1963 Le Man Cobra

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For the Cobra’s Le Mans debut, the works AC roadster was one of two 289s given an extended hardtop in an attempt to persuade the air of the Sarthe to slide smoothly over it. That meant a new shorter bottom-hinged boot and a fuel filler poking through the roof. In the 24-hour enduro Ninian Sanderson and Peter Bolton took 39PH to seventh place and a class win, scoring a Mulsanne max of 167mph hardly spectacular but it helped diminish the gap to Ferrari’s GTO and the Lightweight Jaguar Es. Team manager was Stirling Moss, and two Ford men spent the race in the AC pit quietly making notes for next year… And naturally after its weekend exercise the rumbling beast was driven home to England.

Thereafter the Willment team turned it from metallic AC green into red with white stripes, installed British saloon car champion and frequent Cobra wrangler Jack Sears, sorted its handling and began to score.

Throughout ’63 and ’64 Sears and Frank Gardner raffled the GT05, Jags and Astons, but 39PH’s extensive career peaked with the infamous ‘black flag’ race at Brands in July ’64, when a furious Sears bullied his way back from an unfair penalty stop through a top-ranking GT field to a sensational win and a new GT lap record. By the time it was ousted by Willment’s new coupe, 39PH boasted over 350bhp and many mods, and at Goodwood with Sears at the helm proved it was capable of mixing it with Shelby’s new Daytona coupes. Thankfully not much meddled with in the interim, this legendary racer was returned to ’64 TT form in the 1970s and has since appeared often in the Goodwood Revival if and other events. It will be a star in this year’s all-Cobra spectacular.

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