My Car Quest

February 2, 2023

Two Legends At Odds: Why Is It That A Ferrari 250 GTO Is Worth Six Times More Than A Shelby Cobra Daytona?

by Wallace Wyss –

Just for the fun of it, let’s compare two icons of front-engined sports cars from the Sixties.

One was borne out of a long tradition of building competitive sports cars, cars that took the 24 Hours of LeMans, cars that represented the very best of Italian engineering and design.

The other was, let’s face it, merely a rebody of a frame designed in 1953, itself copied off a couple of “specials” created by a Brit for private customers who couldn’t afford Ferraris but wanted cars that were Ferrari-like (two of the Trojiero Specials copying the body shape of the Ferrari 166 “Barchetta”).

Shelby Cobra Daytona CSX2287

Shelby Cobra Daytona CSX2287 – Photo by Michael Furman

To summarize Cobra history in a few lines: the A.C. Ace of 1953 came about when A.C. Cars Ltd. bought the design from the engineer John Trojiero. A.C. then put it into production as the “Ace” with their ancient engine but then switched to a Bristol six, where it was successful. Then when Bristol announced the end of that engine, A.C. switched to a Ford six.

Soon after, Carroll Shelby arrived in his jeans and Stetson (all right, I know “all hat and no cattle”) with a Ford V8. That marriage begat the Cobra, as a roadster. But though it could blow most Ferrari production cars into the weeds in the curves, it had an aero barrier—around 160-mph. Brick-shaped, it could not catch the more slippery Ferrari GTO coupe on a long straightaway.


Let’s face it, the Cobra was but a crudely assembled hodge-podge of parts—English frame, American V8—none of it originally designed to be in a world class sports car. The prototypes were put together by hot rodders like Phil Remington and Dean Moon—guys who had raced ’32 Fords on the dry lakes.

Ferrari 250 GTO For Sale

Ferrari 250 GTO At The Bonhams Auction In Carmel – August 2014 – Photo by Mike Gulett

The Ferrari was a “purebred.” Believe me, I am involved in horse racing, and I know what pedigree means. But just to make sure you out there know what pedigree means indulge me in quoting the Thoroughbred Horse Association’s definition: “The correct way to describe a horse’s sire (father) and dam (mother) is to say “the horse’s name” is “by the sire’s name” and “out of the dam’s name”, then you say the dam’s sire “by the dam sire’s name”.

For example:

“Secretariat” is by “Bold Ruler” out of “Somethingroyal” by “Princequillo”. So Secretariat’s father is Bold Ruler, his mother is Somethingroyal and his mother’s father is Princequillo.
The “dam sire” is also spoken of as a “broodmare sire” and can be an important consideration when buying or breeding a horse. See the ranking of “broodmare sires.”

The Ferrari GTO was the descendent of a long line of successful race cars. It was “out of” the SWB 250GT and not only out of it but the hot-rodded version of that created by Giotto Bizzarrini, called the SEFAC Ferrari.

It was called the GTO for Gran Turismo Omologato which meant it was built to fit into the grand touring class for a homologated car, in other words the FIA had already approved the Ferrari 250GT and Ferrari snuck this version past them by saying it was merely a body variation on an already approved car, the SWB 250GT.

Ferrari 250 GTO For Sale

Ferrari 250 GTO At The Bonhams Auction In Carmel – August 2014 – Photo by Mike Gulett


Giotto had his own little development group on the car, separated from the other projects. Each night he would take the “ant-eater” (the nickname for the ugly slope-nosed prototype) with a new nose configuration, the Italian version of Bondo moved around as it were, and make a run on the autostrada to see if the car was any faster than the shape run the night before.

Ferrari 250 GTO

Ferrari 250 GTO – Art by Wallace Wyss

He finally “froze” the project when he reached around 170 mph, then thought the speed necessary to win your class at LeMans though they knew it would not be capable of winning the race overall.


In reality, the V12 engine had been moved back, and lowered in the chassis compared to the SWB 250GT. The engine had been converted to dry sump so this could be done.

The two cam V12 had six dual throat Weber carburetors but he eschewed the chance to put a hood scoop, either forward facing or rearward facing. The advantage of this engine over the Ford V8 was first that it had twelve cylinders, not just eight.

Ferrari 250 GTO Engine

Ferrari 250 GTO Engine – Art by Wallace Wyss

If you’re going to say “what’s the difference” as a former owner of a V12 Ferrari that often ran not on all twelve, I can tell you the more the merrier, you can be a few pistons down and still be motoring along. With a V8 you can lose less cylinders and continue though in fact a Daytona coupe did finish a major race on seven cylinders.

Both had an equal number of jets per carburetor, the GTO has two jets per carb times six for the twelve cylinders and the Ford has two jets per Weber carb for the eight cylinders. You could wind the Ferrari GTO engine near 8,000 RPM where the Ford 289 (4.7 liter) was good for about 6,500 RMP tops and all time spent over 6,000 RPM was shortening its durability markedly.

The 3-liter twin overhead cam V12 in the GTO was rated at 300 PS / 296 bhp / 221 kW @ 7500 rpm. Torque was 294 Nm / 217 / 30 kgm @ 5500 rpm.

The Cobra Daytona coupe’s 4.7 liter pushrod V8 was, on paper, more powerful with a 287.1 kw / 385 bhp @ 6750 rpm rating. Torque was torque 460.98 nm / 340.0 ft lbs @ 4000 rpm.

But the Cobra Daytona only had a four speed manual, the GTO a 5-speed. Top end — they were probably pretty evenly matched. The GTO might have been listed as capable of 160 MPH but I think 170 MPH was reachable.

Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe at LeMans 1965

Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe At LeMans in 1965 – Art by Wallace Wyss


Now the GTO was designed by a graduate engineer who was also a college professor. So Bizzarrini used all the popular theories on aero, such as having a chopped-off “Kamm” effect tail named after Dr. Wunibald Kamm, the Germany aerodynamicist who said a tapered tail was best but, if that was impractical, an abruptly chopped off tail would also keep the tail down.

After the GTO was introduced with no rear spoiler one was hastily attached after the first tests on a racetrack.

The Cobra Daytona coupe was initially given short shrift, treated as a sort of a “back door” project at Shelby-American. Youthful Peter Brock, who had attended the Art Center College of Design, and who had also worked as an intern at GM Styling at the age of 19, after endless lobbying, was allowed by Carroll Shelby to build a full size car from his drawings of an aerodynamic coupe. A chassis was set aside and other workers assigned to help him. He had the advantage of already seeing the GTO up close and personal, so in a sense this was “his GTO.”

Shelby might have also supported it because there was an undercurrent of resentment at Shelby-American toward the contingent of crew cut, white shirt and bow-tie wearing Ford engineers who had arrived with the GT40. Their aloofness conveyed that they were building contemporary cars in the GT40. And they had slide rules! (ask your grandfather what those were…)

Shelby Cobra Daytona

Shelby Cobra Daytona chassis number CSX2601 sold in 2009 at the Mecum auction in Monterey

Shelby might have thought that having a by-guess-and-by-gosh aero coupe front engine car be successful would put these engineers back in their place. Show them what true grit was.

Brock’s design had the same long hood, the same tapered tail as the GTO, but Brock’s went a little further in the Kamm tail department by having an inset cam tail, which probably induced more turbulence, hence kept the rear end down more than if it had been flat-faced in the rear. The Alfa GTZ also had an inset Kamm effect tail.

Brock also added a rear tail spoiler to the car after some preliminary tests. Though Ford had a wind tunnel big enough for a full size car, apparently the Daytona was not tested in the tunnel in its first year of competition. But in the second year, 1965, it was sent to Dearborn and a few recommendations made and subtle changes made.

Another influence on the Brock Daytona coupe was the shape of the Aston Martin 212, 214 and 215 coupes. Those were aerodynamic bodies on Aston Martins. The 212 appeared in ’62 , the 214 and 215 the following year. They weren’t that successful in racing but they predated the Cobra Daytona coupe and I have seen a picture of Pete Brock in a race closely following an Aston Martin aerodynamic coupe so he can’t say he was unaware of Astons (you tend to remember the cars you race against).

Brock did not have a degree in engineering, but neither did Shelby, so one has to give credit to Shelby for being willing to take a chance on another self-taught guy’s theories. It could be Shelby saw a little bit of himself in Brock, a little bit of the kid-from-nowhere who wants to build a world-beater. He had done it himself only three years earlier.

Ironically Shelby’s own mechanical crew in the shop were skeptical about Brock’s car while it was being built, calling it “the turd” and predicting it wouldn’t do well at the racetrack. But when Brock took the Daytona coupe to Riverside and it cracked 170 mph on the straight, some of the crew cheered when they got the phone call reporting the results.

Shelby Cobra Daytona

Shelby Cobra Daytona Winning It’s Class At Le Mans in 1964 – Art by Nicolas Watts

Success has a way of rapidly changing opinions.

The purpose of the Daytona coupe was really only as a place holder—Ford was developing the Ford GT40, a modern mid-engined car and had raced it in ’64 but if fell flat on its face. So Ford grudgingly supported the Daytona so they could have something that was winning while they worked out the bugs on the Ford GT40 (mostly by bringing it to Shelby and having him correct all the flaws).


The first Daytona coupe was built in Los Angeles, by Cal Metal Shaping.

But the subsequent five? Over in Italy by a small carrozzeria. You have to wonder if Enzo sent spies over there to sabotage them.


And yes, it’s true, there was a big block 427 (7-liter) Daytona being built, one that would have had an advantage in power of course but also reliability, the FE series side oiler a winner in NASCAR. But half way through its build, a small block Daytona was smashed in transport (summarized as “tall transporter, short bridge”) so orders went to Italy to convert it back to a small block.


Ah, I know you Cobra Daytona fans will cry “foul” at the inclusion of this category, protesting “but it’s a race car,” but I personally have been driven to the market in a real genuine certified rootin’ tootin’ 250GTO (loaned to a Motor Trend assistant art director for a week by Steve Earle) and can assure you that it drove like a regular car in traffic, no over-heating, no drama but lots of wonderful noise. After all Ferrari was trying to convince the FIA it was but a variation on an existing street car so it was civilized, say as much as a panther on a choke-collar. Looks beautiful but has a nasty bite if you cross it.

Shelby Cobra Daytona CSX2287

Shelby Cobra Daytona CSX2287 For Sale (once owned by Phil Spector) When It Was Driven On The Street

I have never been in a Cobra Daytona that’s being street-driven but I imagine it’s a lot cruder, and a lot hotter inside than the GTO. After all, none of the civilizing things that make a car streetable were brought over from the donor roadster that provided the chassis. In fact how Shelby got the car past the FIA is still mysterious, but they may have figured, hey, more people will come to the races and turned a blind eye.

Ferrari 250 GTO

Ferrari 250 GTO in the parking lot of the Riverside Race Track, 1970, owned by Stephen Mitchell – photo by Larry Crane


So flash forward a half century or more. These two fastbacks are now the two prima donna sports cars of the Sixties. Rarely does an example of either come to auction. Remarkably all of the Daytona coupes, all six of them, have survived. Also remarkably, all of the Ferrari GTOs have survived. The actual number of GTOs is a little controversial, most saying 36 but if you count three prototypes there are 39.

Relative values of the two, though, are far different. The most I can remember a Daytona coupe going for at a public auction was at the Mecum auction in Monterey in 2009 for $7,685,000.

The most a Ferrari GTO has gone for is $38,115,000 at the Bonhams auction in Monterey in 2014 though rumors persist one privately changed hands in recent years at $52 million.

Why is the more plentiful one worth more than the more rare one?


Well, that brings us back to pedigree. I know people with fine quarterhorses. And beautiful as some of them may be, they ain’t thoroughbreds.

A Ferrari race car brings with it a mental collage of images of LeMans, shooting around the back roads on the French Riviera, playboys, movie stars, the whole kit and caboodle. And you have to figure that, when that car was conceived, Enzo Ferrari was still alive, indulging in skullduggery behind the scenes to get it approved by hook or by crook. Not to mention Ing. Bizzarrini, the man who later created cars under his own name, was the mastermind. Here you had The Mad Professor creating his most brilliant creation.

The Cobra Daytona coupe, on the other hand, has no street image (unless you want to count Phil Spector trolling Sunset Blvd. in his, though he subsequently besmirched the image of Daytona owners by being put in jail for murder).

The Cobra Daytona coupe didn’t “make the scene” like the GTO did but was seen mostly on racetracks where, after Shelby stopped racing them, they flat disappeared and didn’t come out to play until almost a decade later when Steve Earle and a couple GTO-owning buddies brought theirs to Laguna Seca, to the first of what became the vaunted Monterey Historic Races.

Bev Spencer in GTO 4219 at the Hillsborough Concours d’Elegance in May 1963

Bev Spencer in GTO 4219 at the Hillsborough Concours d’Elegance in May 1963 – photo from the Spencer Family Archives

Both models have figured in some lurid headlines. In my Incredible Barn Finds series, I either have already chronicled some of the back stories, or will. For instance, how one Cobra Daytona coupe was involved in a suicide, and then there’s the story of a drug dealer who owned a 250GTO but whose enjoyment of it was cut short after he was murdered by his gang, miffed that he had fled with the drug gang’s loot.

My druthers? Between the two, faced with a choice of one or the other, I’d take the GTO. Maybe it’s the yellow shield with the prancing horse on its flanks, maybe it’s the glorious WHOOP-WHOOP sound of that V12 bouncing off the canyon walls in Malibu (I forgot to say I tagged along with the Ferrari’s Owners Club when they would race their cars, including the GTO, though Malibu on a Sunday morning).

I know…. I know…you’re talking to a guy who wrote three books on Shelby….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss reports his book SHELBY The Man, the Cars the Legend can be ordered directly from Enthusiast Books (715)381 9755. Prints of his fine art showing the Cobra Daytona and Ferrari GTO will be at Concorso Italiano.




ferrari logo

Cobra Logo

Shelby Cobra Factory Poster

Shelby Cobra Factory Poster

Ferrari 250 GTO

Ferrari 250 GTO – Art by Wallace Wyss

Two Legends At Odds: Why Is It That A Ferrari 250 GTO Is Worth Six Times More Than A Shelby Cobra Daytona?
Article Name
Two Legends At Odds: Why Is It That A Ferrari 250 GTO Is Worth Six Times More Than A Shelby Cobra Daytona?
Two very valuable 1960s race care are discussed.


  1. Stelios Sokialis says

    Hi Wallace ( + Mike in his absence)
    Yes, both are very beautiful cars and both have history, in their inception and their racing. But as you say, the prancing horse will always win out and as you rightly point out, it’s in the pedigree.

    Now you probably know this already, but Down Under we had a Peter Brock of our own. If you now of our premier race, used to be called the Hardie-Freodo 500, but then went through several iterations; Bathurst 1000, 12hr, 24hr etc. Though we had exported a few well known drivers like Sir Jack Brabham, Alan Jones, Mark Webber, Peter Brock was our most successful local racing driver, colloquially known as Peter Perfect, King of the Mountain (reference to the hill at Bathurst) or simply a Brocky..

    Unfortunately, other than the namesake, this is where the other connection to this story comes in. He tragically died in in his last race, a rally near Perth in a Daytona Coupe (a replica of the Shelby Daytona).
    this link is to the news on that day:
    and this is the link to his last lap before the one that claimed him.
    Though it is beautiful to see the car running through the rally, just looking through the windscreen, on the tight & twisty road, in the wet, as Brocky handles the car at speed brings your heart up into your throat I reckon. What do you think?

  2. Good Question.
    Obvious answer

  3. Excellent analysis Wallace. All of what you say is correct but I believe the biggest reason the GTO remains such a high value automobile has more to do with the “marketing” that Ferrari has in the larger context today. Shelby no longer builds cars and has not for many years. Racing Shelby cars is primarily a vintage event. Ferrari today builds some of the most amazing and technically advanced cars in the world. They also still campaign race cars. Shelby does none of this.

    The buyer pool for GTOs is therefor quite a bit larger since it includes a larger number of well-educated wealthy people who buy based on long term provenance and future status. While the Cobra Coupe remains mysterious and iconic to a largely American population, it is a far smaller pool of buyers that seek this car – an icon mostly to educated enthusiasts and Shelby evangelists.

    That said, it is very likely that should a Cobra Coupe sell at auction today it would “close the spread” so to speak and gain a higher number than the last one sold nearly 8 years ago. Cobra Coupes are amazing cars, but the lore of Ferrari, the prancing lineage, the large scale contemporary marketing, and the current offerings are hard to beat when it comes to brand value.

    • Raffi,

      I agree with you that a leading car company still in business today creates an advantage for their classic cars over those cars made by companies who are no longer in business.

      I saw this with the Iso Grifo and the Bizzarrini GT 5300 compared to Ferrari and Lamborghini. These existing companies also help their classic car owners with parts and services such as the Ferrari Classiche service. Aston Martin is in the business of restoring their old cars and they also sell them.

      Jaguar is making modern reproductions of a couple of their old classics.

  4. Thomas Ollinger says

    Wallace, I hope Mr Brock wasn’t too saddened by your lack of credit to those who through obvious genius took an old beater from the 50s and won LeMans.

  5. Wallace Wyss says

    Hey Tom:
    That’s playin’ with history when you say “won leMans.” I looked up the ’63 through ’66 LeMans races and came up with these results. No Cobra Daytona coupes in ’63–hadn’t been built yet. In ’64 not one Cobra Daytona coupe finished LeMans where four GTOs did. In ’65 a Daytona coupe finished 8th overall but there were no GTOs in the race. I can support a rewrite to say “took an old beater and were competitive at LeMans” but neither the GTO or the Cobra Daytona coupe ever won LeMans overall. I know Shelby fans like to elevate the accomplishments of the man and his cars but gotta stick with the facts. Forza, baby!

    2nd overall GTO
    4th overall GTO
    6th overall GTO LMB
    DNF 28th GTO
    4th overall GTO
    5th overall GTO
    6th overall GTO
    9th overall GTO
    DNF Cobra Daytona 34th
    DNF GTO 37th
    8th overall Cobra Daytona
    DNF Cobra Daytona 22nd’
    DNF Cobra Daytona coupe 27th
    DNF CobraDaytona 31st
    DNF Cobra Daytona 33rd

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