Few automotive figures have had a cult built around them quite like Carroll Shelby. Though his company stopped building cars after 1967, and some of his endeavors didn’t exactly age well (see: The Shelby Series One), Shelby was a singular force of nature, preaching the gospel of American performance to the point where he’s revered on the same level as Henry Ford, Ferdinand Porsche, and Enzo Ferrari. From the late 1960s on, he was an ambassador for his personal brand — a go-to for automakers looking to inject some performance pedigree into their lineups, and a constant presence at car shows, willing to talk to anybody who would listen. By the time he died in 2012 at age 89, it’s likely he personally signed the dash or glovebox door of most of the cars that he had a hand in building, from the iconic Ford GT40 to the Dodge-Shelby Omni GLH-S hot hatch.
Of course, before all of that, Carroll Shelby was a chicken farmer turned successful racer who was forced from the sport due to a heart defect. And in his forced retirement he set out to create a world-class American sports car. He found a willing partner in the tiny British sports car builder AC, which agreed to modify its Ace roadster to fit Ford’s new 289 cubic inch V8 underhood. Of course, that car would become the Shelby Cobra, one of the most iconic cars on the planet.
But in early 1962, while Ford and AC had agreed to the partnership, no one was sure that Shelby’s plan would work so Shelby built it himself in Los Angeles, personally fitting the American engine to the British chassis, fabricating much of the suspension, and working out any engineering issues himself. That car became known by its chassis number CSX2000, and it’s the world’s first Cobra. Without it, there’d be no Cobra 427, no Shelby Daytona, no Shelby Mustang, and no GT40, Dodge Viper, or current Ford GT. Simply put, CSX2000 is the Rosetta Stone of American performance cars. And for the first time ever, it’s for sale.
Any one owner Cobra would be a big deal, but from 1962 to 2012, CSX2000 belonged to the man himself, Carroll Shelby. Matt Stone’s 2012 remembrance in Motor Trend recalled how fond Shelby was of the car — and what a show-stopper it was — half a century later:
I spied the unmistakable shape of an early Cobra, and asked Shel’ what the story was on this tidy blue roadster. “Oh, that’s the first Cobra,” he replied, in his gravel-laced Texas drawl.
“First 289, or first production 260?” I probed.
“No, the first Cobra; first one ah built.”
“You mean that very first mating of an AC Ace and a Ford V-8-ever?”
CSX2000 went straight from Los Angeles to the 1962 New York Auto Show, where it was a sensation. While it was a deep gold color on the stand, Shelby already had a knack for self-promotion, and sought to get it out to the automotive press as quickly as possible. Over the next few months, the car would go on to be painted red, yellow, and blue to make it look like production had already started. By the time CSX2001 rolled off the production line in May 1962, Shelby made CSX2000 his.
The car sat for decades, was used as a museum piece, and even saw service at the Carroll Shelby driving school, but in its 54 years, Shelby never once thought about selling the car, turning down offers as high as $5 million — and that was before the collector car market ballooned. “I’ve been offered a lot of money a lot of times, but it’ll never be sold if I have anything to say about it,” he told Motor Trend. “I want that car to remain in my family forever. Every time I look at that old car, I think, ‘Shelby, you lucky son-of-a-bitch.’”
Now, four years after Shelby’s death, the Carroll Hall Shelby Trust is putting the car up for auction at RM Sotheby’s Monterey, California auction on August 19-20. No pre-sale estimates are given, but most predict that it’ll dwarf that $5 million offer Shelby personally turned down all those years ago. There may have been more powerful, and even more beautiful, cars that have worn the Shelby name, but none of them would’ve been possible without CSX2000. This one has the potential to be one of the most expensive American cars ever sold.