Those classic Shelby race cars in 'Ford v Ferrari' aren't what they seem

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

He'd had some early exposure to the Shelby cars in his home country, when Hillbank took a Cobra as a trade-in. "I thought it was a piece of junk, until I drove it," he said.

Soon he was selling continuation Cobras, GT40s and Daytonas. (His companies are also licensed to manufacture the later Ford GR1, as well as a Corvette Grand Sport roadster.)

Some of the customers, he says, are wealthy car collectors who actually own the multimillion-dollar originals. If you see one on display, in a parade or TV or magazine ad, Stander says, "It's probably one of ours. The other ones never leave the vault."

At this year's Le Mans Ford GT Revival meeting in Spa, Belgium, Stander said, at least 20 of his GT40s were on the track -- some perhaps masquerading as original 1960s models.

Those original cars, licensed and sold by Ford in the 1960s, have great value. A 1965 GT40 roadster prototype, one of only five built, was sold in August at an RM Sotheby auction in Monterey, Calif., for $7.65 million. A 1968 model, said to have been used in the filming of the Steve McQueen movie "Le Mans," was sold in 2011 for $11 million. (Rob Walton, of the retail store chain fortune, owns what may be the most valuable: Chassis 1075, which won Le Mans in 1968 and 1969. It is said to be insured for $100 million.)

The Shelby Cobras have sold for even more. The first unit ever built went for $13.75 million at a Monterey auction in 2016.


John Wiley, senior data analyst for the classic car insurance company Hagerty, said the original Shelby Cobras and the continuation cars are holding their value fairly well.

Based on auction sale prices combined with the rates at which owners are insuring those vehicles, Wiley said the current estimated average value for a used continuation Cobra is $122,000, which represents a 65% appreciation in value over 10 years. The average value for a 1965 original Cobra, Wiley said, is $1.9 million, up 72% over the same period.

That seems like a good return on investment, but Hagerty numbers show the average appreciation rate for all the classic cars in its database has been 128% from 2009 to 2019. The authentic and continuation Cobras are ahead of American muscle cars, for example, but well behind Italian sports cars.

The "Ford v Ferrari" filmmakers needed a lot of Cobras, GT40s and other period vehicles to shoot their extensive racing scenes, and to populate the non-race street scenes as well. For that, they turned to Rob Johnson, veteran set designer ("Avatar," "Tron" and many more), who acted as vehicle art director on the movie.


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