1964 Shelby Dragonsnake Cobra
The explosive potential of a Dragonsnake Cobra has been likened to a loaded gun, and this one proved deadly effective
One look at Drew Serb’s 1964 289 Cobra, and you see it’s no ordinary snake. Not that any genuine Shelby Cobra is ordinary, but a huge majority were (and are) set up for one of two missions: high-performance road car or take-no-prisoners road racer. Fact is, the Cobra’s fame is founded primarily on its phenomenal road race achievements, both at home and abroad. A quick and incomplete review of the record includes SCCA A-Production national championships, USRRC manufacturers championships, the 1965 FIA World Championship, and innumerable individual achievements, such as endurance race victories at Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona, Monza, Nürburgring and more.
Among other factors, a fantastic power-to-weight ratio was instrumental in the Cobra’s competitive success story, for a 289 Cobra weighs in the neighborhood of just 2,200 pounds. Given that this same ratio is a big part of how fast a vehicle can accelerate, it isn’t a surprise that the Cobra would represent a pretty effective weapon for drag racing. A handful of Shelby American employees— namely Tony Stoer, Jere Kirkpatrick, Randy Shaw and Leonard Parsons—were quick to recognize and capitalize on this potential by preparing an early worm-and-sector chassis (CSX 2019) for straight-line competition in 1963. Dubbed the “Dragonsnake,” the car made quite a splash, and yet a paltry team budget limited its appearances primarily to West Coast venues.
One of those was the AHRA Winter Nationals held in February 1964 in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the car set the A/Sports (A/SP) national record at 12.81 at 108. 95 MPH. With a different engine configuration, this quick Cobra turned times in the high elevens at nearly 120 MPH, speeds so impressive that a point-and-shoot mantra became evident in the credits splashed on the side of the car. There, primary driver Stoer wasn’t credited as the driver at all; rather, he was noted as the “aimer.”
Enter factory Dragonsnake number two, the car splashed across these pages. After plenty of success with chassis 2019, it was decided a better racer could be constructed using a new rack-and-pinion Cobra, and thus, CSX 2357 entered life as a dedicated quarter-mile warrior. The Shelby American Automobile Club registry notes that Stoer was the primary builder of this second Dragonsnake, and yet his time behind the wheel was negligible, as he left Shelby American to serve in the United States Army.
Nevertheless, Stoer employed all the tricks the team had learned on the first car, so CSX 2357 came out of the gate ready to rumble. Non-mechanical modifications included a hood scoop, rollbar, enlarged rear wheel openings, American Racing wheels shod in race rubber, drag shocks and a radical metalflake Viking Blue paint scheme with Cobra and Dragonsnake nomenclature front and center.
The 289-cu.in. engine was claimed to make 380 horsepower in AHRA configuration, which meant 12.5:1 compression, a big solid-lifter cam, Belanger headers, and a brace of 48 IDA Webers; running in NHRA sports car classes necessitated switching to dual Carter four-barrel carburetors.
With the departure of Stoer, driving duties for the next couple of years would fall primarily to Kirkpatrick, Ed Terry and Don McCain, and with Ford corporate direction, the Dragonsnake team would expand its travel to include a number of the big drag meets held throughout the country. Don McCain was at the helm of 2357 at one of its more memorable outings, the 1965 AHRA Winter Nationals. There, he would eventually face off in the A/SP final against the privateer Dragonsnake known as EL CID, with McCain narrowly winning the class. The car would go on to set AHRA and NHRA records for both ET and speed, with the best recorded time we could uncover being the 11.51-second pass in the Winter Nats final.
An even bigger win had occurred a few months earlier at the NHRA National Championships in Indianapolis, over Labor Day weekend, 1964. Arguably the biggest event on the drag race calendar for that year, victory there didn’t come easy, even with Ed Terry at the helm. Hot Rod magazine described how Terry bested six other Cobras and “a fleet of Corvettes” to win the A/SP title, the final winning pass being a 12.06 @ 113.49 MPH.
The Shelby Dragonsnake campaign came to an end after the ’65 season, whereupon CSX 2357 was put up for sale through Bill Stroppe. It was eventually purchased by an East Coast racer who campaigned the car for several years before selling it, which led to a string of additional owners, one of whom installed a more docile engine and proceeded to put the Cobra on the street.
At this point, the tale gets either sad or interesting, depending on your point of view. The story goes that 2357 became stranded during a drive in the early 1970s, when it hit a rock that damaged an A-arm. In a time before cell phones, this had the owner hoofing it down the desolate road in search of a telephone, but unfortunately, he could not return before disaster struck. It seems a motorcycle gang encountered the abandoned Cobra, and were thrilled to wreak havoc on the car by rolling it down an embankment, causing significant damage. After recovery, it was sold again, whereupon it sat in a carport for years while suffering several false starts on restoration.
As current owner Drew Serb explained, “Sometimes restoration efforts cause more damage than the wrecks themselves,” which seemed to be the case here. Drew would know, as he’s quietly one of the major players in the Cobra community today, with the ability to manufacture authentic hand-formed body panels using oldworld bucks at his San Francisco area shop. We had a look-see during our Dragonsnake photo shoot, and were in awe at the quality and expertise of Drew and his crew.
“I bought my first Cobra in 1973 for $1,500,” said Drew, when we asked how long he’d been involved with Shelby’s legendary sports cars. “It was wrecked, and I hauled it home in the back of my pickup truck. At the time, I really couldn’t find anyone with the expertise to repair it, so I started learning myself. It’s really an art, and takes immense patience to get right. In fact, I don’t have the patience myself, but I’m now connected with a few guys who do.”
As for his Dragonsnake, Drew considers himself lucky that despite years of neglect and that regrettable gang encounter, the car was still equipped with nearly all its period equipment. This includes the original magnesium American Racing wheels and knockoffs—6½-inches in front, and 7-inch spline-drive units in the rear and, perhaps best of all, the original ultra-rare hardtop. Drew says that in all his years of Cobra immersion, he’s seen only one other car with the wrap-around rear window.
The Dragonsnake’s restoration took just under two years, and according to Drew, the biggest challenge was repairing the body. “Bruce Kimmins helped out on that front, and did a great job. Forming and gas welding .050-inch aluminum is almost a lost art, and I was fortunate to find someone as talented and enthusiastic as Bruce.”
The paintwork required another special talent, thanks to the metalflake and the large amount of graphics under clearcoat. Larry Krause was the guy to work the magic. “Having had a great deal of experience with motorcycle paint, [Larry] took on the job and provided an incredible amount of detail, which, by the way, was all done from pictures taken back in the day,” explains Drew, adding that the stunning Viking Blue metalflake paint was reproduced using House of Kolor products.
Despite its current circa-1965 appearance, would it surprise you that this snake is packing a bit more heat than back in the day? Under the hood sits a 331-cu.in. stroker engine built by vintage race guru Tony Oddo, which is said to crank out an impressive 480 horsepower and 417-lbs. Ft. Of torque. If Kirkpatrick, Terry and Mc- Cain had pedaled the same, 10-second Ets would have surely been child’s play. Up top is the correct induction as seen in AHRA racing: 48 IDA Webers fully dialed in by Oddo.
Despite his modifications, in the interest of correctness, Drew also has a datecode correct Hi-Po 289 in the shop, itself putting out 418 horses and 365-lbs.ft. Likewise, the rare and original aluminumcase T10 sits safely on the shelf, while a close-ratio Toploader four-speed performs bulletproof gear-change duty. Other than the two aforementioned drivetrain deviations, the Cobra is back to its 1965 racing form.
Since its completion in 2003, Drew has had the Dragonsnake back on the strip on at least two occasions. One was the 2004 NorCal SAAC Mini Nats, where Tony Stoer actually made a few passes in the car he played a majority role in building. The second time was in our presence at SAAC 35, the Shelby convention held last summer at Infineon Raceway. There, Drew helped recreate AHRA history when he faced off against EL CID, the independent Dragonsnake now owned by fellow Cobra enthusiast Lynn Park. Both cars were well off their period pace—no doubt due to an awareness of their rarity and value, today—and yet we give both owners immense credit for several enthusiastic runs through the gears, making triple-digit speeds. No matter the Ets, seeing real Dragonsnakes in their natural habitat was a treat for all who witnessed the event.
In the end, the 289 Cobra Dragonsnake program resulted in a total of just five cars built—hence their desirability and uniqueness today. Two were factory team cars, as previously described, and three, such as EL CID, were purchased by privateers who took advantage of Shelby American’s willingness to manufacture and sell turn-key race cars. The company also marketed many of the individual parts over the counter, and it is well known that a handful of other Cobras were converted to near-Dragonsnake specs, and successfully raced through the mid-Sixties.
Amazingly, all five of the factory Dragonsnakes still exist today. They may represent a little-known chapter in Shelby Cobra history, but should you ever witness one doing the straight-line slither, you won’t soon forget the sight.
Having purchased my first Cobra in 1973, I’ve always had a desire to own the famous race cars from the day. All through the ’60s, it seemed that every sports car magazine had reports of all the accomplishments of Shelby’s Cobras, but somehow I totally missed the fact that there was such a thing as a drag-race Cobra. Until the last 10 years or so, the drag cars weren’t very high on the Cobra collector’s list.
This one, CSX 2357, was part of a threecar package I bought in the mid-Nineties, consisting of very used and battered race cars, but ironically, I didn’t care much for it at the time; the other two were road-race cars with some history, so that was my priority. Now I think the Dragonsnake is one of the coolest Cobras on the planet—what a mistake it would have been to pass on it! Luckily, most of the parts were included in the purchase, even though it was mostly disassembled and had been out in the weather for 20 years.—Drew Serb
+ So rare, you won’t see another
+ Well-known, documented history
+ Lean, mean, fighting machine
- So rare, it’s frightfully valuable
- Explaining its psychedelic paint
- Parts are virtually irreplaceable