The greatest achievements in modern history are often so cataclysmic, so utterly earth-shattering and downright revolutionary, that humanity is left wondering, what if? What if Thomas Edison failed in developing the electric lightbulb? What if Henry Ford’s business went under before mass production of the Model T? What if the Wright Brothers failed to take flight, however briefly, at Kitty Hawk? What might the consequences have been … what might the world have looked like? Would society, as we know it today, be an ever-changing, hyper-speed web of 24-hour international business and culture, seemingly developing at a rate unheard of, even a century ago? The realm of possibilities is endless, almost frightening.
Chaos theory refers to this as the “butterfly effect” – the notion that something remarkably small can have an extraordinarily large impact on the future. By that measure alone, then, Carroll Shelby, alongside Edison, Wright, and Ford, must be counted among the greatest innovators of the 20th century, for if it had not been for CSX 2000, American sports cars and racing would likely never have landed on the world stage, and the American auto industry would quite simply not be where it is today!
The creation of CSX 2000 is the stuff of pure entrepreneurialism and vision. In 1962, only 10 years had elapsed since Carroll Shelby first stepped into a race car. The Texan was raised in a family without a car, but on that first day, in that first race, as he emerged from the MG TC in victory lane, the crowd took notice … and soon the world did, too. Race after race, win after win, Shelby developed a gentleman’s hobby into a full-blown career, circumnavigating the globe and piloting the most exclusive machinery in the world. Behind the wheels of Ferraris, Aston Martins, Maseratis, and other illustrious marques, he quickly developed a reputation at famed races from Monza to Le Mans.
Amazingly, his career was a very brief but exceptionally successful flash in the pan; only seven years after stepping into a race car, he was the winner of the 1959 Le Mans 24-Hour race behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, and the following year, he abruptly ended his racing career due to health warnings. But this, after all, was the man who once raced with a shattered elbow by taping his cast to the steering wheel and who responded to his doctor’s warnings of heart problems by racing with a nitroglycerine tablet under his tongue! And this was the man who spent years studying European GT racing, from the inside out, developing a dream to build a car of his own and to compete successfully on the world’s greatest stage. He knew what it took to build a great car and, perhaps just as importantly, he knew the power of men like Enzo Ferrari, who he felt could bend FIA regulations with his might if any manufacturer came close to beating him.
As depicted in the book Shelby’s Wildlife, “Shelby’s American blood boiled at the thought that European manufacturers such as Ferrari had the power to close the door on the efforts of an American like Lance Reventlow, who had spent a fortunate on his Chevy and Buick-powered sports cars.” Other privateers, like Briggs Cunningham, were successful too, but dominance over the European marques still escaped an American, even with Chevrolet’s own Corvettes incapable of returning victorious. After racing Cadillac-powered Allards as well, Shelby also truly knew what the potent combination of an Anglo-American hybrid might offer on the racetrack.
CSX 2000, then, was the cornerstone on which Shelby built his success. At 37 years old and with little money to his name, within five years, Shelby built his company to employ over 500 people with a World Manufacturer’s Championship title to its credit. People like Ken Miles, Phil Remington, Al Dowd, and Pete Brock thereafter all became inextricably linked with the legend of the marque as drivers, managers, marketers, and visionaries.
Although he considered a variety of platforms, circumstances pushed him toward A.C. Cars of Britain and Ford Motor Company in particular. The A.C. Ace was an exciting sports car, but the Bristol motor that powered it was suddenly going out of production in 1961, and with that, the company faced a problem. In September of that year, Shelby wrote to Charles Hurlock at A.C. and proposed the concept. Not long thereafter, Ray Brock at Hot Rod magazine informed Shelby that Ford was developing a lightweight small-block V-8 of 221 cubic inches. With the help of engineer Dave Evans at Ford in Dearborn, Shelby test-fitted this motor in a borrowed A.C. Ace and eagerly contacted Hurlock to let him know he found a suitable motor.
From then on, things progressed quickly. The very first Cobra arrived in the United States, without a motor, in February 1962. This very first car, CSX 2000, was personally picked up at the Los Angeles airport by Carroll Shelby and his colleague Dean Moon before being brought back to Moon’s shop, where they installed the now-available and larger-displacement 260-cubic inch V-8 with a Ford gearbox in a matter of hours. And with that, CSX 2000 was complete, running, and driving.