The people behind the Cobra and GT40 Books
© Trevor Legate, Wolfgang Kohrn - January, 28th. 2007


Trevor Legate is a native British car guy and a nice guy with both feet on the earth to talk to. Met him  a few years ago at the biggest vintage car fair Techno Classica in Germany and had been in touch with him over the years. I appreciate his willingness for this interview. 

Trevor Legate is an acclaimed motoring writer and photographer, with a particular passion for the AC Cobra. He is the author of COBRA (published by Haynes, UK and Motorbooks Inc., USA) and COBRA – The Real Thing (published by Veloce Publishing, UK and HEEL Verlag GmbH, Germany). In addition, Trevor has written books on the Ford GT40, Corvette, and Mercedes-Benz.

Trevor is a a professional photographer and his motoring photography led to commissions from major automobile manufacturers in the UK and Europe to shoot advertising and brochure pictures. Trevor built up a large photographic business which he sold in 2003 to concentrate on writing and producing books























CS2131 finished 7th overall at Le Mans

Pictures courtesy Trevor Legate

Cobras in Europe - 1965 St. Ursanne (Switzerland) - Picture Rony Altermatt (I think)

































1964 Cobra Mercer - A Virgil Exner project based on a Cobra chassis. This picture was found in Phil Clarks archive.
Virgil Exner indeed had a big influence on Phils life and career. 

Exclusive interview with Trevor Legate  

"Since 1963 I considered AC to be fifty per cent of a two-way partnership with Shelby American"
Another fresh and at the same time genuine perspective for the Cobra world

How did you come to writing books?

It 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.


What is your approach to writing – the pictures or the words first?

In 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.


What other books have you written?

I 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?

There 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 company:  will give more information.


What was your most memorable meeting or event in the British (or American) racing world?

After 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!

More recently, another great highlight was meeting and talking with Jack Sears, who kindly wrote the forward for my latest book.


Who would you like to interview amongst those drivers who are living legends and those who are no longer with us?

 I 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.

I 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 deal.

I 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?

Since 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). 

In 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. 

Certain 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?


 Did you know, they wrote afterwards, that the Americans considered your thoughts interesting, but of course far away from being true?

I 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 1960s.

 In 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?

For 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.

Which Cobras in Europe are the first ones that come to your mind in terms of:

- Racing success
- Modifications
- Rareness
And list the ones you are still looking for

European 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.

I 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.

As 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.

I am 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.

 Do you see the current Cobra hype lasting? 

A 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.


 Do you think there are more Cobra chassis around than were ever built?

Yes. 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!

 What do you think about a new Cobra or the new Cobra concept car that was shown some time ago?

The 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.

Do you like the GR-1 and do you think Shelby is working on something like that? Maybe with Superformance?

I 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 than successful.

Have you ever met Carroll Shelby and do you have any anecdotes about the meeting?

I 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. 

My 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. 

I 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)

Referring to the latest rumours do you think Michael Schumacher will bring more fun to the vintage racing world?

Ah 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?


What car do you drive and what was your first car?

I 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.

My 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.

What are your other hobbies and what other projects are you working on now?

As 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.

Why don’t you write a Mustang book?

No idea – now I have a publishing business, maybe I will. One day.

Do you think Brits are better racing drivers that Americans?

Nice 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!

What do you know of the Mercer Cobra car by Virgil Exner?

I 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.

Thank you very much, Trevor
Interview: Wolfgang Kohrn

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