Saturday, January 9, 2016

Carroll Shelby remembered at SEMA 2015 

Although Carroll Shelby passed away in 2012, his impact on the automotive world was still evident three years later in a variety of racing automobiles with Shelby connections on display at the 2015 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show in Las Vegas.

photo by the author 

This Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, designed by Peter Brock was on display at Shell Oil’s outdoor booth at SEMA 2015. Brock, Carroll Shelby’s first paid employee, initially ran Shelby’s driving school at Riverside international Raceway, then later designed Shelby’s logo,  components for the Cobra and the Mustang  GT350, and entire race cars before he left in 1965. The car on display was the prototype Daytona coupe, designed and built entirely at Shelby-American’s original shop in Venice California, which had been the home of Lance Reventlow’s Scarab racing operation. After CSX2237 was the built, the five subsequent Cobra Daytona coupes were built in Modena Italy by Pietro Vaccari and Fernando Baccarini.  

This chassis, CSX2237 qualified on the pole at the Daytona Continental 2000 kilometer race (the forerunner to the 24 hour race) and driven by Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert led  its class until it caught fire in the pits.  The same pair of drivers and this car won the GT class at the 1964 12 hours of Sebring, then CSX2237 was driven in the 1964 LeMans 24-hour race by Kiwi Chris Amon and German Jochen Neerpass (as MacDonald had died in Indianapolis on May 30 1964) where it led the GT class before it was disqualified after ten hours for a pit violation.

photo by the author 

Chassis CSX2287 was then used as a touring show car before it was pressed into duty by Goodyear in November 1965 to set 23 national and international FIA speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Thought to be lost during the nineteen seventies, CSX2237 was discovered in poor condition inside a Southern California rental storage unit. This unrestored car, the first vehicle added to the Historic Vehicle Association's National Historic Vehicle Registry maintained by the US Department of the Interior, is owned by the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Pennsylvania.

Carroll Shelby reached the heights of automotive fame by shoe-horning a large displacement Ford engine into a lightweight English sports car to create the Shelby Cobra, and this car, the DeTomaso/Shelby P70, is an outgrowth of a similar idea. Alejandro DeTomaso, a fledgling Italian sports car manufacturer, built a limited production mid-engine sports car known as the Vallelunga, which was powered by a 100 horsepower Ford Cortina 4-cylinder engine. Automotive critics agreed it was a beautifully styled car with good handling characteristics as a result of its rigid backbone chassis design, but the Vallelunga was sorely lacking in horsepower. Enter Carroll Shelby with his proven “big engine light car” model, who proposed that DeTomaso insert a 289 cubic inch Ford engine into the Vallelunga’s engine compartment.

photo of the DeTomaso/Shelby P70
by the author

With the big money SCCA Johnson Wax Can-Am group 7 sports car series set to debut in 1966, the original Vallelunga idea then blossomed into a racing car design that used a strengthened backbone chassis powered by a 427 cubic inches Ford race engine cloaked by a curvaceous body designed by Peter Brock. Shelby placed an order with DeTomaso for six cars to replace the Shelby “King Cobra” (also known as the Lang Cooper) for Can-Am use.   Peter Brock traveled to Italy to oversee the new car’s construction while the ‘427’ engine development continued in Shelby’s shop. 

However, both the engine and the car suffered delays, and Shelby evidently realized that Shelby-American’s resources were stretched thin after he picked up one-third of the operation of the Ford GT40 endurance racing program.  With one rolling P70 completed, and five partially complete,  Shelby pulled out of the DeTomaso deal.  After Brock had left Shelby to start Brock Racing Enterprises, the P70 made an appearance on the cover of the March 1966 issue of Road & Track magazine billed as “Pete Brock’s Ghia DeTomaso.” The unfinished and unraced P70 Can-Am car went into storage for nearly 40 years before it was bought and restored after Alejandro DeTomaso’s death in 2003. The restored DeTomaso/Shelby P70 was shown in the Braille Battery Company booth at SEMA 2015.

photo by the author

The final Shelby-American connection is this restored Datsun 510 Trans-Am car owned by comedian Adam Carolla, shown in the Tokico shock absorbers booth at SEMA 2015.  Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) created after Peter left Shelby-American in 1965, ran the Datsun factory racing operations in the United States. BRE built the dominant 510 sedan race cars which eventually killed the under 2.5-liter SCCA Trans-Am class after winning  back-to-back ‘2.5 Challenge’ championships including  8 of the 11 races in the 1972 season.

photo by the author

This particular restored BRE 510, known as the “Guest Driver “ car, was driven in the latter stages of the 1972 season by drivers such as Bob Sharp, Herschel McGriff, and Sam Posey. As shown at SEMA 2015, it carried the livery as it was driven by NASCAR star Bobby Allison at the October 28 1972 season-ending Trans-Am race at Riverside International Raceway.   Allison at the time carried Coca-Cola sponsorship on his NASCAR entry so the little Datsun carried Coca-Cola signage in addition to the season-long Simoniz car wax sponsorship. 

photo by the author

At the Laguna Seca Raceway Trans-Am race run two weeks prior, Allison finished in third position behind teammates John Morton and Peter Gregg and posted the fastest lap time recorded during the race. At Riverside, Allison started from the fifth position in the 28-car field but finished in 24th position after a connecting rod in the Datsun’s four-cylinder 109-cubic inch engine snapped on lap 11.

That same weekend, Allison also practiced in one of Don Nichols’ mighty UOP Shadow Mark III Can-Am cars, but the car experienced a problem with its 427-cubic inch Chevrolet engine and Allison did not start the race. Allison’s test laps at Riverside in the Shadow Can-Am car caught the attention of Roger Penske, however, and Penske offered Allison a championship car test at Ontario Motor Speedway.

Bobby Allison at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1975 
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection
in the IUPUI  University Library Center for Digital Studies 

That test led to Allison reluctantly driving a Penske turbocharged Offenhauser-powered McLaren in the 1973 Indianapolis 500-mile race and four USAC races including the ‘500’ in 1975. Allison’s memories of IndyCar racing are bitter, understandable since he failed to finish any of the five USAC races he competed in, and fell out of the 1973 ‘500’ with just one lap completed.   

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