Marc Christ
Brand Manager, Modified Mustangs & Fords
March 4, 2014
Photos By: Evan J. Smith, Auctions America

Diving the Great Barrier Reef, hiking the Appalachian Trail, visiting Maccu Picchu, climbing Mt. Everest, and driving an original AC Cobra are the top five things on my bucket list. Well, they were until last Friday, when I got to check one off. That’s right, I got behind the wheel (and drove) CSX2023, one of the very first AC “Shelby” Cobras. And just to add an extra thick layer of icing on the cake, I also drove a 1965 Mustang Shelby GT-350 and an original unrestored ’70 Boss 302.

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I certainly don’t want to take anything away from either the GT-350 or the Boss, but when you’re in the company of a real-deal Cobra (especially when you’re a Ford nut), everything else seems a little, well, less amazing. So who in the world gave little old me the keys to such an automobile? Well, that man would be named Donnie Gould. Donnie is the president of Auctions America, the auction company that will be selling the roadster, GT-350, Boss, and about 80 other Ford vehicles in a lineup of over 500 cars to be auctioned off at Auctions America Fort Lauderdale.

Donnie is a Ford guy himself, and isn’t afraid to make it known. “With seat time in as many Cobras as I have had the pleasure of driving, the early cars, such as this example CSX2023, are some of my favorite,” says Donnie. The estimated high bid is somewhere between $750,000-850,000—much more than my other four bucket list items will cost me combined.

And since I don’t have three quarters of a million dollars between my couch cushions, this may have been my only chance—ever—to drive one of these pieces of automotive history. Mr. Shelby is no longer with us, and the value of these originals will just keep going up. Along with a few of my colleagues, I drove to Auctions America’s corporate offices in Stuart, Florida, where the Cobra was being kept safe until the auction. So just what was it like to drive the twenty-third Shelby Cobra ever built, you ask? Well, it was simply the most pleasurable experience I’ve ever had behind the wheel of anything, ever.

A Piece of History

As I climbed into the bucket, I picked my feet up carefully as to not scuff the paint as I swung my feet inside. The door closed easily and precisely—more like a new car than a 51-year-old relic. The black-leather-wrapped seat was much more comfortable than I imagined, the steering wheel right where it should be, and the pedals close together like the Cruisin’ USA arcade game that sat in the lobby of my hometown’s Wal-Mart. Though instead of sitting in a hunk of pressboard, plastic, and paint pumping in quarters, I was behind the wheel of a real Shelby Cobra. This must be a dream.

As I depressed the clutch and turned the key, she came alive. The unmistakable rumble of a small-block Ford V-8 whirring to life consumed first my sense of sound, and then I could feel the rumble beneath my seat. I saw the tach jump to over 2,000 rpm, and then settle at just under 1,000. I could smell the combustion, and the sun was beaming on my face. This absolutely was a dream.

I reached for the shifter, which is engraved with each of the four forward gears and one reverse. As I familiarized myself with the pattern before setting off, I could tell this Cobra meant business. Sure, there was no wide-body kit, no Halibrands, sidepipes, hoodscoop, or even LeMans Stripes. Heck, it wasn’t even red. Or blue. Or black. Or even white. The Silver Moss paint reflected the South Florida sun into my eyes, but I could still see everything inside the cockpit clearly. This car was built to be driven—by Carroll Shelby, by me, and by you.

I tooled around the business park a little, familiarizing myself with the driving character of the Cobra as the wind moved aside for the Cobra and smacked me in the face. As my confidence built, I was rewarded with smooth, crisp acceleration, precise shifts, and the roar of the 289. The real-wood steering wheel filled my hands perfectly, and my feet touched each pedal with machine-like precision. The four-wheel disc brakes brought the spoke wheels and bias-ply tires to a quick and safe halt. No vehicle built in the ’60’s drives like this. Well, maybe a Ferrari or a Porsche. At any rate, I was impressed—and honored.