Exclusive interview with Trevor Legate
I considered AC to be fifty per cent of a two-way partnership with
Another fresh and at
the same time genuine perspective for the Cobra world
did you come to writing books?
happened by accident. I used to work with a designer who later designed
books for publishers. I used to take photographs at race meetings and
always photographed Cobras. I asked him if we could use these in a book
and we discussed how we might produce a Cobra book if only we could find
someone to write it; as a result I allowed myself to be talked into
doing the words plus all the extra photographs the book would obviously
need! To cut a long story short, when I sold my photographic business,
the original designer and I created a new publishing company to print my
third Cobra book the way I wanted it.
is your approach to writing – the pictures or the words first?
the case of the Cobra book, it was the pictures. I have been
commissioned to write other motoring books when I had to write and
source the pictures at the same time, all in a matter of a few months!
Basically, I don’t mind – it’s time that is always the problem.
other books have you written?
confess to having written three ‘Cobra’ books, a book about the Ford
GT40, the Corvette, a history of Mercedes-Benz, the centenary of Grand
Prix racing and edited a book about Volkswagens. I recently had great
fun helping to write and produce a book of photographs of the surrealist
artist Salvador Dali, taken by a photographer friend, Robert Whitaker.
What is your next project?
are several book projects we are considering at the moment, motoring and
otherwise, plus another Cobra-related project that might prove very
interesting! I have enough to keep me busy. A shameless plug for my
will give more information.
was your most memorable meeting or event in the British (or American)
many years of promising I would attend a Shelby American Automobile Club
(SAAC) convention, I finally went to the gathering at the Charlotte
Speedway in 1998. Being surrounded by Cobras and Mustangs for days was
as good as it gets, but the real thrill was spending much of that time
in the company of Bob Olthoff, one of my racing ‘heroes’ and someone
I never thought I would meet. He was a genuinely modest, delightful guy
who could still drive a Cobra to its limits. The world is poorer without
him – and he asked for my autograph before I could get his!
recently, another great highlight was meeting and talking with Jack
Sears, who kindly wrote the forward for my latest book.
would you like to interview amongst those drivers who are living legends
and those who are no longer with us?
would be happy to talk to any of the ‘real’ racers who are sadly
departed, such as Jo Siffert, Pedro Rodriguez, or anyone who raced
Cobras and GT40s in the Sixties. And the recently departed Clay
Regazzoni, if only to ask why he ran me over with his Ferrari 312P in
the Brands Hatch paddock - I was busy taking photos at the time.
have little interest in talking to any of the current F1 drivers as they
seem to have had a collective personality bypass, although I will
exclude Lewis Hamilton from that list; he’s a great guy and the real
know you have a certain viewpoint on the AC involvement in the Cobra
story. Could you pinpoint the main topics you emphasized at the Shelby
American Automobile Club dinner?
1963 I considered AC to be fifty per cent of a two-way partnership with
Shelby American (assuming you overlook Ford’s involvement of
bankrolling the project and supplying engines).
marketing terms, there were always Shelby American Cobras (in the USA)
and AC Cobras (in the UK and Europe). It seemed easy to understand at
the time until, much later, egos, money and an excess of patriotism came
into the equation.
parties decided it was desirable to re-write history. I was asked by
Rick Kopec (SAAC) to explain why I thought there was such thing as an
‘AC Cobra’. As he well knew, this was a bizarre question but it was
designed to appease a section of the Club membership. If those guys had,
as I did, travelled to the AC factory in Thames Ditton in 1966 and stood
in front of the showroom window, they would have seen a Cobra wearing AC
badges. But they only saw Cobras wearing Shelby badges. I always wanted
to own an AC, they wanted a Shelby. Where’s the problem?
you know, they wrote afterwards, that the Americans considered your
thoughts interesting, but of course far away from being true?
was approached by many SAAC members the following day and everyone was
kind and everyone agreed with my comments. Sometimes the American press
can be a bit too patriotic and I am sure that even Carroll Shelby must
be embarrassed at times. At that time, Carroll had stated that since the
Cobra had been homologated for racing by Shelby American with the FIA,
only Shelby cars could be called Cobras. This was never an issue in the
most Cobra books – mainly American – we often read about the CSX,
but rarely about the COB, CS or other European ‘export’ Cobras. Why
is that? Do you think they do not have access to the material or tend to
ignore them for some reason?
many Americans, only a Cobra with a CSX chassis number is worth owning
since it had passed through the Shelby American factory. For others, any
Cobra that had its title recorded in the AC Chassis Register (where ALL
Cobras were listed) can be considered an equally desirable car. Most
knowledgeable people agree that all ‘Cobras’ built between 1962 and
1968 are equal – but some will always be more equal than others.
Cobras in Europe are the first ones that come to your mind in terms of:
And list the ones you are still looking for
racing success? That has to be ‘39PH’ (CS2131 in the AC registry)
that won its class and was 7th overall at Le Mans in 1963 and
then went on to be part of the Willment team. I have spent more time
with that Cobra than any other when it was owned by Nigel Hulme.
Fabulous car! Ask Jack Sears.
always coveted GPC4C (chassis HEM6) that had its own unique
modifications to the bodywork and was a great old race car. It used to
be owned by someone who lived near me and I could hear that Gurney
Weslake engine miles away when he drove it on the road. Sadly it has
been – shall we say - modified some more.
for ‘rareness’ I have always had a soft spot for the one-off
Willment Ghia coupe. The purists disregard it, but I love its unique
nature. I saw it for sale in the Willment showroom in South London circa
1971. It was unloved, covered in dust and had a broken side window. I
could have brought it for £3,750 but my bank account was £3,700 short…Happily
it has a new owner who actually appreciates it, so it will be back,
properly sorted and better than ever.
not searching for any ‘missing’ Cobras (but I do look in barns). I
like to think I have better things to do and life’s too short.
you see the current Cobra hype lasting?
world without Cobra hype? I guess it’s possible! In 1967 I advised a
tutor at my art college to buy a Cobra because one day he would thank me.
(He laughed and brought a rusty Ferrari). For some reason I always
thought values would increase as there was something unique about it,
even though hardly anybody wanted one in the late ‘60s - except me! I
guess this was a classic case of not knowing what you’ve got until
it’s gone, but the Kit Car industry brought it back from the dead.
Thanks to a huge world-wide following, the hype could last for many
years. Selling the ex-Carroll Shelby ‘SuperSnake Cobra’ for a quoted
$5 million can only help fan the flames.
you think there are more Cobra chassis around than were ever built?
I think that is a generally accepted fact. I remember telling David
Purley that the Cobra he had totalled at Brands Hatch and had personally
cut into pieces and thrown into a skip, had climbed back out a rebuilt
itself. He found that very amusing!
do you think about a new Cobra or the new Cobra concept car that was
shown some time ago?
Cobra that was made in the 1960’s is the car that really interests me.
I also have an interest in all the ‘Cobra-shape’ clones that
followed, the ones that continued the story. The Ford ‘Project
Daisy’ design concept was interesting, but it would be a totally
different automobile with a Cobra badge.
you like the GR-1 and do you think Shelby is working on something like
that? Maybe with Superformance?
rather liked the look of the GR-1. If Carroll Shelby is happy to have his name associated with it, good luck to him. I have no idea what he
does every day and have no idea whether another ‘Shelby’ will ever
appear. The only truly unique Shelby automobile, the Series 1, was less
you ever met Carroll Shelby and do you have any anecdotes about the
did dream of going to the USA to interview him when I began writing my
first book, but I had a photographic business to run. I have never had
any financial assistance of any kind so I could not spare the time or
money to get to meet him.
first book was not meant to be a definitive history of AC or Shelby –
it was only my impression of the Cobra saga and a collection of pictures.
Other writers had covered the story in greater depth. The year I went to
a SAAC gathering, he did not attend. I doubted that I would ever meet
him, but our paths finally crossed at the Haynes Museum ‘Cobra Day’
where he signed a copy of my book.
was pretty much struck dumb – I could hardly believe I was standing
beside someone I had read so much about. He gave a brief speech and it
was easy to understand how he had charmed so much money out of Ford in
his prime. People like that are very rare. And I still had my
wallet…..(read Road & Track circa 1965)
to the latest rumours do you think Michael Schumacher will bring more
fun to the vintage racing world?
yes – ‘Michael Schumacher’ and ‘fun’ in the same sentence. Is
he planning to go Historic racing? If he does, I would be worried that
he may be faster than most of those old cars. And I would worry that
certain drivers on the circuit would love to have his scalp. It could be
awesome to watch but it sounds to me like a recipe for a huge accident
– if he does go racing. But what do I know?
car do you drive and what was your first car?
drive an Alfa 156 and I brought a Seat Arosa for my sons to learn to
drive, but it provides low-speed fun for me. I recently sold my Caterham
7 to help fund the building of my AC 427 MkIII (Cobra to its friends).
It is one of a handful of 5-series chassis numbers built by AC Cars
before they closed shop in the UK and decamped to Malta.
I own COX5012 which may be the last UK-made AC. I brought it as a 427
body/chassis and it has been finished as close to S/C specifications as
practical. It has lightweight brakes, S/C boot and fuel tank, side pipes
and is left-hand drive as they should be! And painted dark blue with
white stripes and front and rear roundels of course. So now I finally
have my own Cobra, albeit forty years late.
first car was an Austin Healey Sprite MkI (Frogeye). I used it for
commuting, road rallying, autotests and abused it in horrible ways for
three years and it never let me down – tough as old boots. After it
was restored it was never the same so I sold it to a collector in Italy.
are your other hobbies and what other projects are you working on now?
well as providing my income for over 25 years, photography is still a
major hobby. I have just completed a book about the fifty years of the
Lotus/Caterham 7 and have three other books lined up, as well as other
projects under discussion.
don’t you write a Mustang book?
idea – now I have a publishing business, maybe I will. One day.
you think Brits are better racing drivers that Americans?
question – thanks. For some reason, the UK has maybe produced more
than it fair share of drivers who have achieved success around the world
and arguably the USA has had proportionally fewer. It seems that few
American drivers take to Formula 1, but they have produced some useful
guys like Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti and….I hear that
Carroll Shelby was quite quick in his day!
do you know of the Mercer Cobra car by Virgil Exner?
recall reading about the car when it was first shown, based on a Cobra
chassis, and thinking that it was a waste of a good Cobra. I do not
recall the chassis number but I’m sure that the good people at SAAC
are on the case.
very much, Trevor
Interview: Wolfgang Kohrn