1963 AC Shelby Cobra 289 MkI
Chassis no. CSX2125
This, literally, is a signature edition 289 Cobra: Carroll Shelby autographed it for his friend, long-time owner Ned Stone Tanen. Tanen, a studio executive and producer for Universal Pictures (American Graffiti, Jaws) and Paramount (Fatal Attraction and Top Gun) before going independent, had a growing car collection, in which the Cobra was a particular favorite.
The Shelby Cobra story is quite well known, although different people tell it differently. A.C. Cars, Ltd., was a boutique British automaker whose heritage descended from 1908. Originally makers of small delivery vehicles (the intials came from Auto Carrier), the company got into sports cars in the 1920s. After World War II, there was a sports hiatus while the company built some invalid cars, but in 1954 the Ace debuted, a new tube-frame car with all-independent suspension by John Tojeiro. From 1956, A.C.'s own engines were supplemented with outsourced units from Bristol and Ford of England.
Carroll Shelby, meanwhile, a chicken farmer turned racing driver, approached A.C. about putting American V8s into the Ace chassis. Shelby had initially been interested in Chevy's small block engine, but General Motors turned him down, no doubt because of concerns over competition for the Corvette. A.C.'s Charles Hurlock expressed interest in the proposition, and shortly thereafter, in October 1961, Shelby learned of Ford's new small block, slated for introduction in the 1962 intermediate Fairlane model. Ford was more than eager to do business for the exact reasons that Chevrolet declined.
An example of the new engine was sent to England, where A.C. found it an easy fit, in part because of their experience with the British Ford six. This prototype chassis, number CSX0001, was then shipped to the United States, sans engine. The first 75 Cobras, a name that reportedly came to Shelby in a dream, were built with 260 cubic inch high-performance Ford engines. The Ace's differential had been uprated to a stronger Salisbury unit, as used in E-Type Jaguars, and the steering box, a worm-and-sector design, was moved outward to clear the engine. Disc brakes were used all around.
Production ramped up slowly during 1962, and in October the first competition Cobra contested the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix. It retired with a broken hub, but not until showing the Corvettes that it would be a force to be reckoned with. Toward the end of the year, A.C.'s chief engineer, Alan Turner, redesigned the front end to take rack-and-pinion steering. The new chassis became effective early in 1963 with car CSX2126.
Over the years, Carroll Shelby has signed many Cobras, many of them in gratitude for a contribution to the Carroll Shelby Foundation a charity that helps sick children and supports coronary and organ transplant research. This car, however, was autographed out of camaraderie, pure and simple, for Ned Tanen and Carroll Shelby were very close and longtime friends.
The car was already noteworthy. Its chassis number appears in many parts lists, for it was the last to be built with worm-and-sector steering, before the early-1963 change to rack-and-pinion. This makes it also the last so-called Mark I Cobra, for the new front end signified a change to "Mark II."
CSX2125, a Bright Blue car with black interior, was invoiced to Shelby American on May 20, 1963. Shipped to Los Angeles aboard SS Dongedyk of the Holland-America line, it was consigned in July to Ray Geddes of Ford Motor Company in Dearborn. The invoice, however, was later voided and another was issued to U.S. Molded Fiberglass of Detroit, a manufacturer of automotive products. U.S. Molded's role in the car's history is uncertain, for Shelby American's records show Stan Aldridge as the first owner.
The car did not break cover again until 1979, when it was advertised by California owner Timothy Robinson. By that time carrying a "special red exterior" and "black leather interior," it was purchased by Bob Mangiona of Southwest Leasing Company. Ned Tanen bought it at auction in 1985.
Ned Tanen was truly a driving force in the entertainment industry. Not only was he behind a long string of blockbuster films, he made driving to the studio a fine art. As his favorite car, the Cobra was the most frequent occupant of Ned's reserved space on the Paramount lot. The car, and Ned's close friendship with Shelby, attracted other Tinseltown troupers, like Tom Cruise, into car collecting.
After Tanen's passing on January 5, 2009, the car was sold privately, along with a small number of other cars, to another collector. It is being offered in this sale only because it does not mesh well with that collector's specific interests, and it was felt that publicly offering it to the Cobra community and the collector world at large would be its best and highest disposition.
A more significantly original Cobra would be hard to find. Tanen had it cosmetically detailed, with new red paint, in 1999. More recently, in 2008, it received a sympathetic mechanical restoration, including some engine work and a new clutch. Otherwise, seats, carpets, and the Shelby signature, are all original, though they appear as new.
It comes with a fairly complete set of service records, the appropriate tool kit but no owner's manual. The odometer shows just over 30,000 miles, known to be correct, and the car is sold on Certificate of Title.
All Shelby Cobras are special, but some are more special than others. This one, without much exaggeration, could be called one of the most special of all.