top of page
  • bruce4647

Shelby Daytona Coupe | American Race History

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

In the early 60’s, Carroll Shelby was laser focussed on building a car to compete against Ferrari. While we’ve heard the story about how Shelby teamed up with Ford to build the Ford GT which went on to win 24 hrs of LeMans, prior to the Ford GT, Shelby teamed up with designer Peter Brock to build the Daytona Coupe. With wins in the GT III class for the 1965 International Championship for GT Manufacturers, Shelby became the first American car maker to win a title on the international scene. In the 70’s Shelby chose mechanical engineer, Mike McCluskey to restore some of his Cobras and three of the original Shelby Daytona Coupes. In the 90’s, Shelby approached again, to build 50 Daytona coupes to the original spec and this one was one of only 6 that were built on an original Cobra chassis.



Hi folks and welcome to Center Lane. I'm Bruce Hitchen. Today we're looking at a very special and a very rare race car. This is a Shelby Daytona Coupe. Now back in the 60s, this car proved itself with GT class wins in Sebring and Le Mans and it set 25 land speed records at Bonneville. Originally, there were only six of these coupes made. This is not one of the original six but it was reconstructed on an original frame by Mike McCluskey. Mike is known for restoring four of the original six cars and Shelby himself had said that McCleskey knows more about these cars than he does. I'm here with Josiah DeGroot who helps the owner maintain this car but has also done a lot of research on the history of this vehicle. Josiah can you tell me a little bit about what you know about the history of this car itself? Yeah, so it started its life in 1965 it was delivered to California as a Shelby Cobra. It was silver with black trim and from there it was it was crashed and it was bought by Alan Grant who was one of the original race car drivers in the 1965 world manufacturers championship. After that, it's a question mark on the history between the 70s and the 80s. And then in the 80s it was either acquired by, or previously owned by somebody who then crashed it. It was then rebuilt and restored again and then it got lost in a house fire so it sustained a lot of fire damage. From there somebody bought it from either the insurance people or the guy who owned it. That guy brought it to Mike McCluskey who then restored it and it became what it is today.

So back in the 60s there were six made from what I understand. Tell me about the heritage of them and the build, and and their racing history? Back in the 60s Shelby and Ford, they both really wanted to beat Ferrari in the world class championships and so they went out and they knew that they couldn't take them on with a Cobra. It wasn't aerodynamic enough, it wasn't fast enough. They couldn't quite get there with a Cobra, even though it was crushing Corvettes left and right. It wasn't quite Ferrari level yet. So Shelby asked Peter Brock who was somebody that worked with him, a hot rodder at the time, designed me a car that that will go really, really fast. And so Peter had found some studies done on aerodynamics from the Germans in World War II and so he based this design off of the aerodynamics that he found. He wanted to create a more teardrop shape extending out the back end and then having it flat which is almost like tricking the air into thinking that there's more going on behind it and creating a shape in the air that's more aerodynamic than the cars itself. Everybody told them it wouldn't work. They said, you're going to add 300 pounds to the car, you know they're, you're going to have to do so much more work to the engine which is only going to add more weight, it's, there's no way that it's going to work because back in the day, aerodynamics weren't really a big thing. They thought, the lighter the car, the bigger the engine, the faster it goes. Which is true to an extent but this car on the on its first debut test, beat the the identical Cobra that it was modeled on by 25 miles per hour. Just off the bat, without any tuning, so with with just aerodynamics alone. After that they started, like everybody else at Shelby America started to believe in the car. They started to pour into it and it it was doing incredibly well at its first race that it did. And then it had a malfunction with the, with uh, when it was fueling up and it caught fire and they ended the race with it. Even though it was, it was miles ahead of everybody else. It was so so far ahead and so they lost but they still took it as a win because they knew that what they had made, they had proven themselves. And then in the 1964 world championships they were neck and neck with Ferrari in their last race of the season they were expected to win. They were six points behind Ferrari and Ferrari contested something in the rules. Eventually the race got cancelled. Ferrari won by default. And they lost that year and so they were very disappointed because they knew that they could have clinched the win if they had been able to race in that final race and so they would have won the 1964. In 1965 they came back and they won the world championships for GT class including winning at Le Mans. The first American car to win at Le Mans and the first American manufacturer to win the world championship for manufacturers. They started to create the the Ford GT around the same time that they started to create this but this had all of Shelby's attention for about two years. So in 64 and all the way through 65 and beyond until they canceled this program. And so during that time they decided to redirect Shelby's attention from this car and focus it all on the GT because the Ford GT was not winning in in 1964 or 65. This was!. So when they canceled this project they they put Carroll Shelby in complete control of the of the Ford GT and said that they couldn't work on this anymore. When the program was cancelled by Ford, they Shelby contacted the European branch of Ford's racing, which was ran by Allen Mann racing. And he said, dump them in the English Channel. He said, I don't want to see them anymore. They're not worth the freight to ship them back. He said, you know what, I just can't do it. At the last minute he shipped them back to Shelby and said, I couldn't, I couldn't bear myself to do it. And he did it all on his own dime. And so from there Shelby sold them off for you know, to whoever he could, for as as much money as he could get for them, which was not very much compared to how much they go for now. In the in the late 70s and early 80s he started restoring a lot of his old, you know he restored a couple of the Shelby Cobras. He was restoring some of the Daytonas and he did that, all with the help of an engineering student named Mike McCluskey at the time. And so together they had restored four of the original Daytonas and who knows how many Cobras that he's ever had his hands on... quite, quite a few. So in the 90s, Shelby came back to him and he said hey, I want you to build me an original Daytona Coupe. Like, and so he gave him a Shelby Cobra to work with and so he built it exactly like the original spec. And from there, Shelby America commissioned, commissioned 50 more cars to be built. 21 of those, 18 to 21 of those were built by Mike McCluskey himself. Six of those were done on original Cobra chassis and this is one of those. This one was done in 98. Basically it was done exactly like the original. It, it's even interesting to note that that the very first Shelby Daytona was based off of a crashed Cobra and this also was based off a crashed, or fire damaged Cobra. And so the they took the body off, they remade the, all the suspension components, they, they, you know, they're using the the same engine, they, everything down to the the amount of rivets that it had is exact to the original to the originals. And so the originals, each one was ever so slightly different and so the the rumour is that Mike McCluskey made a wooden buck off of the originals and he took all of his favourite parts, every little corner, every little thing that was ever so slightly different, and he put them onto his buck which this car was was made from. And so it has all the the best features from the Daytona's throughout the years, through the all six of them.

Tell me a little bit about what's under the hood here and what makes this car so fast. Yeah, so it's the, one of the amazing things about it is that it's running a 289 from Ford and people called it a passenger car motor and so the significant amount of speed that it gets is from the aerodynamics of it because what they found out from you know the aerodynamics is not only that it could go faster but it was incredibly more fuel efficient and so this was designed to to beat the Ferrari 250 GTO which is one of the most famous racing cars of all time. And it did beat it, and it did it with a passenger car motor. It just really shows what you can do with aerodynamics and when you, when you're really focusing on the other aspects of the car not just trying to throw the biggest motor in that you can. And so they were able to save a lot of time and that's where a lot of the speed comes from. Not only the aerodynamics but but its fuel efficiency because of the aerodynamics as well.

So you mentioned this car has a 289 in it, and that's the engine that I have in my '67 Mustang. What would they have done to this car to make it so powerful that it could go up against the likes of Ferrari? Yeah, so basically managing fuel flow is...fuel and airflow is the biggest thing when it comes to any engine. So they've got four carburetors, each one has two stacks on it so you've got one velocity stack per cylinder. You've got upgraded headers on here, there's a bigger cam you know, throwing itself in there. So you know this car can is just under a 200 mile an hour car. That was world class I guess? Yeah, it was, it was unheard of that time. Incredibly fast car and the aerodynamics of it made it handle so well as well. That was one of the the biggest problems they came into with the GT40 was that it handled terribly at 200 miles an hour. This thing felt solid they they loved driving it because it just it felt really, really good. It was so tuned.

When you drive in this car it's just, it's such an authentic race car experience. You really feel like how they felt in '64 and '65. You hear every sound from the engine, every backfire just you know blows your eardrum out. Like it is just it's so raw and it's so intense...

that you just, you feel like you're a part of that history and that's really what's so exciting about it.

67 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page