Carroll Shelby, the legendary racer and builder, had many things he wanted to do before he died, and, as he told people at the time, “building a new Cobra is No. 1.” The legend got his wish in the form a fully-functioning Cobra concept, codenamed ‘Daisy’ and built by Ford as a feasibility study in 2004. Only one copy was ever built and when it debuted it set hearts–including mine–on fire.
Ford never built it, but the man partially behind the car saved it and it’s now in Beau’s hands, which means you’ll be able to see Daisy at the LA Auto Show near The Autopian section at the entrance to the Galpin Hall of Customs. Let’s look at how incredible this car is, why don’t we?
The first thing you notice when you see the design, led by Richard Hutting under the guidance of J. Mays, is how far the wheels are stretched to the corners. This is in homage to the original Shelby Cobra, which itself was based on the tiny AC Ace roadster.
“What we’re trying to do is not just take the audience somewhere they haven’t been in a very long time, but take them somewhere they’ve never been – and there’s a lot of magic in trying to do that,” Mays said in the original design brochure for the car.
The whole car is shorter than a contemporary Mazda Miata and, yet, Ford managed to squeeze a custom-built, all-aluminum 6.4-liter V10 that produces a remarkable 605 horsepower. As production was a real possibility for this car, the engine itself is based on Ford’s 32-valve V8 out of the 2004 Mustang Mach 1. Only four of these motors were built and this is one of only two believed to still exist.
In spite of being drivable, the car lacks a roof, any glass outside of the front windshield, and even a radio.
“That’s the formula,” said Shelby at the time. “It’s a massive motor in a tiny, lightweight car.”
And lightweight it was. The car is approximately one Torchinsky over 3,000 pounds (unless Jason is in it, and then it’s 2x Torchinskys) and is flush with Y2K-era design, from the smooth sides to the extremely Michael Graves-ish gauges. It’s extremely clean on the outside and inside, with very little extraneous design.
“We let the powertrain, the space frame and the suspension dictate the architecture for the body,” said Richard Hutting, chief designer. “And the result was a very modern and desirable shape that doesn’t share a single dimension or proportion with the original Shelby Cobra.”
The whole concept was built in just five months with a team of enthusiasts inside Ford, led by longtime team leader Chris Theodore. Just as the Ford GT concept was named ‘Petunia’ the Cobra concept team decided to stick with the concept and named it ‘Daisy’ internally.
“It’s just so freakin’ cool,” Beau exclaims when I ask him about the car. “I’d just joined the Ford Product Committee when it debuted and I was hoping and praying they’d build it.”
One of the ways the vehicle was put together so quickly was the use of a lot of modified Ford GT parts. From the original brochure:
The bulk rear structure of the Shelby Cobra concept is made from slightly modified Ford GT components, including the massive cast-aluminum suspension nodes, the rear rails and bumper beam, a major cross member and the brackets used to mount the transmission to the car.
The center portion of the space frame also has a high level of commonality with the Ford GT, as its major aluminum extrusions are based heavily on existing pieces.
“We were planning to use the Ford GT suspension systems, and we asked ourselves how much more of the Ford GT could we borrow,” says Manfred Rumpel, manager, advanced product development.
When the car was finished it went straight to the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, where it was named “Best in Show.” As more proof that this was a real running vehicle, MotorTrend’s Matt Stone even got to ride in it with Carroll Shelby:
My pilot for a few laps around Irwindale Speedway’s half-mile oval was Shelby himself. It’s of little concern to him that he’s driving a multimillion-dollar handbuilt prototype, as he stabs the gas and takes the racer’s low line through a long, sweeping corner. “It needs a lot of shakin’ down, but it’s fun already. You can make it understeer or oversteer with the throttle.”
The suspension feels compliant enough for a road car, yet there’s a bit of body roll. The V-10’s guttural rumble reverberates in the racetrack’s banked bowl. Shelby isn’t shy with the brakes, bringing the car to a relatively nosedive-free halt.
Will Ford bring Daisy to market? Shelby pauses thoughtfully, then says: “I sure as hell hope so.” So do we.
Having Shelby a part of the development was important and Carroll had become more associated with Chrysler products at the time. Ford wanted to bring the Shelby name back to the Mustang and this car, in a way, acted as bait.
The future looked bright for the Cobra, but the impending Great Recession interfered with these plans. Unfortunately, the then head of product was “the worst guy Ford ever hired” as Beau puts it, and he decided to kill it.
Eventually, retired Ford project lead Chris Theodore was able to get the concept when it was auctioned by Ford as part of a charity project to restore the Fair Lane mansion, the home of Henry and Clara Ford. For liability reasons, Ford disabled the car, but Theodore was still friendly with the folks at Technosports who helped build it and they were able to return it to running condition. Theodore even wrote a book about his experience with the car.
Here’s Theodore talking with Jay Leno in 2020:
“I’ve never driven a concept car that was this good from the get-go,” said Leno.
At the time, the vehicle was estimated to be worth $1.5 million, though likely more if registered for the street (which it eventually was). In 2021 it went up for sale at Mecum Monterey and you can see what happened next:
It sold for $2.4 million and the stunning last Shelby Cobra ever built became part of the Galpin collection. Beau usually doesn’t go into details publicly about the cars he buys, but it’s hard to get him to stop talking about this particular one.
“To me, it’s one of the holy grails of holy grails, and we got it from Chris Theodore, who built it and was a friend of mine, and he could make sure it was properly maintained,” says Beau. “To have a one-off, incredibly historic supercar with that kind of performance and for basically less than the price of a modern-day supercar, for me it all kind of fell in there.”
Would Beau ever sell the car? “I mean, I am a car dealer,” he admits.
“It’s history with history,” he told me. “There’s a first Cobra and there’s a last Cobra.”
Unlike so many concept cars that just disappear, this running and driving version will be on display at the Galpin Hall of Customs during the 2003 Los Angeles Auto Show. Get your tickets here and look forward to more exciting news from us regarding the show.