Once upon a time, there was Daisy – a car with looks that caught your eye a block away and performance so powerful it brought joy to the transplanted heart of an automotive icon. She was the sweetheart of auto shows and drew crowds wherever she went. But Daisy was not approved for production and was left to gather dust in storage for thirteen years before she was put up for auction. Chris Theodore, a former leader of Daisy’s creative team, discovered the auction by happenstance and rescued Daisy from oblivion. Dare we say they lived happily ever after?
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do!
I’m half crazy, all for the love of you!…”
From Bicycle Built for Two
Ford Shelby Cobra Concept
Chris Theodore joined Ford Motor Co. in 1999 as vice president of North American Large and Luxury Cars. Finding only a new Mustang planned for 2005 in Ford’s new vehicle pipeline, Chris focused on creating specialty concept models to maintain public interest in Ford cars.
Ford’s concept cars were typically planned by Theodore’s Advance Products Creation Group and Ford’s design team headed by J Mays to debut at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show. They agreed that doing a new Shelby GT350 and a GT500 for the ’05 Mustang would be a blockbuster, but it would be necessary to bring Carroll Shelby back into the Ford fold. Chris undertook the task of smoothing out the ruffled feathers of the Ford hierarchy and reconciliation between Ford and Shelby was made public at Pebble Beach in the spring of 2001. The Shelby brand name was back at Ford.
Based on the success of the Ford GT introduced in 2002, a new Ford Shelby Cobra was at the top of Mays and Theodore’s list of new concepts for 2004, especially now that Shelby himself could contribute to the project from the get-go. The Cobra program was code named Project Daisy to keep outsiders from getting too curious. Says Chris: “The Daisy name was a little tongue-in-cheek, a bit of a tease. Everybody knew we were up to something, but they didn’t know what.”
Daisy was a fully operable car so Ford could conduct a production feasibility study simultaneously with building the show car. Costs were kept down by using as many Ford GT parts as possible. Ford made four V10 engines in varying displacements for concept cars including Daisy. Daisy’s engine was a 6.4-liter, dry sump V10 with double overhead cams producing 605 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 501 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. In a car that weighed about 3,200 pounds, the Cobra Concept fulfilled Shelby’s maxim of putting “massive motors in tiny, lightweight cars.”
Daisy had to meet a tight schedule to make the NAIAS for 2004. Design and development were expedited by using the Ford GT suspension, rear-mounted six-speed transaxle, and the steering, brake and cooling systems. By August of 2003, the clay design was ‘frozen’ and fabrication began. Body panels were made of double-wall fiberglass with a foam core and every component was handmade. All the hard work paid off and Daisy, now finished in Tungsten Grey Metallic with Silver stripes, was completed six days before Shelby’s scheduled press demonstration.
Ford design chief J Mays said of the completed Daisy: “We have interpreted that raw, aggressive Cobra attitude in a very modern way.” Matt Stone of Motor Trend magazine confirmed Mays’ opinion after a test drive: “Said and done, it feels and sounds like a Cobra – loud and hairy-chested, and big boned – yet possessing the potential for a level of sophistication you’d expect of a modern sports car.”
The Shelby Cobra Concept public debut at the NAIAS for 2004 was all that was expected of Daisy and more. She made the front pages of both Detroit newspapers and was on the cover of virtually every car magazine in the world. The Ford display featured “The Trilogy of Ford’s most legendary performance vehicles” which included Daisy, a Ford GT and the new 2005 Mustang, all finished in identical Tungsten Grey Metallic and Silver stripes. AutoWeek magazine gave the Shelby Cobra Concept and J Mays its “Best in Show” award. Daisy’s success continued throughout the year as she traveled the auto show circuit.
But like other fairy tale heroines, Daisy’s clock struck twelve when she was not approved for production. Ford felt that there was financial uncertainty on the horizon that would not support the production of a high-dollar, limited-market sports car. Daisy was eventually relegated to storage where she was left to gather dust. Members of her creative team moved on to other projects and Daisy was forgotten – except by Chris Theodore.
Original Shelby Cobras
Carroll Shelby retired from a successful racing career in 1960, keeping busy until he found an opportunity fulfill his dream of building his own sports car. In September of 1961, when he discovered that AC Cars in England was losing their source of six-cylinder engines for their AC Ace sports car, Shelby shifted into high gear to convince AC to keep building the chassis and body while he sold Ford on the idea of supplying V8 engines. By March of 1962 an Ace body and chassis with a Ford V8 mated to a Borg Warner four-speed transmission was introduced by Shelby American as the first Shelby Cobra.
Shelby Cobras were a big success, regularly giving Corvettes a whipping on race tracks across America and winning races around the world. By 1964, Shelby saw the need for more power to maintain Cobra’s winning edge and looked to the Ford 427 engine as the answer. Stuffing the big Ford 427 into the Cobra required substantial modifications to the body and chassis, but Shelby American managed to pull off the trick. The 427 Cobra could go from zero to sixty miles per hour in just over four seconds and would get to 100 mph in 10.3 seconds – winning numbers in anyone’s book.
Shelby American’s Cobra production lasted until 1967 with a total production of 655 small-block Cobras and 343 427 Cobras. In 1974, Carroll Shelby, believing that government regulations would soon end the era of performance cars, closed his business and moved to South Africa to pursue other items on his bucket-list.
Daisy Gets a New Life
The unbelievable tale of Daisy returning to public life began on August 29, 2017. By then Chris Theodore had retired from Ford and was finishing up a mechanical build of a project for his consulting firm. In the course of the day’s events, purely by happenstance, he noticed an article in a classic car journal with the headline: “V-10-powered Ford Shelby Cobra concept up for bidding in November”. His first thought was that the headline could not possibly be true. Ford would never sell a concept car that could not legally be driven on public roads.
Reading on further, he discovered the explanation. “The 2004 Ford Shelby Cobra will cross the auction block in early November at GAA Classic Cars auction at the Palace in Greensboro, North Carolina. For bidding purposes, Ford will render the car completely not driveable, although the engine will remain functional.” All proceeds from the sale would go directly to the Henry Ford Estate, a charitable organization, for the restoration of Fair Lane, the Dearborn estate of Henry and Clara Ford.
Chris thought the fact that Daisy would not be driveable, and that the auction was at a date and location that traditionally doesn’t attract high rollers of the collector car world, might discourage serious bidders from attending. He then began to formulate a daring plan to bid on Daisy himself. He personally knew all of the engineers and mechanics who built Daisy thirteen years ago and thought that whatever Ford did to disable Daisy could be repaired. Now, if only he could get an opportunity to bid without having to compete against the professional collectors, he just might have a chance to bring Daisy home.
Chris and his wife Tracee arrived at the auction site a day early to scope out the lay of the land and to get ready for the following big day. Being a logical type, Chris set a limit on how much he would bid. When it was Daisy’s turn, the bidding ramped up quickly and thirty seconds into the bidding, Chris’ first bid was at his predetermined maximum – so much for logical planning. He continued to bid and reached a point where he made his final bid of $825,000, at that time the highest bid. If anyone topped his bid, Chris was through and Daisy would go home with someone else. The auctioneer raised his gavel and held it there while he continued his sales spiel, despite Chris’ frantic motioning to drop the gavel. After what seemed to be an interminable passage of time, the gavel came down and Chris was ecstatic.
“I maxed out two home equity loans and cut the two largest checks I’d ever written. It was the most irrational thing I have ever done,” Chris later said. But he was now the proud owner of Project Daisy, the last ever Shelby Cobra.
Fortunately, Chris Theodore is a pack rat and kept all of the assembly procedure paperwork from Ford along with contact information for all of the contractors and technicians who worked on putting Daisy together back in 2003. Following a teardown inspection, they discovered that Daisy had been made undriveable by disabling the drivetrain.
Once the drivetrain was repaired and postponed maintenance taken care of, Daisy passed her test run in February of 2018. Her public debut was at the Concours d’Elegance in Amelia Island, Florida where she once again fascinated the crowd.
What’s a one-of-a-kind concept car worth? Hard to say, but noted auto appraiser Donald Osbourne believes Daisy is worth about $1.5 million in her current running condition and, if she could be registered for street use, her value would be around $3 million.
Daisy is now back at home in Michigan in a nice warm garage getting ready for more shows. Sometimes happy endings do happen in real life.
Thanks to Chris Theodore
We’d like to thank Chris Theodore for all of his assistance in preparing this article and heartily recommend his award-winning book The Last Shelby Cobra – My Times with Carroll Shelby available at book stores everywhere. If you’d like an autographed copy, please contact Chris for pricing and availability.
Motor Authority: https://www.motorauthority.com/news/1128296_2004-ford-shelby-cobra-concept-roars-into-jay-leno-s-garage
Auto Concept Reviews: http://www.autoconcept-reviews.com/cars_reviews/ford/ford-shelby-cobra-concept/cars_reviews-ford-shelby-cobra-concept.html
Classic Cars Journal: https://ccn-journal-prod.azurewebsites.net/2017/08/29/v10-powered-ford-shelby-cobra-concept-going-up-for-bidding-in-november/
Motor Trend: https://www.motortrend.com/news/carroll-shelby-life-1923-2012-timeline/
Motor Trend: https://www.motortrend.com/cars/ford/shelby-gt500/2011/ford-shelby-cobra-concept/
Classic Driver: https://www.classicdriver.com/en/article/ford-shelby-cobra-concept-605bhp-v10