The History of the First Daytona Cobra
As many fans of the site know, there were only six Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupes ever constructed. The Daytona Coupe is a true American automotive legend, bringing victory to Shelby at Le Mans.
The car pictured - CSX2287 - was actually the only Daytona Cobra fully built in America. CSX 2287 was built from the frame that remained of a wrecked Cobra, bodied and massaged into what we all know as the Daytona Cobra Coupe as we covered here in our piece on Peter Brock, the car's designer. The other five were all sent as frames to Italy, where the body work was completed. So, for all intents and purposes, CSX2287 was the true American original - the first. As if that wasn't special enough, CSX2287 was very fortunate to have survived a fire during refueling at a race in Daytona in 1964. Despite that unfortunate race, the car ultimately went on to win the 1965 championship. That season victory earned it a retirement from racing. For the most part.
In November 1965, CSX2287 was taken by Shelby's crew to the Bonneville Salt Flats for one last test of its capabilities. Over a four day stretch, in the hands of Craig Breedlove the car set 23 speed records, reaching a measured top speed of 187 mph – brutally fast for 1965.
Shortly afterwards, Shelby sold the now-tired original Daytona to toymaker Jim Russell for $4500. Unfortunately, it's at this point where the story takes a peculiar turn. Somehow the Daytona ended up being sold to the highly eccentric music mogul Phil Spector, who was 26 years old at the time. Spector quickly proceeded to paint the car's record setting numbers on the doors of the car. Largely. And with house paint.
After cruising around Los Angeles with the Daytona Coupe for a while, Spector realized it was a proper race car, and not a practical car for cruising. It was a proper race car. So Spector decided to sell the car to his bodyguard, George Brand, for $1000. Brand ultimately gave the car to his daughter, Donna O'Hara.
It's unclear whether Donna had no idea what she had, or knew exactly what she had. But she immediately put the Daytona away in a storage unit in California for 30 years, never moving it, driving it, or touching it, but also never letting the rent lapse either. Not surprisingly, over the years, O'Hara received several offers on the Daytona, but refused everyone of them.
"Carroll Shelby himself went to visit her to see the car, and she wouldn't even open her screen door to talk to him. It was widely known she had it, but it was also widely known that you couldn't communicate with her. People had given up going for it", recalls Fred Simeone, the current owner of the car, who displays it proudly at his museum in Philadelphia. So from 1971 until 2001, CSX2287 laid untouched.
But in 2001, Simeone and fellow collector Martin Eyears made O'Hara an offer that she ultimately accepted. While the amount is officially undisclosed, it is believed to be around $4 million.
If only that was the end of the story. What happened next is perhaps the most bizarre, and the darkest part of the ca'rs history. "I hate to tell it, this is a happy story and the bottom of it is a downer. She [O'Hara] willed the proceeds of the sale to her mother and then set herself on fire. That was after the deal had been done." shared Simeone. O'Hara's shocking death sparked a legal battle around the car that lasted for months. "The aftermath of the sale was was more difficult than the sale itself, because when word got out among the motoring community that the car was discovered and was being purchased by a private party, a lot of people desperately tried to buy it, and asked a judge to put it up for public sale"
Even Phil Spector (convicted of second-degree murder in 2009 and is currently in prison) tried to claim ownership by suggesting he never actually sold the car to his bodyguard, but only gave it to him for safekeeping. "Everybody was gonna wanna have a story," says Simeone, "But the judge concluded rightfully that it had already been sold legitimately." In 2008, Simeone founded the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, where the Daytona sits amongst 65 other classic race cars.
"The car was in excellent condition out of storage, all of the original bits were there, no missing parts," says Simeone. "Only the front end was banged in, so we had to hammer that out because it was simply too ugly. The rest of the paint was dull but intact and all we had to do was get rid of the oxidation, and it came out very decent. The only things that we had to replace ended up being brake lines and a few bits of wiring."
Despite his poor treatment of the Coupe, Phil Spector's five years of ownership did not ruin the car. "He just had upholstery put it, that's all, and he put some writing on the side of the car, with house paint, but we were able to get that off," says Simeone. The cars runs well, and even still has its original tires. It has been driven many times for shows and demonstrations, even though it's no longer raced. "We get into a little trouble with some people who think it should, but it's pointless and we'd risk damaging it. We want to preserve it for future generations," added Simeone.
It's difficult to even accurately speculate the value of the car today, 14 years after that sale.The other five Daytonas -- all finished in Italy -- are all in the hands of private collectors. One sold at auction in 2009 for $7.5 million. With CSX2287 being the first prototype, the last Daytona to have been in competition, and -- unlike the others -- it's still in its original state, with no parts replaced and no repainting done, it's safe to assume that this one would bring more. Much more.
It's just good to know it's in a place now where we can all enjoy it.