1963-1964 LeMans Cobras

CSX-2131 - Right-hand drive British car successfully competed at LeMans

by Society Staff
reprint with permission only

Shelby American decided to take a pass on the World Manufacturer's Championship until the FIA circus ventured Stateside once again for the Bridgehampton 500km race on September 14, 1963. However, this exile did not stop Carroll and his staff from helping England's AC Cars and privateer Ed Hugus with their entries for the 1963 Le Mans 24-hours. The right-hand drive British car (CSX 2131) like its left-hand drive American counterpart (CSX 2142) incorporated a number of lessons learned from the Shelby Factory "Sebring" Cobras.

Thus, CSX 2131's specification included a 37-gallon fuel tank, 'FIA' hood scoop, flared wheel arches, a full-width roll bar, front fender side vents and rack and pinion steering that would appear on later cars. Finished in light metallic green with black leather upholstery, CSX 2131 - or English registration "39 PH" (as it would soon be nicknamed in Europe) was powered by a Shelby American supplied, 289 cu. in. special racing engine mated to a four-speed Borg-Warner T-10 gearbox.

And to increase the car's top speed for the three-mile plus Mulsanne Straight, both of the Competition Roadsters gained a somewhat crude but effective long-tailed hardtop (complete with roof-mounted fuel filler cap) and a taller 3.07:1 final drive ratio.

At Le Mans, the car started 21st in the field, Peter Bolton and Ninian Sanderson piloted CSX 2131 to a strong seventh overall, the highest placing ever achieved by a Cobra Competition Roadster at Le Mans (as opposed to a Daytona Coupe). The Car covered 310 laps of the 8.364 mile course (2592.84 miles) at an average speed of 108 mph to win the over 3 Liter category and come fourth in the FIA's GT Division III.

As the London Sunday Times auto correspondent Maxwell Boyd would say some years later: "It was an auspicious debut for the Cobra, seen not least by two inconspicuous development engineers from US Ford, who spent the whole race in our pit, quietly noting every detail. Afterwards they flew back to Detroit taking with them the car's (CSX 2142's) engine for a minute post-mortem examination and a great deal of Le Mans enthusiasm".

It would be interesting to really know how much bearing 39 PH's Le Mans performance had on the Blue Oval's decision to help bankroll Shelby American's 1964 FIA campaign.

The Motor Magazine, reported that: "AC Cars Ltd, anticipating the possibility of using the car on circuits in this country (England) changed the axle ratio from the Le Mans 3.07:1 to 3.77:1 before bringing it to MIRA, but otherwise it was in exactly the condition in which it had crossed the line at 4:00 PM just eleven days before".

AC representatives who accompanied the car said the oil hadn't even been changed and the front tires were the one it started the race with. "They looked about three parts worn, but the back tyres were very nearly gone". They were much more "gone" by the end of the session.

Motor found that by "using 6,500 rpm on the Rotunda tachometer, 40 mph was achieved in just about 3 seconds; 60 in under 5; 80 in 8.1 and 100 in just 12 seconds. A then a further 6 seconds were needed to get to 120 before the straight ended. The time for the quarter-mile was 11 seconds with a terminal speed of nearly 107 mph, while still in third gear". AC said they were "disappointed" with these amazing figures; claiming a lack of engine tune and resultant "flat spot around 3,500rpm" slowed the car.


You may have to be a logged in member of the
Auto History Preservation Society Library

to view these stories. Click HERE to log in. OR Click HERE to join.