American team member Jim Marietta and Executive Vice President of Carroll Shelby International, Tracey Smith.

26th Annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance 2022

Join us at the Amelia Island Concours

Date: March 3-6, 2022

Location: Amelia Island, FL

Peter Brock will be judging, and an Aerovault will be on display. Now in its third decade, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is among the top automotive events in the world. “The Amelia” draws more than 300 rare vehicles from collections around the world to the Golf Club of Amelia Island, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island for a celebration of the automobile like no other.