Hooniverse Bookshelf: America Edition – "The Snake That Conquered The World"

Happy America day. To celebrate, I’ve lined up three book reviews today that celebrate the speed, ingenuity, and forward-thinking ways that used to typify the American automotive and racing industries. There was at time when we could proudly stand as a nation and see our drivers, cars, and teams taking on the best that the world could throw at us. There’s a bit of that remaining today, but certainly nothing like it was in the 60s and 70s. Racetracks the world over were dominated by our best cars, and driven by our most prolific drivers. So lets dive into it, shall we? The first book on the docket today is Collectors Edition reissue of 2011’s “Shelby Cobra:” The Snake That Conquered The World” by Colin Comer. Comer is one of the experts on all things Shelby, and this book is one of half a dozen the man has released on the topic of ‘Ol Shel. So, is it worth picking up?

Personally, I’m inclined to say that it is worth getting a copy, if only for the photos. There are a gaggle of fantastic photos in this book, particularly those on the racing side, that I’ve never seen before. They depict the Shelby racing team as what they were, old-school hot rodders taking on the best of the world with some down-home ingenuity. For example, in the photo above, the guys are working on a prototype big block car. They quickly found out that the car needed some more cooling, as the big block just made more heat. So what’s a guy to do? How about punch a dozen giant cooling holes in the bodywork? Yeah, that’ll do the trick! The cobbling together of already cobbled together cars just makes for a comical juxtaposition against the precision and nuance that was found in Ferrari’s racers of the day. Those down-home hot rodders cut together a mean car though, and with it they made the world quiver in fear of the raging monster finished product.
MSRP is a bit high at $75, but the “street price” is a bit lower than that. In fact, you can get a copy on Amazon right now for $47. That’s reasonable for the size and information included in this book.
The combination of in-period photography and contemporary photography of the cars as they are now just makes this book a good buy. It shows just how awesome these cars are, and the historical significance of what probably was the worlds first super car. I like to think I know a lot of stuff about Shelby, and about the history of the Cobra specifically, certainly more than the average Joe anyway. That said, I learned a few good things in the process of reading this book. For example, did you know there were plans for a 427-powered Daytona Coupe, even going so far as seeing a chassis fully assembled in Britain? Because of the lack of homologation 427 S/Cs, the car was never finished. Shelby effectively ordered the car to be deep-sixed in the middle of the Atlantic because that’d be cheaper than shipping it to California. Eventually the thing was sold off and completed. It still exists today. I bet that’s a wild ride!
One of my favorite parts of the book is the focus on the non-Shelby parts of the Shelby team. This quick bit on Ken Miles, for example, shows that the whole process of building a world-beater was a team effort. Without Ken, the project would likely not have been as successful (the same could be said of the GT40 project, as well). Ken was instrumental, as was Peter Brock and several others. It was on their backs that the Cobra was built, and it was through their work that the car won as much as it did. The idea may have been Carroll’s, but he needed a good team to make it possible.
I have to say, it’s my personal opinion that the early 289 cars with the original narrow fenders and leaf springs. Those cars were developed into the best racing cars and made the most inroads against the competition. These cars, in FIA trim, actually won the title for sports cars. Had the 427 been allowed to continue development as an FIA racer, had Shelby actually finished their full allocation of 100 homologation cars, that car might well have done the same. If Ford hadn’t gone the route of the GT40 and effectively killed off the development of the 427-powered Daytona Coupe, Unfortunately, history can’t be changed and we won’t ever know.
Anyhow, this is a very pretty book, both the exterior cover and the photos within. There is a lot of history here, and there’s a lot of great anecdotal stories held inside. It’s a few hundred pages of entertaining storytelling, and it’s worth taking a week or two to read a few pages every night. You’ll potentially learn a lot and you’ll enjoy it. This is an accessible book that doesn’t overwhelm. It’s short, sweet, and entertaining.
Race cars, road cars, community, history, personalities, and even a bit on the continuation cars and some collectible merchandise, this book has a bit of everything for everyone.
Carroll Shelby deodorant? Holy cow, that guy would put his name on ANYTHING!
Full Disclosure: Quarto Publishing and Motorbooks wanted us to read this book and review it badly enough that they sent us a free copy.

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  1. JayP Avatar

    Uncle Bubb wasn’t afraid to put his name on anything… but if it made you faster or more approachable to the ladies…
    That deodorant had to smell of gasoline, hydro fluid and French toast.