I was thrilled of course but by the end of the ’64 season the Coupe was already well-proven. What I felt most about the’65 Championship was elation for driver Bob Bondurant. He went to the mat with the Coupes in Europe. Alan Mann, team owner and manager for the Cobra team in ’65 in Europe, was rough on Bob. He made it clear to Bob his English drivers were to win over him. Bob employed the adage of success is the sweetest revenge and went to work. Not only did he take the Championship win at Reims but he did it on July 4th, America’s independence day from the British. Now that’s a movie!
For myself, the highlights with the Coupe were mostly in ‘64:
- The Coupe’s first test day at Riverside that February where it broke the roadster’s lap record by 3.5 seconds. Up until then few people in the shop at Shelby’s believed in the Coupe. At that first test, Ken Miles called Shelby from the track and said: “this thing’s a rocket ship.” By the time we had the car loaded and back at Shelby’s, the center of the floor had been cleared out for it and it was decided it would race at Daytona the next month. I still met some resistance from Phil Remington on my design for a rear air foil but it was clear the Coupe was staying. Prior to this point the guys in the shop referred to the Coupe as “Brock’s Folly”. That wasn’t heard again after the Riverside test.
- The Coupe’s stellar performance at Daytona (its first race) on February 16th. The Coupe was so efficient we found we could throttle back the performance to be just slightly faster than the Ferraris and be 25% more fuel efficient than our Cobra roadsters! All that was required to win was to lead the Ferraris until it was time for them to pit. At that point we could put a couple of laps on them before pitting for fuel. Over the hours we were some seven laps in the lead until we had a pit fire. We were so far ahead of Enzo’s Ferraris at the time of the fire the crew were sure they could repair it and still win the race. For whatever reason Carroll decided to pack everything up and the Coupe’s first win would come a few weeks later at its next race, the 12 Hours of Sebring. With the Coupe now proven to be a winner against Ferrari we were well on our way to achieve Carroll’s goal of beating Enzo.
- The Coupe’s win at Le Mans in June with Bondurant and Dan Gurney. I think this says it all.
Heading into the end of the ‘64 season we had Ferrari beat with two more Coupes being completed. Had him beat, that is, until Enzo got the sanctioning for the late-season Monza race cancelled so we couldn’t get the points needed to take the Championship away from him that year. We learned never to underestimate what Enzo would do to win. 1964 was the year the Coupe made Shelby American an international success even though the record books don’t quite show it. Not that anything in racing is a “given” but the Coupe winning the FIA GT Championship for Ford and Shelby in ‘65 was as certain as possible. The Daytonas’ superior speed all season long even forced Enzo to announce he was quitting GT racing after Monza. The Cobra team’s success against Ferrari in ’64 convinced Henry Ford II to hire Shelby to develop and race the prototype Ford GT40s in ’65. Enzo would focus all of his energy on the prototype class against the GT40s. So in ’65 the question wasn’t really if the Daytona Cobra Coupes would win the championship but which driver would win the championship in them, English or American? July 4th, American driver Bob Bondurant racing in Reims, France brought home the FIA GT Championship to Shelby, Ford and America.