1963 Shelby Cobra 289 #12 Pilots: K. Miles, P. Hill, L. Spencer Team: Ed Hugus Race: 11th overall (1st in GT +4.0 class) at Sebring in 1963 TSM - 430521 (resin)
In 1959, Carroll Shelby crowned his racing career as a driver when he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The following year, after a few more races and with a heart issue, he decided to retire. In 1961, starting his career as a manufacturer, he had an idea: unite a nimble European chassis to a big American powerhouse. So he made a deal with British manufacturer AC Cars to supply him with their Ace model chassis. He then went to Ford and secured the supply of 260 ci (42161 cm³) V8 engines. The production of the car, called Shelby AC Cobra, began in 1962. By the end of the year, Shelby revised the car, to make it more competitive on the track. It received a rack-and-pinion steering and most importantly, a new 289 ci (4736 cm³) Ford V8. These Cobra Mk. II were officially the Shelby Cobra 289.
Ford’s 289 V8 was technically simple, a push-rod SOHC with 2 valves/cylinder, fed by a Holley or Weber carburetor. Nonetheless, it was strong and reliable, delivering 271 hp through a Borg-Warner four speed manual transmission. That allowed a top speed of 222 km/h and a 0 to 60 in just 5.5 seconds. Yet, in race trim, the 289 could deliver up to 350 hp. The light AC chassis with the powerful V8 engine was a very good match. And Carroll Shelby plainly understood the car’s potential. Though the Cobra debuted on race tracks in late 1962, and with great results, it hadn’t raced yet against European cars. That opportunity came on March 23 of 1963, at the 12 Hours of Sebring*. It would be the first race run under FIA’s new Manufacturer’s Championship rules.
Ford also had a huge interest in the race, since it was an opportunity to beat Chevrolet’s Corvette. And of course, there was also Ferrari. That being so, they opened their coffers, and gave Carroll Shelby whatever he needed. They even sent a team of 23 people to help Shelby’s own team. For the time, that was a huge crew, everything to bolster Ford’s chance of a GT victory. To face the competition, Shelby had four Cobras in the works team plus two more as privateers. To pilot his cars he had an all-star team of recognized American pilots, plus the Briton Ken Miles.
For the race, there were a total of 64 cars lined up. Among them, seven Sting Rays and none less than 11 Ferraris. The race would start with the “Le Mans start”, where pilots ran from the opposite side of the track to their cars. Ken Miles started the race sharing the Cobra #16 (chassis #CSX2002) with Peter Brock. This car was the first Cobra to race, in October of 1962. However, at Sebring, a broken steering arm retired the car on the fifth hour of the race. Though his car was out of the race, he was not. Miles then jumped into car #12 (#CSX2127), and together with Phil Hill and Lew Spencer finished the race. Their #12 came in 11th overall and first in the GT+4.0 class, the first win for a Cobra 289 in an international race.
For Shelby the 1963 Sebring race was disappointing. Of the six Cobras in the race, only three finished. Moreover, the six first places were occupied by the red Italian cars. Yet, that race was a watershed moment for both Shelby and for Ford. Even though at the time nobody recognized it as such, this was the opening movement of the upcoming “Ford vs Ferrari War”. And in 1:43, this Cobra 289 is nothing less than outstanding. TSM did a bang-up job, and the model looks totally stunning. The only thing weird is the “taped” headlights that look a bit strange up close. Yet, that is how the car started the race, at 10am that Saturday morning. That detail notwithstanding, this Cobra 289 #12 is a great model. One of those “nice-enough-for-everyone” models.
*: Sports Car Digest has a terrific account of the whole race.