The Story of a Monster Car - by Charles Stünzi

The Shelby Cobra 427 Competition in Switzerland

Preface

I have been an AC and Shelby Cobra aficionado for 56 years, in other words since 1964, when I was a 16-year-old lad. Not knowing about the beginning of the Cobra project, when the former racing driver Carroll Shelby (1923–2012), with the aim to beat Ferrari in the GT World Championship, put a 260 CID V8 Ford engine into the English AC sports car in 1962, I missed the first two years, i. e. also the first Cobra race win in 1963 (a double victory by Dave MacDonald and Ken Miles at Riverside). When one year later the Shelby American team began to win races in the GT World Championship with their Cobra 289 Roadsters and the Daytona Coupes beating the legendary Ferrari GTO’s, I eagerly followed these events, not on TV (those races were not broadcast in Europe at the time) nor on the Internet (there was none), but in the press, i. e. in the weekly Swiss motoring newspaper «Automobil Revue». I also followed one of those races in 1964 as a spectator, namely the hill climb from Sierre to Montana, some 30 miles from where I lived. The Shelby American team participated with three 289 Roadsters driven by the works drivers Bob Bondurant (USA), Jo Schlesser (France) and Jochen Neerpasch (Germany). The outstanding job those drivers did in a car that was not really suited for hill climbs amazed everyone. They finished 5th, 8th and 11th in the overall ranking, winning the first three places in their category and thus collecting valuable points in the GT World Championship of that year.

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Bob Bondurant at the hil climb of Sierre - Montana (1964)

To my disappointment, however, the Cobras finally lost the battle against Ferrari by a small margin, due to a trick of Enzo Ferrari (1898–1988), who cancelled the participation of his GTO’s in the last race so that there were not enough cars left in the GT category for the race to count for the championship. But one year later in 1965, Shelby won the GT World Championship by a large margin. The only unsuccessful race that year was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where beside the four factory-entered Daytona Coupes, the legendary Swiss racing team Scuderia Filipinetti entered – of course in their classic red with a white stripe livery – a fifth Daytona Coupe driven by Peter Sutclifie and Peter Harper.

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The Cobra Daytona Coupe of the Scuderia Filipinetti at le Mans

Georges Filipinetti (1907–1973) also bought one of only 23 race versions of the new, bigger seven-litre roadster, the so-called Cobra 427 Competition with the chassis number CSX3013. However, the car was not homologated by the FIA and therefore only took part in some minor events. To my knowledge there were three drivers participating in three three hill climbs, the famous Swiss Herbert Müller (1940–1981) at St. Ursanne–Les Rangiers and at the Col du Marchairuz, his compatriot Pete Ettmüller (1934–2015) at Ollon–Villars, and in two circuit races, Herbert Müller at Monza in an event counting for the Swiss Championship – it was the only win of the Filipinetti Cobra – and Jo Schlesser (1928–1968) at the GP Angola.

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Herbert Müler at the hil climb of St. Ursanne - Les Rangiers

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Herbert Müler at Monza

The CSX3004 Car and the Tragic Accident

Francisco «Paco» Godia (1921–1990), descendant of a rich Spanish family, businessman, art collector and racing driver, bought the first 427 Competition (chassis number CSX3004) sold to a private driver (and one of only four with dry sump lubrication) in 1965, but due to the above-mentioned missing homologation, only drove it in a couple of local races, winning the Trofeo Juan Jover at Montjuic near Barcelona in 1965.

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Paco Godia at Montjuic

Later the car was owned by the Swiss gynecologist and gentleman driver Gwer Reichen (1921–2012). Whether Dr. Reichen bought the car direct from Godia or whether there was another owner in between I do not know.

On June 14 and 15, 1969 there was to be the first hill climb from Naters (a village in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, about 10 kilometres from Visp, where I grew up) to Blatten, about 10 kilometres uphill. I, then 21 years old, attended one of the trial runs on Saturday. The penultimate car was Gwer Reichen’s maroon-coloured Big Block Cobra with the race number 162. I was standing where I could look down on the winding part of the road where the accident happened the following day. The growling and hammering noise of the huge Cobra engine could be heard well in advance before the monster car suddenly appeared and made its way roaring along the passage I could see. Each time the driver accelerated, the rear part of the vehicle wildly skidded to either one or the other side of the road. It was dramatic and frightening and my only thought was: «If only this goes well!» The next day, during the race itself, the driver of the Cobra lost control over it in exactly the same passage and the car was flung into a group of spectators standing below the street. Six of them were killed, seventeen injured. The driver was able to get out of the car completely uninjured, but of course deeply shocked.

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The CSX3004 car afer the accident at the hil climb of Naters - Blatten

For understandable reasons, the first hill climb there was to be the last. Later I learned that the group of people standing below the road were told by the officials to go away from there, but they refused to do so. The organizers should then have stopped the race until those people would have left, but they let the race continue. Consequently the three organizers were put on trial and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The driver was acquitted because he had not broken the law in any way. Accidents like that are part of the risk in a car race and don’t usually cause much damage. If there is one golden rule for spectators at a hill climb to follow it is that you must never be below the road, but always at some distance above it. Whether a wild car like the Cobra 427 Competition with a power to weight ratio of only 2 (1000 kilos, 500 horsepower) and a rustic chassis that made it very di?cult to drive, whether such a car in the hands of a 48-year-old gentleman driver was the right entry to be admitted to a tricky hill climb, is another question. I would say no. That car was a dangerous vehicle that was basically not suited to narrow mountain roads, unless it was driven by a experienced professional racing driver like the above-mentioned Herbert Müller.

The Story of the CSX3004 Continued

After that accident Dr. Reichen had the car repaired in England and also repainted a different colour there, Guardsman Blue with a wide yellow stripe right across the fenders and the hood, as it could be seen on some of the 289 Roadsters of the Shelby American team. I was told this by Rolf Saxer, a sports car dealer at Villmergen in the Canton of Aargau. I knew that Saxer owned the car and visited him in 1991 together with two friends. During many years Saxer had wanted to buy that car, but Reichen had refused to sell it and kept it for more than ten years before he finally gave in. Saxer showed me and my friends to a shed in which the Cobra CSX3004 was standing protected by a fabric cover.  Saxer told us that from time to time he let the engine run to keep it intact, but he didn’t drive it. Saxer had another Cobra 427 there, but that one was a street legal car (chassis number CSX3025). He took the three uf us alternately on a ride along the narrow country roads round Villmergen in that black monster car. For me it was a unique experience, not only because of the deafening noise emitted through the two sidepipes. I drove a pretty powerful car at the time, a modified Big Block C3 Corvette, but my car weighend almost twice as much as the Cobra, and that made a huge difference as far as real power was concerned. In the passenger seat of the Cobra I was violently thrown back and forth and from side to side in the racing belts when Saxer accelerated and braked and cut the curves at breathtaking speed. I felt happy and extremely relieved when I finally climbed out of the car safe and sound after that frightening ride «on a bullet».

In 1992 Saxer sold the number CSX3004 Cobra 427 Competition to somebody in the United States. The next owner was a James George from Wisconsin, who had the car thoroughly restored by Stauffer Classics (Wisconsin). In 1997 the car was sold to a woman in Florida. One year later it was badly flood damaged in a hurricane, then entirely disassembled and restored once more and repainted the original maroon colour at a cost of 84,000 dollars. The restoration took over two years. In 2002 the car was sold to another owner, who in 2004 had the side oiler iron cast motor freshened up at a cost of 7,500 dollars. A year later the same owner had an even more powerful 588 HP aluminium motor installed. The car, which is like new, plus the original side oiler engine was recently sold on by Fantasy Junction (brokers of special interest and collector cars in Emeryville, California).

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The CSX3004 car as advertised by Fantasy Junction

Charles Stünzi