Press Pass 2004
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“Knowledge of the past can produce a World Champion.” That is what Peter Brock wrote on the copy of his book, Daytona Cobra Coupes, which I had just received as an eighth-grade graduation present at the Wine Country Classic several years ago. And Mr. Brock is one man who can truly attest to that. Brock’s new version of his classic coupe from the mid ‘60s is representative of his own experience in proving that very statement.
While working as a young designer for GM back in the mid ‘60s, Brock came across some aerodynamic research which had been done by another young designer, Reinhard Koenig-Fachsenfeld, some three decades earlier. Koenig-Fachsenfeld, then studying under the tutelage of famed German engineer Wunibald Kamm, created some ground breaking designs called the K1 and K2 prototypes; part of a total of 5 similar cars on different chassis, built and tested as part of their aerodynamic research. His style of a smooth roofline with a suddenly chopped tail proved very effective, as the cars managed to keep the air flow from becoming turbulent along the roofline. This was a great aerodynamic breakthrough because, as Brock said, “if you can trick the air into sticking to the roofline all the way to the back of the car, and then just chop it off, you only have turbulence just as the air leaves the back of the car, and you’ll have removed all the drag from the roofline.” Less drag means less resistance to forward motion, and thus higher efficiency and an increased maximum velocity.
Yet this research was not heeded by many, as much of the data was lost during WWII. Yes, some European car manufacturers knew about the significance of aerodynamics in the early 1960s – even without delving into their design notes, it’s obvious by the appearance of their cars - but a more ideal body style as proposed by Koenig-Fachsenfeld’s and Kamm’s research was slow in coming.
The reaction in Carroll Shelby’s shop back in 1963 wasn’t unexpected. Brock was proposing that relatively weird roofline and a chopped back for a new car he wanted to build, but it was deemed “ugly” when compared to the more familiar, but still fairly aerodynamic European automobile outlines used by Porsche and Ferrari. And, as Peter related about his original design, which included an even more radical idea of his own, an inverted airfoil wing, “They thought the wing I had drawn on the back of my design looked like an Easter basket handle!”
But Ken Miles, one of Shelby’s top drivers, had some faith in Brock’s ideas, so he promoted the radical idea with the Texan. Still, no one else in the shop wanted to work on Brock’s strange looking car, so Miles and Brock proceeded alone. Then the New Zealander John Ohlsen, one of the newer fabricators in Shelby’s shop, began to understand what was being created, so he joined Brock and Miles, and began to construct the first aerodynamic “Daytona Coupe” body for Shelby. It was mounted on a 289 Cobra roadster chassis and looked different than anything anyone had ever seen…as it still does today. As the project proceeded, and the strange form began to take shape, the other workers slowly gained respect for the project. Finally came the true test of the coupe’s worthiness, as it must for any racecar – a track test.
Brock knew the importance of this first test. Ever since he was an eleven year old boy, watching his neighbor’s MG-TC racing car being prepared at Bill Breeze’s Sports Car Center in Sausalito, California, Brock had been enamored with racing automobiles. He still believes that racing cars are “the purest form of the automobile, because they are usually the product of a single individual’s ideas, not those of a committee.” Brock knew that the true validity of any racecar - of his racecar - in this crucial test, would be based on its performance.
So, one day late in the fall of 1963, Ken Miles took the car out to Riverside raceway and drove it. Ken loved it – his reaction was “It’s a rocket!” So Shelby gave his team the go-ahead to finish the prototype get it ready for Daytona, the first race of the 1964 international racing season. It proved faster than any car in the race. Everywhere it raced in ’64 it set new records. And the next season, for the first time in history, an American-built car became the F.I.A. World GT Champion! Brock’s knowledge of history had helped produce a world champion.
Shelby’s “big engine in a small car” theory for the Cobras had produced blistering acceleration to handle the competition on America’s shorter tracks – but Brock’s design gave the Texan’s Ford powered racers the extra thirty miles per hour in top speed they needed to dominate on the high-speed European tracks.
So there you have it. Brock’s interest in history and research into some arcane aerodynamic studies from the past, helped create the final form of a new World Champion. Now it’s your turn. Know your history – learn if you haven’t, review it if you’ve forgotten it and then apply it. Figure out where original ideas might not have been applied, because someone before you was not bold enough to push their own ideas forward, and you will make history… for someone else to study. Then, at least, you can appreciate the full meaning of Brock’s statement.
A few years ago, Peter Brock was invited to revive and improve the World Champion he helped produce. Jimmy Price from Superformance, a South African company best known for building Cobra replicas, approached Brock about leading a project to build a new coupe based on Brock’s original design. It seemed like a logical enough proposition, based on widespread success of Price’s Cobra replicas. However, Mr. Brock said he “blew him off twice; I don’t particularly like kit cars, and I wasn’t interested in building another.” But eventually Brock was persuaded to visit the Superformance facilities in South Africa. And he was extremely impressed. He found all the equipment one could want to build a new car, and became convinced that Price and Superformance were diamonds in the rough. This wasn’t “just some fly-by-night, kit-car company. These were people who were very serious about building real automobiles.” He accepted Price’s offer on the spot, and went to work.
As he sits now on the completed end of his new project, Brock says he “couldn’t be happier. The people at Superformance are some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in the car business; there’s been an incredible amount of effort expended here, and it shows in every line.” Among those who worked with Price and Brock on the new coupe was Brock’s long-time friend, Bob Negstad, the man who designed the suspension for the original Ford GT40. Negstad had worked at Ford for thirty-five years, and was essentially the first guy to use CAD (computer aided design) to create really sophisticated suspension systems. For Brock’s new coupe, Negstad based his chassis on a pair of large diameter steel-tube rails. It incorporates coil-over spring/shock units at every corner and the twin anti-roll bars are splayed out at their ends for complete adjustability – “just like on a real racing car,” as Peter noted. The chassis can be set up for just about any driving style or situation. And it will handle any corner you can throw it into – it takes a full six thousand pound-feet of torque to wring a single degree of twist out of this chassis
. Unfortunately, Bob Negstad did not live to see this project completed, but he sure would have been happy to see how the final product turned out. His contribution provides as solid a foundation for this street-legal racecar as you can find anywhere in the world. If you think you can do better, though, the new coupe can be setup to challenge just about any chassis.
Peter Brock was given free reign over this project. His original design for Shelby, back in ’63, was subject to severe time and financial constraints, so the first coupes were not completely true to his plans. The wing Brock had drawn onto the coupe was not added in the shop – only when Phil Hill drove the first Daytona Coupe at Spa, in Belgium, and said the rear end was dangerously unstable, did Shelby’s legendary crew-chief, Phil Remington tack a rough strip of aluminum onto the tail. It worked and later became the spoiler seen on the other five Daytona Coupes.
Another set of problems arose from the fact that most of the original coupes were made in Italy. The Italian fabricators did not understand Brock’s drawings. They took one look at his “funny”, aerodynamic roofline and scrapped it; fitting instead a Ferrari-like roofline, characterized by a sharp break at the top of the windscreen. Instead of encouraging the air to gently flow from the top of front window, over the roof, all the way to the tail, that first Italian-built coupe had to deal with some turbulence as far forward as the driver. So little time, so many compromises.
Of all the things Brock got to improve over his original design, were the interior and the windscreen. Having had four full-years to perfect the form, he is most pleased with “the general refinement of all the lines. I worked on the A-pillar a lot; there is no “fence” there like on the original design, so I was really able to cut down on turbulence, reduce noise, and get more air to the rear brakes.”
Brock was also able to put some curvature into the side windows, and make them roll up and down! The benefits of modern manufacturing technology allowed him to make a more ideal, street-friendly design. The nice, big quarter-window scoop, mounted on the shoulder of the B-pillar on both sides of the car, feeds air, which comes clean off the new A-pillar, down to the rear brakes when the car is in track-mode. But the same duct leading from that scoop can now be turned 180 degrees to cool the exhaust system under the rear of the car, when it is back in street-mode.
That deft detail leads to another point; the beautiful dual side pipes (true to the original design) the Brock Coupe sports. They are completely functional but are now redirected underneath the chassis and out the rear of the car. But, if you must, you can still order the shorter side pipes and let your bubbling monster of a V-8 growl at all passers-by.
The Brock/Superformance Coupe is beautiful. While 1960’s onlookers at first found the car ugly for its odd roofline and abrupt K-line tail, modern enthusiasts have a greater appreciation for the visual result of functional aerodynamic design. Plus, this now well-proven design doesn’t look nearly as scary as a modern-day sports-racer. The Brock Coupe attracts approving crowds with ease. A couple of months ago a Superformance dealer from Ohio took his first coupe to the Kentucky Street-Rod Nationals, and then a week later to another major Hot Rod show in Reno, Nevada called Hot August Nights. With its big American V8 engine it was extremely well received at both locations.
Finally, Brock and Superformance brought their new offering to the Concorso Italiano at the Monterey Historics, America’s most prestigious vintage car gathering. They had a great time talking about and showing off the new car. Ron Rosen, Superformance’s dealer, said that there was “great attraction to the car even from people with no knowledge of the Shelby connection.” Superformance sold six Brock Coupes on the spot at Concorso. Peter did say that the validity of a racecar design for the street was a combination of its success on the track and its aesthetic beauty, which, according to him, is a “test of time.” The Brock Coupe is pleasing to the eye; and while it has not seen much track time yet, six sales in one day sounds like a success to me.
It is evident that much work was put into cleaning up and perfecting the body lines. The chassis is rock-solid, the suspension is fully adjustable, and you can, of course, put any killer motor you want under the hood (the model at Concorso was blessed with a Roush-built, 525 HP, 402cubic inch displacement Ford “small block” which will give the coupe a top speed of well over 200MPH!.
Climb inside, and it is like stepping into a history book - Brock’s history book. What a dream come true to be sitting in a car based on the same design as the first American built World Champion. Looking through that front glass, framed with smooth, inch-thick rubber almost gave me goosebumps. It reminded me of a famed photograph by master photographer Jesse Alexander: it shows Dan Gurney accelerating out of Mulsanne at Le Mans in a Cobra Coupe, one hand shading his eyes from the late afternoon sun, the other up shifting (and no hands on the wheel!). Looking out through the glass of that same shape that I formerly only looked in on was a treat indeed.
The interior is clean and simple, and the aroma of black leather is intoxicating. And it’s ROOMY. While discussing the Coupe with Mr. Brock, a man with a 6’4”, 240 pound-frame stopped by to sit in the car; He fit quite nicely, with perhaps just enough room to squeeze in a helmet. To sweeten the deal even further, Peter said he could reduce the padding on the left door sill to get even more room for the large man’s shoulder. That’s starting to sound like a custom-fit, luxury ride!
The center tunnel is high, relative to your body, a result of the sportingly-low seating position. The gear selector is just where your hand wants it, and the solid steering wheel stares at you, daring you to grab it and direct the car’s power with all your skill. Follow the black carpet under your knees forward into the depths of the un-cramped footwell, and you will receive a shock and a smile. For resting behind your feet are two shiny pedals bearing the AC logo. How ironic that the very logo which adorned the bodies and pedals on which Shelby based his original Cobra street cars, should appear now in this modern rendition of the aerodynamic body which once graced those same chassis.
But was that a coincidence? No. Actually, Superformance now owns AC Cars, so to bring Brock’s story full circle, the AC pedals are once again found in his new Coupe (although, technically, Shelby never intended to have the AC logo anywhere on his cars, and though AC initially didn’t fulfill his requests, they finally did stop shipping their products with their logos on them before Brock’s original coupe was made in Shelby’s shop).
So this brand-new car is already full of stories. But, more importantly, it’s really fast. And civil. It averages over one hundred miles per hour while maintaining better than seventeen miles to the gallon. With a chassis and suspension that can be setup however you want, and with an engine bay ready to accept whatever fire-breathing motor you choose, the Brock Coupe is poised to become your customizable super-car, letting you get to sixty mph from naught in a wink and a blink, have you flying by Ferrari 360 Modenas and Lamborghini Gallardos in excess of one hundred eighty miles per hour, and pulling massive g’s in long, sweeping bends.
Peter Brock’s new Coupe is a beautiful machine, true to his original design, while still benefiting from modern manufacturing and engineering technologies, and existing, finally, as the fruit of enough time.
Congratulations, Mister Brock and Mr Price…. We couldn’t be happier with the result!
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