Everyone knows the Shelby Cobra, the ’60s-era supercar with a snarling Ford V8 stuffed under its British bonnet; able to vanquish period Ferraris and inspiring thousands of replica cars. But at the top of the Cobra pyramid are the Daytona Coupes, six legendary cars that dominated international racing in 1964-’65, then seemingly disappeared from public view. While even the most tired Cobras can now fetch over $1 million, the Daytonas have become the unquestioned holy grail of American performance. Daytonas rarely go up for sale, but when the last one sold at auction in 2009, it fetched $7.25 million.
And with good cause. While the Cobra was beautiful in its simplicity, the Daytona is nothing short of a masterpiece. It was designed with one thing in mind: to beat the dominant Ferrari 250 GTO in the FIA’s GT class. While aerodynamics limited the hottest “base” Cobra to around 165 miles per hour, the Daytona, with its slippery aluminum body and distinctive kamm tail could reach 191 miles per hour, an astonishing figure for the era. Not only did it vanquish the mighty GTO, it became one of the first American cars to have success in international competition. It won its class at Le Mans in ’64, Sebring in ’64 and ’65, and a host of other victories at places like Daytona, Monza, and the Nürburgring. Before the end of 1965, it had also set 25 land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. And while Ferrari built nearly 40 GTOs, Shelby’s six cars make its former rival from Modena seem about as common as a used Honda Civic.
But within a few months, there will be about six times as many Shelby Cobra Daytonas roaming the earth, making the GTO the rarer beast. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of its dominant 1965 racing season, Shelby is bringing the Daytona back for a limited run of 50 cars, available with either aluminum or fiberglass bodies.
Compared to Hagerty’s projection that the originals are worth an average $22.3 million today, the new continuation models seem like a steal. Each car will be built to the owner’s specs, with a fiberglass-bodied car starting at $179,995, or an aluminum model starting at nearly twice as much, at $349,995. Because of safety and emissions laws regarding auto manufacturers, the new Daytonas will be sold sans powertrain as a rolling chassis, though you can purchase a period-correct 289 cubic inch Ford V8 separately through Shelby.
The fiberglass car will be the more civilized of the two, which Shelby says “is true to the spirit of the Coupe, but reimagined as if it had remained in production over the years.” Upgrades include power steering, air conditioning, and power windows and locks. The aluminum-bodied version is nearly identical to the competition cars of 50 years ago, and will be built according to the Daytona’s original blueprints. The resulting car is the closest thing you can get to buying a brand new 1960s GT racer this side of the first Woodstock.
In 2014, the 1964 Daytona prototype became the first car ever to be awarded National Heritage Status by U.S. Department of the Interior, joining artifacts like the Statue of Liberty and the Space Shuttle Discovery as irreplaceable national treasures. The cars have become so valuable that its likely most of them will never see the open road again. That’s a shame, because with the unholy racket these cars make, they should be experienced by as many people as possible. Instead of cheapening the car’s legacy by building some half-assed tribute, it looks like Shelby has done everything right. It may not seem like that big of a deal, but believe us, the world will be a better place with more Daytonas in it.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS