In 2016 RM Sotheby’s sold Carroll Shelby’s very own Cobra – in fact, they sold two of them on the same day. Most readers are probably familiar with CSX 2000 and the astronomical selling price of $13,750,000. Almost twenty times the value of an early worm and sector 260 Cobra! A lot of money, but there’s only one “first Cobra” and one of only two Cobras owned by Carroll since new.
Also offered on that same August day was the other Cobra owned by Carroll Shelby from the day it was new until his passing. That car, CSX 3178 saw the hammer fall at $1,250,000 when it crossed the block in Monterey.
After the buyer’s commission was added, it sold for only $1,375,000, a fairly reasonable price for a 1965 Shelby 427 Cobra – still below the auction estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It’s almost as if people forgot that CSX 3178 lived alongside CSX 2000 in Carroll’s personal collection since it was new. It was a relative bargain compared to its stablemate with the 260 V8.
It was quite a deal, well-bought as we say, even though it wasn’t a stock Cobra. Carroll liked to go fast, as evidenced by the cars that carry his name, and in 1972 he recruited the well-known Cobra expert Mike McCluskey to make some modifications to 3178. McCluskey repainted it Guardsman Blue, added an automatic transmission and gave it S/C styling with side pipes and a custom rollbar, giving 3178 its trademark style.
Around thirty years later the car was restored by Shelby American themselves, rebuilding the automatic transmission, refreshing the interior, and painting the car in a bright red while retaining as many original components as possible. The unusual rollbar, however, remained.
And then it sat, on display at Shelby’s headquarters while being maintained by the expert Shelby personnel – a testament to all that Carroll did to build the legendary cars we know and love.
After Carroll’s death the car remained with the Carroll Shelby Foundation until that Friday in August of 2016 when it was sold to a new owner for the first time since 1966.
Perhaps the new owner lucked out as CSX 3178 was overshadowed by CSX 2000. Regardless, it was a very special car and demanded one of the best Cobra experts. Peter Klutt’s Legendary Motorcar Company turned back the hands of time.
One of the first orders of business was to restore the Cobra to its original Charcoal Gray – a finish it shared with only four other 427 Cobras. The rollbar and side pipes were removed, along with everything else needed to bring 3178 back to stock condition, exactly as it was in March of 1966 when Carroll took delivery. Legendary Motorcar also replaced the automatic transmission with a correct toploader four-speed.
It’s not uncommon to hear that a car was owned by Carroll Shelby when looking at an auction. Carroll traded cars a lot in the latter years of his life, so while many were owned by him, only two Cobras can truthfully claim ownership new. And one of those two will most likely never be available again – CSX 2000 was purchased by Greg Miller on behalf of the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Museum, formerly located at the Miller Motorsports Park. So don’t expect CSX 2000 to be on the market in the foreseeable future.
Fast forward to January 15, 2021 in Kissimmee, Florida. The only 427 Cobra owned from new by Carroll Shelby himself was on Mecum’s auction block. It would likely be the last time anyone would have the opportunity to purchase either of Carroll’s personal Cobras, and this one looked like it just left the factory in 1966.
This time CSX 3178 got the attention it deserved. Bidding started strong and rumor has it two serious bidders were both new to the hobby and looking to start a serious collection. By the time the hammer fell and buyer’s fees were totalled, the new owner spent $5,940,000 – more than twice the going price for a well-restored example – for the privilege to experience exactly what Carroll Shelby experienced when he first got behind the wheel of CSX 3178.
What does this mean for Cobras in general? It’s difficult to know how much impact Shelby’s ownership had on the price of CSX 2000 – after all, it’s one-of-one, the prototype Cobra. But when we see what it cost to buy CSX 3178 compared to the price of any other well-restored 427 Cobra it’s clear that the Shelby name and Cobras in general have enough clout to be multigenerational cars. Sure, not everything with the Shelby name on it will matter to future collectors, but the Cobra – the car that started the Shelby legend – will always have a place in the collector car world.