The Cobra that should have been, in an effort to pay respect to one of the automotive world’s true legend’s we feature of the the rarest “Corvette’s” that ever existed. Of course every car enthusiast recognize’s the name Carroll Shelby. The iconic racer and car builder from Texas, whose sole purpose in the late fifties and sixties was to dethrone Enzo Ferrari as the King of racing.What most don’t realize is that the original plan was to do it with a Corvette.
Of course he did reach his goal, but to the dismay of Corvette fans, it wasn’t with a Corvette.After beating Ferrari at his own game, with his Shelby Coupe, he went on to achieve huge success with the AC Cobra and with Ford, with his Shelby Mustangs.
This project started with two partners, fellow racers Gary Laughlin and Jim Hall, who later went on to found Chaparral race cars. At a time when Ferrari seemed unbeatable, it was a huge expense to compete against them, with using Ferrari’s. A crank for a Ferrari was $1200.00 and a crank for a Corvette, Laughlin could get through his dealership for around $4.00.
In 1959 the Corvette, with its RPO-57D, the potent fuel injected 283 cubic inch small block, put out as much real horsepower as the exotic and complex Ferrari V-12. After all 300 HP is 300 HP. While it was true the Corvette weighted a lot more than the Ferrari, but changing over to a lightweight Italian body would do away with the weight difference.Laughlin contacts Sergio Scaglietti, Italian coach builder and Shelby contacts Zora Duntov. Duntov, as Corvettes chief engineer agrees to the plan. This feeding his desire to build Corvette race cars, at a time that Chevrolet was part of the racing ban that was instituted by the big three auto makers.
Three bare 1959 Corvette chassis’s and drivetrain’s arrive at Laughlin’s Chevrolet dealership and are soon shipped to Scaglietti’s shop in Italy.There they were to be outfitted with a special lightweight alloy body, designed by Scaglietti himself.Basically trying to replicate Ferrari’s lightweight construction and design, all with inexpensive Corvette power.One of the three has a four speed and the others with powerglides, each with the fuel injected power plant.
After almost two years at Scaglietti’s shop they were finally finished. After such a long wait, and the three racers starting other projects, some interest was lost.They did get exactly what they wanted, only with handling characteristics other than they thought.They had a light body with a 300 HP motor, but driving it was a different story. It was so light, that the rear end would just break loose from a standing start and was very difficult to drive, as you shifted through the gears.At 120-125 mph it was just plain frightening, almost floating and would only hit the pavement every 50 feet or so.When GM brass caught wind of the project they pulled the financing plug.
All three of the cars still exist today and have been beautifully restored. Two remain in the U.S. and the other in Europe. They each have overwhelming collector interest today.Only if things would have turned out different, maybe we would have Shelby Corvette’s instead of Mustangs.