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First-ever Shelby 289 Cobra heads for Arizona auction block

WORDS: ELLIOTT HUGHES | PHOTOS: RM SOTHEBY’S

An icon of American performance – the first-ever Shelby 289 Cobra – is up for grabs in RM Sotheby’s 2024 Arizona sale on January 25, and it’s expected to cross the block for between $1.2m and $1.4m.

The Cobra story began in 1961, when Carroll Shelby contacted British marque AC Cars with the intention of installing a V8 engine into the firm’s Ace sports car. Happily, AC agreed. 

The earliest Cobras were fitted with Ford’s 260ci (4.3-litre) V8, which represented a significant performance increase over the Ace’s standard straight-six. The performance was nothing short of remarkable for the era: 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 155mph.

Serendipitously, CSX2044 became the first Cobra to be factory fitted with the 289ci V8 – and it still lurks under its bonnet to this day

Serendipitously, CSX2044 became the first Cobra to be factory fitted with the 289ci V8 – and it still lurks under its bonnet to this day

As if that wasn’t enough, performance was increased even further in 1963, thanks to the fitment of an even larger, 289ci (4.7-litre) Ford V8. The first Cobra fitted with the now legendary 289 powerplant was chassis CSX2044 – the very car being offered for sale in Arizona.

Following an exchange of letters, CSX2044 was delivered new to Stanford University computer scientist Dr Harrison ‘Hap’ Horn in March 1963 – just as Carroll’s eponymous marque was rising to prominence. Interestingly, Dr Horn would later work on Apple’s first Macintosh computer, alongside one Steve Jobs.

In his letters, Dr Horn requested Shelby send him “complete technical description and specifications, prices and availability of your AC-Ford car”. Two weeks later, Dr Horn received all the information he requested from Carroll Shelby himself. 

Dr Horn’s response was a pertinent one: “Are you still using the 260 engine, or has it been replaced with the cored and bored 289 item?” 

At this point, Shelby was still using the 260ciengine, and CSX2044 was originally intended to be powered as such. But thanks to Dr Horn’s extensive correspondence with Shelby, production was already beginning to shift to the more potent 289 unit by the time his car was ready for an engine installation. And so, serendipitously, CSX2044 became the first Cobra to be factory fitted with the 289ci V8 – and the original unit still lurks under its bonnet to this day. 

After making a $1000 down-payment, Dr Horn enjoyed the car for six years, adding some 23,000 miles to its odometer. Then, in late 1969, the muffler was knocked loose after catching on the lip of the computer scientist’s garage threshold. The intention was for the car to be temporarily garaged until the simple repair was completed – but destiny had other ideas, and the Cobra remained in this state of entombment for more than three decades. 

In 2001, Dr Horn finally opted to part ways with CSX2044, informing a select group of marque collectors. The prospective buyers were then put through a comprehensive vetting process, before Cobra enthusiast Lynn Park emerged as the new owner. 

CSX2044 finally returned to the road once it was in Park’s ownership. Aside from the muffler’s eventual repair and a paintwork refresh, Park kept the Cobra in its original condition. He remained in custody of the car for the next 12 years, before auctioning it at Monterey in 2013 for $924,000.

Over ten years later, the car is ready for its fourth owner, with just 26,773 miles on the clock. 

See more here.