1963 Shelby Cobra 289

Regarded as one of the all-time great sports cars, the muscular, yet refined AC Cobra combined European chassis engineering and American V8 power in what was to be become a legendary alliance, brought about by Le Mans-winning racing driver Carroll Shelby, between AC Cars and the Ford Motor Company. The former’s Ace provided the simple twin-tube chassis frame – strengthened and supplied with four-wheel disc brakes for the Cobra – into which was persuaded one of Ford’s lightweight, small-block V8s.

The 260ci (4.2-litre) prototype first ran in January 1962, with production commencing later that year. Exclusively for the USA initially, Cobras – minus engines – were sent from England to be finished off by Shelby in California, and it was not until late in 1963 that AC Cars in Thames Ditton got around to building the first fully finished European-specification cars.

The Cobra was an instant success from the moment it hit the track, giving the might of Ferrari a run for its money. The Cobra went on to firmly secure it place in motor racing and sports car history and remains the weapon of choice for Historic GT racing to this day, with Cobras dominating events like the Goodwood Revival’s prestigious TT.

This car CSX 2255

CSX 2255 was billed to Shelby American on 29th of November 1963 and was shipped to Los Angeles on 17th of December aboard the “SS Loch Garth.” Delivered new in white with red interior, CSX 2255 was invoiced to Archie Cochrane Motors in Billings Montana on the 1st of April 1964 for $5,195.00. The full invoice read: “1 Cobra-Ford, chassis # CSX2255, white/red” ($5,195.00); with Class “A” accessories, less seat belts, WSW tires, and a luggage rack ($192); 5 chrome wheels ($105); an outside rear view mirror ($4.20); a radio and antenna ($45.50); and 5 quarts of antifreeze ($3.55), for a total of $5,545.25.” The car was trucked to Montana and first owner is not know at this stage.

From extensive correspondence between the current owner and former owner Richard Pryor we know how CSX 2255 made its way to Carmel California within the first few years of its life. CSX 2255 first known owner was well known Washington State racer and dealer Monte Shelton. He traded CSX 2255 to Randy and John Hilton of Carmel, California. Randy and his son John were part of the Hilton Hotel chain family and were very much into their motor racing. They sponsored well known US sportscar racer Chuck Parsons in USRRC and CAN-AM.

Based in California, Parsons had a distinguished career culminating in winning the 1969 Daytona 24 Hours with Mark Donohue in the Penske Lola T70 MK3 and driving the stunning Ferrari 312P to 8th overall at Le Mans in 1970 with Tony Adamowicz.

For 1965 Parsons had been driving a Genie for the Hilton’s. Presumably at the end of the season this was traded to Monte Shelton who had got CSX 2255 from a local doctor who had apparently scared himself in the car in the wet. Whether this doctor had bought the car directly from Archie Cochrane motors sadly we do not know at this time. This is how it came to be in John Hiltons garage in Carmel, only three years old.

It was from John Hilton that a young Richard Pryor purchased CSX 2255 in December 1966. A fellow Carmel resident, Richard recalls how he had to borrow the money from his parents until he could sell his MGB. He paid $3200 for CSX 2255 which at the time had a stripped 2nd gear and apparently around only 4000 miles on the clock.

Only 18 years old CSX 2255 was his only form of transport during his collage years and he writes about his ownership of the car passionately. As well as using it for his daily transport he competed CSX 2255 in autocross. Photos and film footage of which are in the history file. Keen to get more grip for Auto-crossing he wanted larger rear tyres. Having always admired the Borrani wire wheels on the Ferraris he contacted the factory and ordered a set of 7” wire wheels. Fitted with Goodyear tyres it was clear the rear arches were going to need to be widened to take them.

To do this he simply went to his local body shop in Salinas who set about widening the arches with a hammer and a block of wood! Simple but effective it slowly stretched the aluminium to the desired width. During his ownership he also painted the nose of the car blue as can be seen in the photos and film footage.

Having put some 30,000 miles on it in effectively two years and enjoying competing in the car, he advertised CSX 2255 in Competition Press & Autoweek in early 1969. Herbert Pell responded to the advert and in March 1969 he flew out from Rhode Island with his girlfriend to see the car. Son of Claiborne Pell, Senator for Rhode Island, he was apparently in his early 20s. Having purchased the car for $5,800, Pell and his girlfriend set off to drive CSX 2255 back to Rhode Island.

According to Pryor, this was the middle of a rainy winter and the Cobra leaked, had no working heater, noisy headers and side pipes. Pell and his girlfriend got as far as Phoenix Arizona before consigning it to a local dealer and flying home.

Upon hearing this, Richard Pryor told local long time friend Bill Loesel (who later changed his name to Skip Hagan after his childhood nickname and fathers name). Skip had always wanted a 289 Cobra so he flew out to Phoenix and bought the car for around $4,200 and drove it home.

Skip kept CSX 2255 for nearly a decade. During that time he spent several years as a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Later he flew helicopters on the Alaska pipeline construction project. In the spring of 1977 he advertised CSX 2255 for sale. The advert read: “Cobra – CSX2255, excellent competitive interior, body, paint. For beauty & investment the car sells itself. Specials include Borrani wheels, heads, racing pan, transmission, cam. $18,200.” In the photograph that accompanied the car it can be seen that he had had CSX 2255 painted a charcoal colour with silver nose.

According to Richard Pryor, Skip eventually sold CSX 2255 to a friend at the local Ferrari/Fiat dealership in Monterey. According to him the next owner was a local stock broker who lost the car to the IRS in an asset forfeiture. According to Richard’s correspondence, CSX 2255 was then bought by a New York buyer before heading down to Florida where, according to the Shelby Register, it was purchased by Robert Cohen who painted it yellow. The interior was black at this point and the car remained yellow and black for many years.

Acquired by a Florida dealer in 2012 it was offered for sale for $650,000 before passing through David Lerian of Los Angeles and being offered for sale by him in late 2013, when it was purchased by the current owner.

In 2019 he commissioned Richard Walbyoff and his team at RW Racing to bring CSX 2255 back to its original livery. Richard in turn entrusted Lawrence Kett of G&A Fabrications, a reputed Cobra panel beater and a former employee of AC Cars, with stripping the car back to bare metal, straighten the wings back to their original shape and painting it back in its original colour of white. Photos of the work can be found in the history file.

Bar the repaint and trim, CSX 2255 has remained remarkably original. Benefitting from never having been converted into a full race car, it still retains its original body with numbered bonnet and boot latch tags, and its drive train.

According to the owner the engine is believed to be the original block, which is not numbered nor was it ever so. When he spoke to Cobra Registrar Ned Scudder about this prior to purchase, he said that a similar issue had occurred with CSXs with serial numbers close to 2255’s and he believed it related to a batch of engines supplied to Shelby America un numbered and where they were supposed to have stamped the engines before the cars went out (but apparently they had not always done so).

As you can see for yourself, CSX 2255 has a wonderful presence to it. It is getting harder and harder to find a nice unmolested, standard road going 289 Cobra these days, and this car is just that. Painted in a stunning shade of white, as it was originaly, the car looks just right.

As exciting as race prepared Cobras are, if you are lucky enough to get to drive a proper road going Cobra, in the correct specification it started life, you can see clearly why they turned the world on its head when they first left the Shelby workshops and why they couldn’t build them quick enough to keep up with demand.