The secret Shelby Coupes that never raced, part 2

Photograph Courtesy BRE

Read Part 1 here.

Carroll Shelby’s incredible success with just two of his GT Class Daytona Cobra Coupes against the full might of Enzo Ferrari’s 250 GTOs in 1964 had proved to the world–and to most of top management in Dearborn–that the Texan’s tiny California-based team had the guts, intellect and experience to go against Enzo’s Prototypes for the overall wins in 1965. As mentioned in Part 1, Ford’s own plans with its still underdeveloped Mk I GT40s hadn’t gone as well as expected, so Shelby’s wins with the Daytonas had filled in nicely, encouraging Henry Ford II to continue with his plans for an even more powerful 427-powered Mk II version of the GT40 for 1965. There was just one problem: The ’65 season’s racing program had been verbally promised to both Holman-Moody and to Shelby!

If the contract for developing and racing the exotic Mk II Ford-designed and -built racers somehow wasn’t going to be awarded to Shelby for the ’65 season, as had been indicated by Ford’s Ray Geddes, the cagey Texan still wanted to be ready to go it alone against Ferrari and Ford with our own 427-powered Ferrari killer. Based on the ’64 season’s record with the Daytona Cobra Coupes, there wasn’t much doubt that our newest Type 65 coupe would be fast and reliable. Ford management was certain that their latest Mk II coupes would be faster, but just to be sure, they selfishly didn’t want any additional, internally supported competition from another Shelby-built Prototype. Millions of dollars had been lavished on their GT40 program, and those responsible for its success certainly didn’t want the embarrassment of having another $1.98 special from Shelby screwing up their plans. What to do? There was no way they could legitimately rescind the previously promised GT40 project from Holman-Moody without creating more political problems, so nothing was decided as the ’65 season moved ever closer.

With the complete redesign of the 289 Cobra roadster’s rather antiquated chassis in late 1964 by Ford’s suspension wizard Bob Negstad, Shelby had again asked me to pen a new aero-cheating coupe body for this latest, but slightly larger, more powerful Mk II Cobra roadster chassis. With power from Ford’s ground-shaking 427 side-oiler, the expected combination was truly seductive.

Since the Texan’s latest Mk II roadster had not yet been produced in sufficient quantities to qualify as a true “production” GT car (at that time 100 examples had to be built prior to FIA acceptance), our latest one-off coupe would be required to compete in the Prototype category for the overall win, not only against Ferrari’s P4s, but also against Ford’s new 427-powered Mk II GT40s, creating the ever-increasing moral and political dilemma within Ford, since the program had now been verbally promised to two different teams. 

With more time to carefully refine the Daytona’s now well-proven aero concept, I lofted a new set of lines to go over the more sophisticated Cobra 427 chassis. Interestingly, Negstad, then second in command at Ford’s suspension engineering office under director Klaus Arning, had also been responsible for redesigning the Mk II Ford GT40’s suspension. 

Classic Motorsports’s Peter Brock knows the Cobra Daytona Coupe story well: He designed the thing. Photograph Courtesy BRE

The First Sign of Trouble

Negstad’s suspension geometry was one of the industry’s first to be laid out completely on a computer screen, a radical departure from the way things had been done in the past. Negstad had planned on using a 93-inch wheelbase for the Mk II Cobra, but was astonished when he arrived in England with his drawings to find that AC’s purchasing department had assumed that the Mk I’s 90-inch Cobra wheelbase dimension would be retained. They had already ordered and received hundreds of feet of 4-inch-diameter chassis tubes already cut to that dimension! 

Negstad was livid, but there was little he could do. He had to hurriedly redesign his rear suspension with shorter lower links. This compromise skewed the toe curves on his perfect design, and he was never happy with it. 

By that time, my assistant, Skeet Kerr, and I had already come up with a fully finished clay model for the new Cobra coupe. Shelby designated it as the Type 65 for the coming 1965 racing season. Complete three-view drawings in quarter scale were made, with plans to have one of the first Negstad chassis flown directly from AC’s factory in the U.K. to Rome, Italy. It would then be trucked up to Modena, where my friends, the artisans at Carrozzeria Gransport, would complete the body and inner panel work, just as they had done the previous year on five of the six Daytonas.

Competing for a Contract

Ray Geddes, in charge of Ford’s finances at Shelby–and, to a certain extent, the funds spent in the U.K. on the GT40 project–assigned his assistant, Peyton Cramer, the job of taking my Type 65 drawings and model photos to Italy. There, the Italian artisans could start building the body buck in preparation for the arrival of the Cobra Mk II chassis. On his way to Italy, Cramer was also assigned the task of locating a new supplier for the interiors of the “production” GT40s that were still being built in the U.K. at Ford Advanced Vehicles.

Harold Radford Limited,   “Coachbuilders to the Queen,” was located in the dingy Hammersmith area of London. For decades, they had been doing special limousine and shooting brakes—known as station wagons in the U.S.—on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis for Britain’s wealthier clientele. They also made sumptuous interiors for everything they’d ever built. This expertise was the main reason they were awarded Ford’s contract to fit the interiors to the GT40s. 

There was only one problem: cost. Over time, the expense to Ford had escalated to such an unreasonable altitude that it was Cramer’s unpalatable job to find a new supplier. When he arrived at Radford’s and explained that he was there to rescind the contract, the English manager’s face paled. 

They’d been living high on the Ford deal, and the loss, he explained, “would devastate” the company. Wasn’t there some “equitable compromise,” some other project they might undertake to rectify the situation? Perhaps a line of special bodies on Lincolns at low cost to offset the wrong? Cramer, being an accountant, knew little about racing and even less about building automotive bodies, but he was extremely impressed with the quality of the massive coachwork being done.

Note Brock’s unique “Daytona Window” in the roof. At 200 mph on the high banks of Daytona, drivers need to look upward to see far enough ahead. Photograph Courtesy BRE

A Fateful Decision

At this point in the story, the truth about what actually happened to the Type 65’s body becomes rather murky. Today, Cramer is long gone, and anyone else who might know for sure has also departed or won’t reveal the details of what happened. What is known for sure is that Radford had never built a race car body and was totally unfamiliar with the materials and construction techniques required to complete one. Cramer evidently showed the plans for the Type 65 to Radford’s management, and they immediately offered to build the body “at zero cost” if the precious contract for the Ford GT40 interiors stayed in Hammersmith. 

Cramer had already checked on what it would cost to airfreight the latest Cobra Mk II chassis to Rome. Putting those numbers together with the estimated cost of building the new coupe’s body in Modena, he figured he’d be saving thousands of dollars for Ford. 

Perhaps... or perhaps someone at Ford realized that the easiest way to subvert the threat of Shelby’s Le Mans coupe to Ford’s new racer was simply to “lose it” bureaucratically in England for several months–or at least until the decision on the GT40’s development/racing contract had been decided, either in favor of Shelby or Holman-Moody. Done! 

The Type 65’s plans were given to Harold Radford Limited on the promise that they would complete the job well before Le Mans Test Day the following May. The engine and running gear would have to be installed and tested well before that date. Cramer smugly left Radford, quietly believing he’d saved Ford even more money because he didn’t have to go to Italy. 

There’s a Problem Here

Months went by. Geddes and Cramer carefully deflected questions about the progress of the Type 65 in California, assuring anyone who asked–mainly me–that “all is in good hands in England and there is no need to worry.” After all, Harold Radford Limited are “Coachbuilders to the Queen!” 

Some time later, Shelby’s chief engineer, Phil Remington had to visit Ford Advanced Vehicles in Slough to check on some special components. It now appeared almost certain that the GT40 Mk II contract was going to be awarded to Shelby–nothing absolutely certain from Ford yet, but a positive “maybe.” So it was still important to Shelby that the Type 65 be ready just in case Ford’s promise didn’t hold.

Shelby asked Remington to stop by Harold Radford Limited unannounced to check on the progress of the Type 65. Remington’s phone call back to Shelby was our first notice that something wasn’t right: “There’s a problem here. I think you should get Pete over here to check it out.” It was the understatement of the year.

Shelby and I were on a plane to England in a couple of days. When we got to Radford, we could tell there was some hesitancy to show us the project, but they couldn’t very well refuse. We were first shown the wooden buck that had been made to form the panels. It was constructed of solid oak and was beautifully done. The shape looked great. It was, of course, the first time I’d seen the car’s form in full size, and I have to say I was impressed. The level of workmanship on the buck was excellent. It was far overbuilt for the purpose, but it was probably the way steel panels were formed for special coachwork on
Rolls-Royce limos. 

Next, we were led down into a cellar workshop that was barely large enough to hold the car. It was quite dark; a single lightbulb was dangling from the ceiling, and no one was working on the chassis. It was covered in dust. The unswept floor was uneven, broken concrete and dirt–no way that anyone could determine a level surface from which to take measurements. The indistinct shape of the partially completed alloy form looked terrible, but in the confined space there wasn’t any way to stand back far enough to see it clearly. 

It didn’t begin to resemble what I’d seen upstairs, so I wasn’t certain what exactly was wrong. Having seen the quality above, I felt that somehow I’d made a major error. As my eyes became accustomed to the low light, I could see my quarter-scale, four-view drawing taped to the wall. I asked if there was a tape measure available, assuming that anyone working on the project would have one at hand. There was an embarrassed silence, then a weak apology. Someone was sent to find one. 

After a few minutes walking around the partially built car, I could see that no one who knew anything about racing car construction had ever worked on the project. A massive steel floor pan had been welded to the bottom of the main chassis tubes. It was almost a quarter-inch thick! 

When the tape arrived, I picked a dimension off my drawing that could be easily verified. I laid the tape across the inside of the chassis, from the outside edge of the doorsill to the same point on the opposite side. The number was so far off that I again went back to the drawing to double-check the dimension, asking Shelby to note the number also. I again placed the tape across the inside of the cockpit, pointing out the number to Shelby. It was 8 inches too wide! Not an eighth of an inch, which might have been accepted, but 8 inches. There was no point in going any further. We’d seen what Remington had called us about. 

The Harold Radford Limited “manager” who’d led us down to see the car claimed that he had never seen the project, but had certainly confirmed the numbers as I’d measured the chassis. He was obviously very uncomfortable and asked, as we walked back up the stairs, that he be given a moment to bring someone higher up to meet with us. 

Compared to the Daytonas, the twin fuel fillers were moved to the rear for ease of service on track and in the pits. Photograph Courtesy BRE.

Damage Control

It wasn’t my position to tell them that the project would be canceled and removed immediately. Shelby wasn’t familiar enough with the construction techniques of racing cars to discuss the matter, and neither of us was connected with Ford–unlike Cramer when he visited weeks earlier and awarded the job to Radford. Our only interest was the Type 65. But when one of Radford’s top executives entered the room, we could tell that he knew exactly what had been going on and fully expected his vital Ford interiors contract to be canceled.  

Radford’s man made some lame excuse that justified the company’s deceptive actions, saying that someone “knowledgeable of the project should have been placed in charge, as their workman didn’t have the proper guidance to proceed,” but now that we were here, all could be rectified. All this nonsense was delivered in unctuous tones denoting that we colonials were somehow being addressed by someone of a higher status. 

I whispered to Shelby that the chassis downstairs was essentially ruined and that we’d have to start over with a new frame from AC Cars. I also noted that one could be airfreighted to Italy overnight and that there was still sufficient time for Carrozzeria Gransport to complete the body for Le Mans. The Radford exec kept apologizing profusely for his personal “lack of oversight” and failure to notify us of the problems they were having, explaining they would immediately hire a new crew to right the project if I could stay and personally direct its reconstruction. 

I wanted to leave as quickly as possible, take a shower, call AC Cars to check on availability of a new chassis, and head directly down to sunny Italy and the congeniality, expertise and artistic ethic of the wonderful Modenese artisans.

With the exception of the impressive oak buck, Harold Radford Limited hadn’t spent a dime on the project and had managed to make thousands of dollars on the retained Ford interiors contract. They’d wasted precious weeks and cost us thousands in travel. I was really angry that Cramer had been so disingenuous as to say that the project was in good hands. Perhaps that had been his purpose all along and he was just doing Ford’s directives, but that still didn’t make it right. There was zero concern for the project or what Ford’s indirect actions might do to Shelby’s plans for the ’65 season or our reputations. 

The bitter truth was that Ford had no interest in seeing any competition for their GT40s or in spending any money to continue the project–even as backup “insurance” by Shelby in case the new Ford-built Mk II GT40s didn’t perform as expected. Ford viewed the Type 65 as a lose-lose proposition. It was essentially a Shelby project–just like in the year previous, when the Texan had gambled and somehow scrounged the money to build our first Daytona Coupe. He’d done the same with the Type 65, but now it wasn’t quite the same situation, with Geddes quietly inferring that Ford’s contract to run the Ford program in ’65 was almost certainly ours. 

The Type 65 was still at Harold Radford Limited, and there was more bad news. That night, in our London hotel, Shelby explained to me that he had no extra funds to fly a new chassis to Italy or even to pay the Italians to build the new body. Once Cramer had told him Radford was paying for the Type 65, essentially at Ford’s expense, Shelby used that budget for some other project. A new chassis could have been shipped by sea, but there was a dock strike in England at the time. 

Radford again offered to complete the car, but they needed written assurances that their GT40 interiors contract would be safe. Even though he’d had enough assurances from Geddes that the GT40 contract was his, Shelby agreed to Radford’s proposal that they finish the body at no cost if I’d stay in London to oversee the project. 

Instead of returning home, I rented a room in a small hotel in Chelsea and made plans to help finish the Type 65. It would be no simple task. The first chassis was essentially scrap. It could have been refurbished, but the cost in time and money would have exceeded the value of a new frame from AC Cars. 

We were able to acquire a new chassis–serial No. CSB 3054–in several days, and used the downtime to improvise a larger working space in a nearby storage area. New lighting was installed, as well as a new door with some insulation to ward off the cold.  

Proper construction materials weren’t immediately available. Even the simplest materials, like various sizes of lightweight steel tubing or alloy sheet for the body, would have to be special-ordered and could take weeks to arrive. The only competent supplier was the company that made the windscreen. They took my drawings and had the glass completed far ahead of schedule. 

I wasn’t familiar with any of the English sub-suppliers who made parts for the small constructors–like Lotus, Elva or Lola–so I didn’t have any contacts to help me find some new talent to build the car. After a week or so at Radford and getting to know some of the workers, I learned that management had simply hired some general laborers off the street at minimum wage who claimed they “could build anything” and put them to work in the underground shop. 

No one upstairs had ever checked on the project, as it didn’t matter whether they were doing the job right or not. Their whole purpose was a ruse to buy time while they made interiors for GT40s. In time it had become obvious that those hired were incompetent. They just let them go and continued on with their interiors.

Radford placed ads in the London trade press for talent and was able to find a couple of fine conventional body craftsmen to build the second car. Unfortunately, they were completely unfamiliar with the essentials of race car construction that would have been common knowledge to the skilled artisans in Modena. 

I hadn’t drawn any of these details in my plans for the body. Experience had shown that even when I did draw in some details, the Italians always seemed to know faster, simpler fabrication solutions for things like door hinges, internal structure for the various body panels, and interior details like seat mountings or access to the instrument panel or fuel tanks. 

Without my drawing equipment or even a place to put a board, everything had to be hand-drawn and “engineered” so these items could be built. It was difficult and time-consuming, as nothing could be fabricated without a complete understanding of how all the components had to fit together. 

By the time the second body was partially completed, the long-expected contract from Ford was finally awarded to Shelby and the Type 65 project was cancelled. The partially completed shell was shipped back to California, where it was pushed in a corner and forgotten until Shelby’s racing shop was liquidated in 1969. Almost everything was auctioned off in the famous fire sale, including the basket-case Type 65.

Some enthusiasts in Northern California purchased the remains, but they eventually figured the project wasn’t worth restoring and sold the car to vintage enthusiasts Bob and Craig Sutherland. 

What Could Have Been

Craig, an experienced 289 Cobra roadster driver, planned to vintage-race the car. He contracted with Colorado race car resto expert Mike Dopudja to rebuild the car according to the original plans. 

One of the main problems facing the team was a lack of proper rubber. Goodyear had stopped making the proper-size racing tires, and nothing else of suitable OD was available except some obsolete rain tires. Those were mounted with plans to resolve the size problem at a later date, when the car was ready to run. 

Dopudja had acquired a set of extremely rare 58mm Weber downdraft carbs that he planned on fitting to an engine he’d built, this in spite of the fact that Ford had spent thousands determining that the best and simplest induction system for their 427-powered GT40 Mk IIs was a well-tuned four-barrel. 

I explained to Mike that only the four-barrel would work on the engine, as a low hood line was required aerodynamically. If he used the upright Webers, they’d protrude through the hood, and the velocity of the air over the stacks would suck out the fuel. Mike built the car with the Webers, certain that his induction system would outperform Ford’s. 

When the car was finally completed, it was well done. However, even with Mike’s fine work, the botched English coachwork couldn’t be aesthetically salvaged. It was, to say the least, a grotesque caricature of what could have been built in Italy. The Sutherlands didn’t care. They were enthralled with the car’s brutal appearance and proceeded with plans to race it. 

With no proper tires yet available, they decided to test the Type 65 on the existing rain tires. The first time Craig went down the long chute with the car over 140 mph, fuel was sucked out of the Weber stacks and completely covered the windscreen. In addition, the extra-soft rain tires had essentially melted on the dry track in the first couple of moderately paced laps, so the coupe was more than a handful with zero visibility. 

When he parked the car, Craig climbed out announcing he’d decided to sell the coupe. Brother Bob, more of a historian interested in vintage racers, nevertheless decided to continue with the project, if only for its historic value. 

In time, Bob and Dopudja contacted National A-Production Champion Dick Smith to see if his experience with his Mk II Cobra roadster chassis could be applied to the coupe. Smith fitted some roadster tires, even though the newer, lower-profile rubber looked rather strange in the coupe’s large wheel openings. 

With some proper suspension settings and a properly tuned four-barrel, Smith soon had the Type 65 equaling the lap times he’d previously set with his lighter, nimbler roadster. Later, Bob Bondurant and Smith tested the car together and agreed that if they had a long enough straight, the coupe could easily top 200 and would have been a Prototype contender in ’65.

The Prototype battle between Ford and Ferrari that began in ’65 continued to escalate, and Ford and Shelby prevailed. Ferrari finally had to admit defeat and quit Prototype racing after Ford’s GT40 Mk IIs won Le Mans three years running. Shelby’s “Super Coupes” never made it to the starting line, but the question remains: What might have occurred if the Monza and a properly built Le Mans coupe had been permitted to run?

The one Type 65 coupe built still exists and was shown a few years ago at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering. Note the coupe’s tail: The sharply truncated rear deck slants outward, extending the underside for a stronger diffuser effect. This, combined with the flatter roofline, negates the need for a drag-inducing rear spoiler. Photography Credit: Dirk de Jager.

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7/31/20 10:09 p.m.

Reading this is so much better than that movie. It's a striking car, but it really does make you wonder what it would have looked like if completed in Modena to Brock's specifications. 

russellsifers New Reader
4/30/21 2:29 p.m.

I remember seeing (and photographing) Craig Sutherland's car racing in the 1984-4 Folly Grand Prix here in KC.  I think Bondurant drove it.  I remember when my cousin in law Craig fired it up to let me hear it up close, the earth shook.  That explained to me why Craig did not drive it.  Russ Sifers

shadetree30 HalfDork
9/11/22 2:14 p.m.

Not to quibble but wasn't the Ferrari that ran in '65 the 330 P2 ?

sfisher71 New Reader
9/13/22 7:10 p.m.

In reply to shadetree30 :

No -- the winning Ferrari in 1965 was the 250LM driven by Masten Gregory, Jochen Rindt, and Ed Hugus. It was on display at Monterey Car Week 2022, and I took about a squillion photos of it, including a close-up of the patina on the nose for the cover of the magazine I edit. This side view shows the shape -- not as sensual as the 330, but remember, this was when Enzo was trying to convince the FIA that the 250LM was just a rebody of the 250 GTO. (Pay no attention to the engine under the rear cover...)

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