One of the most iconic vehicles in motor racing and one of the most purposeful-looking shapes from the 1960s – if a Shelby Daytona Coupé was parked next to a Ferrari 250 GTO, the two could be twins. This is not surprising as original Shelby Daytona Coupés were built with the sole purpose of competing with the best Ferrari had to offer.
The history books are filled with the successes of Carroll Shelby and the glory he brought to the Ford Motor Company. Following the early racing achievements of the Shelby Cobras, the manufacturer realised a more aerodynamic racecar was needed to beat its Ferrari competition at Le Mans, especially down the long Mulsanne straight. In essence, a closed cockpit version of the Cobra was required. Shelby employee and designer Peter Brock stepped up to the plate. With the help of some radical (for the time) teachings on aerodynamics, he designed and built the coupé body by hand and the car debuted at the Daytona International Raceway, hence the name Cobra Daytona. The new bodywork aimed make the coupé better suited to endurance racing and to raise the top speed. This closed-roof design immediately increased the top speed by 40 km/h.
Raced in 1964 and 1965, these cars achieved great success including numerous GT class wins, fourth overall at the ’64 12 Hours of Sebring and, most notably, fourth overall at the ’64 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Built locally under licence by Jimmy Price and his team at Hi-Tech Automotive in Port Elizabeth, this 2004 Daytona Coupé replica has all the presence you would expect from the iconic 1960’s racer. “Replica” is a tricky word to bandy about in the automotive industry, if the dimensions are precise, the body is nearly identical to the original car, the interior is close to those that raced and under the bonnet is a brute of a 6,6-litre, V8 Roush engine. This car is a near-perfect representation of those original racing versions parked in the heritage centre at the Shelby Museum in the USA.
From the smooth lines to the squat rear haunches hugging massive 285-wide rear tyres, this makes for one imposing shape. The blunt rear end features a small wing and underneath that, the uncluttered rear broken up by only two exhaust outlets. There may not be a modern rear diffuser but you can envision how the air is channelled up from underneath the car at high speed courtesy of this unique aerodynamic shape.
Every start-up is accompanied by a deep, pure V8 burble from the exhausts. There are no programmed backfires or opening and closing of exhaust flaps like you get in modern cars. This is a straight-to-the-point V8 and all the better for it. Open the front clamshell and the entire engine and suspension are on display; it must be a cinch for technicians to work on. We relished walking around the car, taking in all the details as the exhaust mist filled the air on a chilly morning.
Although this Shelby is not as low as a GT40, it is still very close to the ground. Once you open the lightweight door, climbing in is fairly straightforward. The seats are contemporary and offer a good combination of support and comfort. A wide transmission tunnel is a reminder of the massive torque sent to those rear wheels. Once inside the vehicle with the door closed, you’re immediately aware of how far forward you sit, close to the windscreen and driver’s side A-pillar. The bonnet stretches out and features small mesh grilles and a massive air outlet which are cut into the hood to feed air over the radiators. In front of the windscreen, on either side, are two small air intakes.
The three-spoke steering wheel is an ideal size, particularly for a racecar. However, the gearlever to the left grabbed my attention. This angled unit protrudes high above the transmission tunnel and offers a five-speed H-pattern shift. Before I started the engine, I could hear the fuel pump singing… and then the engine caught. I engaged first gear with a firm push to the left and up. The clutch needs a meaningful push, too, but I didn’t expect anything less.
As I shifted up and down the ’box, getting familiar with it, I soon realised the engine is not happy at anything below 2 500 r/min. The drivetrain isn’t comfortable at those speeds but as soon as you pass this mark, the engine responds and makes light work of the vehicle’s 1 384 kg mass. It’s the same in high gear. The abundance of torque is evident the moment you squeeze the throttle pedal as the engine responds immediately. There are crude elements to the driving experience but this only elevates the car closer to replicating the original examples that were built.
Although I drove the Shelby on benign roads, the steering felt appropriately sensitive to inputs. There is no power assistance, which is a problem only during parking manoeuvres; for the rest of the time, it sends immersive feedback to the driver.
We view Mustangs, Corvettes and Camaros as “muscle cars” for several reasons. However, if there is a true muscle car for the road, the Shelby Daytona Coupé is a flawless representation. Driving it takes effort but it is immensely rewarding and as you thump along you catch yourself thinking about what these cars must have represented back in the 1960s. An incredibly beautiful racecar and a success on the world’s race circuits… a perfect combination, then.
A cool $7,25 million
In 2009, an original Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupé (number CSX2601) crossed the auction block. As expected, there was significant excitement as Carroll Shelby manufactured just six. Auction house Mecum in the USA sold the car and at the time, it set a record price for an American car. This very car was the 1965 Championship winning car in the World Manufacturers Championship for the GT Class, beating Ferrari. At one stage in its life, it belonged to a businessman in North Dakota who drove it regularly on the public road. After this custodian’s time with the car, it received a restoration. During the 2015 Goodwood Revival, all six original Daytona Coupés lined up on the starting grid, a clear and encouraging indicator these cars are in the hands of true enthusiasts.
Engine:6,6-litre, V8, petrol
Power:379 kW @ 5 500 r/min
Torque:678 N.m @ 5 000 r/min
0-100 km/h:3,9 seconds*
Top Speed:330 km/h*