Shelby Cobra Dragonsnake (1963)

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The long list of victories that it chalked up make it unquestionably one of the most significant of all Cobras, and today it’s ideally suited for a return to competition  

An Ideal Candidate for Historic Racing

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During the first half of the 1960s, the Cobra achieved motorsport success all over the world. It dominated USRRC and SCCA circuit racing, and was an increasingly persistent thorn in Ferrari’s side in international competition. In 1965, it finally broke the Italian marque’s stranglehold over GT racing by winning the International Championship for GT Manufacturers.

With the fearsome acceleration offered by a powerful V8 in a compact chassis, it was even well suited to drag racing. In 1963, a small band of employees persuaded Carroll Shelby to sanction the development of a drag-racing package. Among other upgrades, four stages of tune were offered for the 289ci engine, producing anything from 270hp to 380hp. The famous Dragonsnake was born.

Only five factory 289ci Dragonsnakes were built, but other Cobras were converted to Dragonsnake spec by independent privateers who could buy the package from Shelby. One of those was CSX 2093, which went on to win more NHRA drag-racing events than any other Cobra.

Built as a standard 289 MkI, CSX 2093 was delivered new to its first owner in Pennsylvania in early 1963. In 1964, however, it was traded in for a new Jaguar at Ladd Motors in Lebanon, PA, and was then acquired by Jim Costilow, who lived just across the Susquehanna River in Duncannon. It was during his ownership that CSX 2093 began its remarkable competition career.

Costilow initially entered the Cobra in hill climbs and circuit racing, but having met with limited success he approached local drag-racer, Bruce Larson. Over the course of the next few months, Larson set about converting and preparing CSX 2093 for the quarter-mile. No expense was spared in bringing it up to Dragonsnake specification, and the Cobra’s rear wheel arches were flared in order to accommodate the huge rear slicks. The hard-top from CSX 2019 – the first of the factory-built Dragonsnakes – was fitted, and a chrome roll-over bar installed.

The Cobra was ready to go at the end of the 1964 season, and with Larson at the wheel, it soon began chalking up victory after victory. It dominated the A, AA, B and C Sport classes in events around the north-eastern United States, and in 1965 it enjoyed nationwide success. Larson set national records at the Springnationals in Bristol, Tennessee, the US Indy Nationals, and the Winternationals in Pomona, California. Depending on the event, he ran the car with either a single four-barrel carburettor or a Weber set-up.

During that amazing season, Larson accumulated more points than any other driver in any class of the NHRA and was the man to beat in the A Sports and AA Sports classes. His results overshadowed even the factory Shelby Dragonsnakes, but its success wasn’t the only thing that caught the eye. Having initially retained its original red paint, Larson and Costilow soon resprayed the Cobra in a striking shade of metallic Fuschia.

In 1966, Costilow sold CSX 2093 to Ed Hedrick, who lived in Philadelphia and ensured that the Cobra was still a force to be reckoned with on the quarter-mile. He competed in the NHRA’s Northeast Division 1, and won his class at all of the National events he entered. He also set a C/SP class record with a run of 11.51 seconds at 115mph. That success continued into 1967 – CSX 2093’s fourth season of competition – when Hedrick again won his class at the Springnationals, Winternationals and US Nationals at Indianapolis.

Hedrick finished that year having topped the NHRA’s World Points Championship, but by the end of the 1960s, the car’s competition career had come to an end. During the 1970s, it was sold to a new owner in Oklahoma, resprayed light green and used as a road car.

Ohio-based Fred Freer bought it in 1977 and had it painted dark red, and it then passed to Larry Begibow, who traded in CSX 3153 in order to buy it. Having passed through a number of owners during the 1980s, picking up Concours awards along the way, in 1991 it was restored to its iconic Fuchsia colours by Ed Ulyate.

Shortly afterwards, it was bought by the man who had done more than any other to make it famous – Bruce Larson. He maintained the Cobra at his museum and occasionally displayed it at Concours events, in which it continued to be entered by subsequent custodians.

Certified by both the AACA and the SCCA, CSX 2093 is the most successful of the Dragonsnakes and a rare and original survivor. The long list of victories that it chalked up with Costilow, Larson and Hedrick make it unquestionably one of the most significant of all Cobras, and today it’s ideally suited for a return to competition. As a worm-and-peg model, it could be fitted with a 260ci engine to make it eligible for the popular Kinrara Trophy race at the Goodwood Revival, as well as the Pre-’63 GT series. Alternatively, the 289ci engine could be retained, and with a rack-and-pinion conversion, it would be a potential front-runner in the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy Celebration.

In today’s increasingly competitive historic racing scene, you need a car with notable period history in order to secure an entry to the most prestigious events. CSX 2093 perfectly fulfils that brief. It has a unique place in the Cobra story, and with its well-documented success, it would be welcome at race meetings all over the world.

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