The First-Ever Shelby Cobra 289 Goes Under the Hammer With 27k Miles, Asks $1.4 Million

The First Shelby Cobra 289 15 photos
Photo: Karissa Hosek ©2023 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's
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Grafting an American eight-cylinder motor into a pretty European body was one of Carroll Shelby’s fabulous ideas – probably the greatest he ever materialized. The Cobra remains one of America’s most outstanding automotive achievements – and that’s saying a lot, considering the rich piston history from the Land of the Free. But even among the relatively few machines built by Shelby Automotive, we can find some truly outstanding examples in a different universe, not just a class of their own. How about the first 289 ever made – this seven-figure price-tag piece of history?
Shelby Cobras are generally categorized into three distinct groups based on their engine size: the first – and fewest – are the original 260-cubic-inch (4.3 liters). In 1963, Carroll kicked it up by putting Ford’s iconic 289 V8 before settling for the 427 (seven-liter) mastodont. As it happens, the first of the fabled 289 has quite the history attached to it – attested by a two-inch-thick file kept with religious zeal by all of the car’s three owners.

Chassis CSX2044 is the first Shelby Cobra ever to be powered by the fabled Ford 289 V8. It is also the best-documented example (extant or extinct) among all Cobras, regardless of production year, engine size, or historical significance. The car was ordered by a man from Palo Alto, California, in 1963 after a significant exchange of letters with Shelby American Incorporated. With a final price of $7,300 (for comparison, a Corvette’s base price was $4,037), the roadster was bought by a customer who, at first glance, had nothing in common with performance automobiles.

Harrison Horn was a doctor at Standford University when he sent a long and thorough interrogatory to Carroll Shelby inquiring about specific details of the Cobra. And before we start pulling stereotypes, note that he wasn’t the kind of doctor that an apple a day would keep away. Quite the contrary, we might say – Horn was a computer scientist who would eventually team up with a certain Steve Jobs for the first Macintosh computer. His signature is engraved in the case of the first 'Apple' (let's agree to call it that), above Jobs'.

The First Shelby Cobra 289
Photo: Karissa Hosek ©2023 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's
So, after careful, methodical, and pinpoint-accurate questioning, the man finally wrote the cheque for a $1,000 downpayment for his Cobra. Little did he know it was to be the first of the 445 examples fitted with the 289 engine. The ‘IT guy’ of the sixties had the engineering approach to car ownership, as his correspondence with the Shelby officials is extensive and downright scientific at points.

After the car was completed and delivered, the computer pioneer from Stanford put it on the road and enjoyed it for the following six years, putting some 23,000 miles on it. Then, one day in late ’69, while driving over the garage threshold, the muffler was knocked loose, and the car was put on hold until the exhaust would be fixed.

As fate would have it, that simple repair never ended up on Horn’s list of priorities for over three decades, and the first Cobra 289 spent a quiet garage life. In 2001, the good binary doctor, car enthusiast, and computer innovator decided to pass the Cobra to somebody else. As expected, he wasn’t the type of man who simply puts up an ad stating, ‘For sale, a 1963 Shelby Cobra, the first fitted with the 289 V8. Needs the muffler put back in place’ and then waits for prospect to call.

The First Shelby Cobra 289
Photo: Karissa Hosek ©2023 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's
Instead, he took the painstaking path of researching for a suitable and worthy-of-the-honor buyer through his connections in the Shelby owners’ circles. In 2001, the renowned Cobra collector Lynn Park got the keys to the car, and he did the logical thing that the computer nerd had been postponing since 1969: put the car back on the road.

Park refreshed the paint on the car – even if it sat in a garage, it wasn’t a climate-controlled environment, and it needed some touch-ups. Everything else remained just as Horn ordered or modified. The rear lamps are not original – the computer doctor replaced them with a pair sourced from a Ford pick-up truck. Lynn Park enjoyed the first-ever 289 for another dozen years, then sold it for a pretty penny.

Or, in U.S. Treasury equivalent, for $924,000 – that’s what the winning bid was at the Monterey auction in 2013. By then, the odometer read 26,773 miles (43,077 kilometers), as original as the engine and drivetrain. Fast-forward to 2024, and the car is ready for its fourth owner – with just 426 miles (685 kilometers) added on the clock.

The First Shelby Cobra 289
Photo: Karissa Hosek ©2023 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's
Besides the maniacally organized documentation, the car has almost everything Shelby Automotive Inc. put in it when assembled. To give you an idea about the level of record-keeping the computer professor was at, note that Lynn Park – having owned over 50 Cobras over time – had never come across anything remotely close.

From letters to registrations to receipts for parts (think nuts and bolts), literally every piece of paper associated with the car is in the file to attest to its past. With this particular dossier in hand, the vehicle is undoubtedly the best-documented Cobra in the world. And, being the first 289-powered example (as installed by Shelby from the assembly line, not retro-fitted post-production), it is well within its right to claim an auction sale price In the range of $1.2 to 1.4 million dollars. The car goes under the hammer at the end of the month at the Arizona 2024 event on the 25th of January.
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About the author: Razvan Calin
Razvan Calin profile photo

After nearly two decades in news television, Răzvan turned to a different medium. He’s been a field journalist, a TV producer, and a seafarer but found that he feels right at home among petrolheads.
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