Scottsdale Car Lover Pounces on One-off Cobra
Ed Brace just helped many kids by helping out the kid in him.
The owner of Scottsdale-based Diamond Back Automotive Group recently purchased the “Black Hornet,” a one-off 1968 Shelby EXP500CSS — Carroll Shelby’s personal car. Providing late-model foreign and domestic luxury and exotic automobiles for more than 20 years, Brace’s company sells highline cars in a retail showroom/warehouse at the Scottsdale Airpark, 15270 N. 83rd Place (phxcars.com).
The proceeds of the undisclosed sale price benefit the Gardena, Calif.-based Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation™, which the racing automotive manufacturing legend established in October 1991 following a heart transplant the preceding year.
Through a variety of events as well as private and corporate donations, the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit assists indigent children and others needing acute coronary and kidney care as well as grants organizations conducting research in the coronary- and organ-transplant management. For instance, the first 2007 Ford Shelby GT to leave the Ford factory was sold for $600,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale event and benefited the foundation.
Built two years ago, the “Black Hornet” is propelled by a 428 Cobra Jet Engine, with a variety of modifications made for Shelby — twice Sports Car Illustrated’s “Driver of the Year.”
These mods include a Marc underdrive pulley system; Holley high-volume fuel pump; Mallory Unilight ignition system; Holley 700 carburetor; a Shelby-stamped aluminum intake; Edelbrook aluminum heads; a Griffith aluminum radiator; a 9-inch Currie 3:25 rearend; Shelby 10-spoke wheels; and a dashboard signed by Shelby to Brace at the auction. The engine is serialized to the car — a Shelby-only feature, Brace explains.
The name, by the way, derives from the “Green Hornet” character in Bill Cosby’s “Fat Albert” cartoons. The car was given to Bill Cosby, then later given back to Shelby, who sold it to a Ford employee. So the car owned by Shelby naturally became the “Black Hornet.” The manufacturer’s identification on the “Black Hornet” says “Manufactured by Shelby America” and carries the serial number “002.” The native Texan, who began racing in a ’32 Ford, always acquires the second car in a series, if he chooses to acquire one.
Otherwise, the car is a magnificently vintage 1968 Shelby with a deluxe black interior with console; black vinyl top; original seatbelts; the wood-grain Cobra steering wheel; a four-speed manual top-loader transmission; a Philco AM radio; Goodyear GTII Tires; and the identifying figures EXP500CSS just above the rocker panels. Look at it, listen to it, and oh, my, have a chance to ride in it, and you can hear Bob Dylan singing — and chirping muscle-car music, too.
“The motor runs flawlessly and is amazingly strong,” says Brace, who’s already slapped 100 miles on the car out along the roads by the Scottsdale Airpark and to and from home. “The suspension is set up perfectly and rides and drives perfectly,” he adds. “This car runs so strong that it can truly scare you.”
In January 1968, Shelby built the EXP500 as an experimental car that Shelby and some racing fans at Ford wanted to enter in the Trans Am series to compete with cars such as the AAR Plymouth Baracuda, the Chevrolet Z28s and the Pontiac Trans-Ams. This car is in a well-known car collection.
Ford, however, did not pick up the Trans-Am program, so only one car was built — the “Green Hornet.” One of Shelby’s companies, Shelby America, however, still builds Shelby cars — known as continuation cars. The term denotes cars by Shelby but not in the current year model — such as Brace’s “Black Hornet,” built exactly to specifications with contemporary mechanical updates. The cars Shelby builds for Ford are current models such as the Shelby GT 500.
Still, there were no continuation cars of the EXP500. So why Brace’s “Black Hornet”? Two years ago, Legendary GT Continuation specifically built this for Carroll Shelby — a gift from his employees.
This is the last car 84-year-old Carroll Shelby owned and is the last car he has driven, Brace explains. After snaring three national sports car championships in the United States and a victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as setting land-speed records at Bonneville, Shelby retired from racing in 1960 as a result of health problems.
His second career, in manufacturing high-horsepower sports cars, began with the legendary Cobra, CSX 2000, introduced to an awed New York Auto Show in 1962. He continues that tradition today with the CSX4000 and CSX7000 Cobras. In 1992, Carroll Shelby, racer, manufacturer, consultant, was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Shift that Gavel Down
Brace acquired the one-off vehicle from the Men’s Luxury Toy Expo & Auction July 13–15 at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Glendale. The owner of the event hired Fast Trak Auctions to gavel down the cars and other items such as lunch tickets with Shelby (see sidebar).
Bringing Carroll Shelby to the expo would further the causes of both, so Shelby agreed to appear in order that one of his personal cars could be sold for the foundation. He had sent his last two cars to the Barrett-Jackson Auction in January to be auctioned: One, in fact, his 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 “Supersnake,” set a sales price record for the event at $5.5 million.
Brace’s Diamond Back Automotive Group both displayed at the expo as well as entered 10 cars for auction.
Begun in 1984, the company wholesales highline and exotic cars to more than 100 new car dealers and sells luxury pre-owned autos to the public at wholesale prices. Through the Web site or in person, buyers can shop exotics such as Ferraris and Porsches as well as classic muscle cars — looking for a 1987 T-Type WE-4 Buick Regal? — or customs such as a 2002 427 ZL1 Camaro.
One of the few independent luxury car dealers that own their dealerships and also the first to present cars in a warehouse format, Brace certifies and warranties every car for 12 months or 12,000 miles. “Our whole deal is absolutely no games at all,” he says. “That’s why our motto is ‘Luxury Car Buying Redefined.’”
The “Black Hornet” was not sent to other auctions, but, following discussion, Jenni Shreeves, the foundation’s executive director, agreed to send the car to the Men’s Expo. “No one believed that Carroll Shelby, much less his personal car, was going to be at this auction,” Brace recalls.
Before the car came up, Brace also purchased a GT-H hood signed by Carroll Shelby; this is displayed in the Diamondback Automotive Group showroom. When the “Black Hornet” appeared, Carroll Shelby announced from the podium that this was his personal car, the last car he drove, and that he would sign the car for the person who bought it.
Brace: “At this moment I realized that this was his car, and being a car dealer and dealing in highline and collectible cars my entire life, I realized, too, that just myself and one other registered bidder knew what was on the block. Or was it that the other registered bidders still didn’t believe it?”
After a friendly bidding war, he acquired the “Black Hornet” and had it dash-signed to him by the master: “To my friend Ed. Thank you, Carroll Shelby.”
At the same time, Brace helped saved lives: “The Black Hornet fetched an amazing price that resulted in a significant contribution to the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation,” says Shreeves. Just this past May, the foundation donated $10,000 for an 18-month-old girl to receive medical care for a heart transplant.
“Our friends at Legendary GT Continuation Cars built a remarkable muscle car that reflects the pride and performance-driven passion of Carroll Shelby,” she adds. “Their support will greatly aid our fight against life-threatening illnesses among children worldwide.”
Brace: “I will not sell this car at this time — even though I have already received multiple offers on it. I am a car dealer and have owned every car I have ever wanted, but this is the type of car and the type of situation that made me a car dealer to begin with — a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
For additional information on the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation, please call Jenni Shreeves, 310.327.5072, or visit www.cscf.org.
Diamondback Automotive Group, 1-877-PHX-CARS or visit www.PHXCars.com