Car culture

Carroll Shelby's LA connections and the Cobra *

Carroll Shelby, the auto racing legend who died last week in Dallas at age 89, apparently divided his time recently between Texas and Beverly Hills. The Southern California chapters of his career, though, are a pretty important part of the story.

carroll-cobras-venice.jpgAn accomplished race car driver at home in Texas and later out here, Sports Illustrated twice named him driver of the year in the 1950s. Health issues made him give up racing, but he held a Goodyear Racing Tire distributorship in Southern California and in 1961 opened the Shelby School of High Performance Driving at Riverside Raceway. It was in '62 in Santa Fe Springs that Carroll and fellow hotrodder Dean Moon built the first prototype of the two-seat sports car, the Cobra, that would shape the rest of his career. The Cobras were originally built at the first Shelby-American assembly shop, which opened that March at 1042 Princeton Drive in Venice. "The first Cobra, CSX 2000, is painted pearlescent yellow and shipped to the New York Auto Show for the Ford display," the timeline at CarrollShelby.com says for April '62. The Venice building, adjacent to Marina del Rey and apparently well known to those knowledgeable of car racing history, was recently sold.

Dave Kunz, the automotive reporter for KABC-TV and co-host of "The Car Show" on KPFK, emailed that in 1964, with Shelby's new GT350 version of the Ford Mustang moving into production, his Shelby-American company moved to a bigger facility on Imperial Highway, on the south side of LAX. "They remained there through 1967, when the Cobra was discontinued and Ford took over production of the Shelby Mustangs in Dearborn," Kunz says. "That site is where Korean Airlines’ cargo terminal now stands."

He adds that there are photos of both locations included in a new exhibit called "Speed Merchants of Venice" at the Wally Parks NHRA Museum in Pomona.

Readers send updates:

Martin Greenberger: "The Shelby factory on Imperial Highway was on the west side of Sepulveda. The KAL terminal is on the east side. The buildings were originally party of the North American Aviation B-25 production line during WWII."

Jim Thurman: "Shelby also had some notable on-track accomplishments in Southern California. He won featured races at Torrey Pines, Palm Springs and Riverside, and also raced at Pomona (Fairgrounds) and Santa Barbara. Shelby also had perhaps the worst accident of his career during the opening weekend of Riverside International Raceway. Practicing on September 21, 1957, the Maserati he was driving crashed into an earthen bank at turn 6. Shelby suffered many cuts and a badly broken nose. One report claimed he needed plastic surgery on his nose and required 72 stitches. He returned to racing and won at Riverside in the Spring of 1960. Shelby's Cobra made its racing debut at Riverside International Raceway on October 13, 1962, driven by Billy Krause, then of Inglewood."


Shelby and his Cobras on Priceton Drive, via YoVenice.com


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