A prototype from the days when Ford was enamoured with retro-modern rides

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Ford rebooted two of the cars that brought about some of its biggest victories ever scored on the world’s road courses. First, in 2004, Ford introduced the Shelby Cobra Concept, a modern reinterpretation of the mythical AC Cobra and, one year later, the Cobra Daytona Coupe was reborn through the GR-1 prototype.

It was 14 years ago that Ford released the S197 fifth-generation Mustang. Its old-school styling proved to be a hit among customers young and old, but the Mustang was only the tip of the iceberg, the model that made it through all the board meetings. Ford, in fact, built a number of old school-looking concepts in the early ’00s besides the Mustang and the GT that eventually got the green light. There was the 2001 Forty-Nine which harkened back to the smooth lines of the late ’40s Ford Custom, the F150 Lightning Rod and, then, there was the GR-1. Clearly, nostalgia was trendy a decade and a half ago.

This car, like the open-top Shelby Cobra Concept, is underpinned by a modified Ford GT platform made to suit the front engine layout. It went from a sketch on a drawing board to a full-size clay model displayed at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in virtually no time and was then built as a fully-functional prototype in time for the 2005 North-American International Auto Show. Then, it all went silent. The suits didn’t approve another high-performance supercar right after the GT and only recently have we heard of plans to revive this special one-off.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 Exterior

  • Designed by George Saridakis
  • Final touches were added by then-Ford Chief Designer J. Mays
  • Debuted with a polished aluminum body that was later painted
  • Unmistakable follow-up of the legendary Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe
  • Built by Ford’s Advanced Product Creation team
  • Production model wouldn’t have looked as good
  • The full-size mock-up with an aluminum body was sold back in 2011 for $82,500
2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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The Ford GR-1 is the 40th-anniversary tribute to one of the greatest American race cars of all time, the Pete Brock-designed Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. Like the original, the GR-1 (which stands for Group Racing 1) made it from sketch to full-size model in a short amount of time, not as short as the 90-day build-up of the Daytona Coupe prototype, though, as times had moved on and technology was on a whole another level in the noughties.

The GR-1 was the product of Ford designer George Saridakis who, with only one sketch, impressed the team at the Irvine Advanced Design Studio and even Ford's Head of Design, J. Mays.

"George produced this completely resolved sketch, the best I’ve seen in 10 years," said Mays at the time. "This is a designer so masterful at visualizing every aspect of the car and its story that it literally flowed out of his pen." In fact, only two more sketches were completed before the folks at Ford’s Advanced Product Creation department were contacted, and the work on a clay model began.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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Using CAD and machine cutting, the clay model was completed in just a week out of over 1,100 pounds worth of clay blocks. Then, the finishing touches were added over the course of three more weeks that saw the artisans at the Irvine Design Center peel away any piece of excess clay and add the details that transformed a silhouette into the GR-1 as we know it.

The finished full-size clay model was first shown to an enthusiastic crowd at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the same event that Chrysler chose to unveil its own supercar that never made it past the concept stage, the ME Four-Twelve.

Using the molds of the clay model, Ford created a fiberglass platform model later on in the year. This model, which was sold at the 2011 Monterey RM/Sotheby’s auction for $82,500, has no engine, no transmission, and no interior. It is also different to the fully-functional prototype in that the body isn’t polished, instead sporting a silver paint job with two gray stripes down the middle of the car with the rear central panel colored in silver and gray like on the original Cobra Daytona Coupes where the back end was painted half Cobra blue, half white.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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The running and driving car was completed over the winter of 2004 and was unveiled at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, precisely one year after the Shelby Cobra Concept had been presented to the world. All the pieces fell in the right places as Shelby and Ford were celebrating 40 years since the GT World Championship title won by the original Cobra Daytona Coupe driven by Bob Bondurant to seven victories in ten races in 1965.

Talking about the design of the GR-1, it is obvious where the source of inspiration lays.

Up front, the GR1 has a rounded front bumper with the headlights positioned on either side of the hood which latches at the front, like on the original. The bumper itself is pierced by a massive air intake with rounded edges that has no mesh, albeit for three bars minus three bars, one horizontal and two other angled ones that continue the outer contour of the stripes along the body (on the platform model).

Next to the intake that opens up so you can take a peek at the massive radiator behind, there are the fog lights placed in a recessed position within two circular holes in the body that continue towards the outer extremities of the front fascia through a narrow opening.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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The lines of the car are strong, defined by a number of character creases along the body. There’s the one that draws itself along the side of the car, continuing the edge of the rear end all the way to the nose, and the two lines that go down from the A-pillars on the brow of the front fenders.

The hood of the GR-1 features two horizontal openings towards the tip of the nose as well as two bulges nearer to the windshield.

There is also a pair of air inlets on the sides, aft of the front wheel arches.

Talking about the car’s profile, it is very clean with only the aforementioned character line breaking what would otherwise be a smooth curved surface. The line, obviously, is there to underline the bulging wheel arches that hide enormous 345/35R Goodyear tires at the rear and 275/40R’s up front. Below the side vents on the hood, there are two more seemingly fake ones with the special GR-1 logo on them.

The doors open upwards in butterfly style, the door handle finding its place next to the window frame so as not to ruin the flush appearance of the doors. The mirrors are narrow and placed in the lower left corner. The gas cap is just above the protruding rear wheel arches.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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The GR-1's wheels are 19-inch alloys with 12 spoke, loosely inspired by the original Shelby Cobra rims.

You can only appreciate how chunky the tires are when you look at the car from the rear as the tires peer from behind the rounded tail end. The rear, itself, is purposeful, everything being arranged on the angled panel of the Kamm-tail.

There are two trapezoidal air vents positioned on the extremities of the rear fascia with narrow taillights next to them. The back end is where the GR-1 strays furthest away from the design of the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe that had only some tiny round taillights at the rear and no vents. Below the center panel, there are four exhaust outlets as well as a pretty basic diffuser carved into the bottom edge of the bumper.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
- image 5476

The car doesn’t have any moving aerodynamic elements although the original Cobra was considered unstable without the added ducktail that Brock wanted to include from the get-go, only to be ignored after the initial tests at Riverside showed very good lap times and some astonishing speeds down the back straight. Still, the wing was added for the 1965 season, and it meant that the front and the back were more balanced and you weren’t getting the kind of nose lift you did on the early GT40s that were particularly flawed.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 Dimensions

Length: 173.7 inches
Width: 74.6 inches
Height: 46.0 inches
Wheelbase: 100 inches

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 Interior

  • Typical ’00s design trends with vintage cues
  • Carbon fiber seats
  • Racing-like harnesses
  • The butterfly doors incorporate a portion of the roof, similar to the GT
  • Sound-deadening frequencies to lower exterior noise for a quieter ride
  • The center console is futuristic with display for tire pressure and G-forces
2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
- image 5448

The interior of the Shelby GR-1 Concept is futuristic despite a number of throwback touches like the analog dials behind the steering wheel. The cabin may feel a bit claustrophobic to some due to the slanted roofline that goes down before abruptly ending with the Kamm tail, but getting in and out of the GR-1 isn’t particularly hard with the doors opening upwards and taking with them a small portion of the roof as well.

Once seated in the carbon fiber bucket seats and hugged by the harnesses, you can grab the semi-circular steering wheel which has the GR-1 logo right in the middle, above the triangular horn button.

There are five other buttons on the wheel, two of which are for the indicators as the car has no indicator stalks.

As mentioned, the dials are all analog although the speed is displayed on a small digital screen in the middle of the tachometer. The numbers in every dial only light up when you turn the key in the ignition - a true throwback! - and let it roar into life. The door panels are also interesting with their carved appearance. The interior door handle is like a latch that you pull on and even has a pointer on it in case you miss the obvious piece that sticks out from an otherwise caved in door panel.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
- image 5455

Then there’s the center console with its minimalistic look.

There's a small, round screen up top, which is why the center console itself is dome-like, and only a couple of knobs below.

The screen displays all the information from the Tire IQ system. It makes use of accelerometers and tire sensors to tell you if you’re losing pressure in one of your tires as well as the kind of G-forces you’re pulling while driving the GR-1.

There’s also a radio that can play MP3s in the GR-1 and, as HowStuffWorks says, it can "can record and playback, ostensibly so drivers can record notes about the track while they take practice laps." Inside this car, you’ll enjoy a quiet ride not because the naturally-aspirated V-10 is barely making any noise, but because the speakers emit continuously while you’re driving noise-dampening frequencies, a pretty high-tech solution for 2005.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 Drivetrain

  • More ’production feasible’ than the 2002 GT Concept
  • six-speed manual transaxle and suspension from the GT Concept
  • 605 horsepower
  • 501 pound-feet
  • Top speed of 190 mph
  • 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds
  • 3,900 pounds about 400 more than originally projected
2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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The GR-1 was completed in such a short amount of time because Ford already had most of the components. Basically, it sits on the same chassis as the Shelby Cobra Concept and was allowed to scavenge through the same Ford GT parts bin as the Cobra Concept that preceded it.

As such, the suspension layout is the same, as well as the brakes, transmission, and even the V-10 engine.

That engine, an aluminum block 6.4-liter unit with dry sump lubrication, develops 605 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 501 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. By comparison, the Ford GT in production trim produces 550 horsepower at 6,500 rpm despite the fact that its V-8 featured a supercharger. Indeed, the GR-1 was also supposed to go the way of a V-8 that would’ve lowered the center of gravity had it gone into production.

The gearbox that sends all that oomph to the rear wheels is a Ricardo 6-speed manual, the same transaxle as on the GT.

The GR-1s theoretical figures are the following: a (limited) top speed of about 190 mph and a 0 to 60 mph time of 3.9 seconds.

Ford also ran feasibility tests with the V-8 engine, and they were targeting sub 3.9 seconds 0 to 60 times as well as a quarter mile run in under 12 seconds with a gate speed in excess of 125 mph.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
- image 5460

The suspension was by unequal A-Arms all around, with control arms, coil springs, monotube dampers, and anti-roll bars. Steering is of the typical rack and pinion type with Brembo brakes behind all four wheels.

The discs are 14-inch wide up front and 13.2-inch wide at the back with 4-piston monoblock calipers.

The car weighs 3,700 pounds, 350 pounds more than the production Ford GT and over 600 pounds heavier than the Shelby Cobra Concept. A production version would’ve probably been even heavier than that given all the safety requirements. This matters especially in the context of Superformance’s plans to put the GR-1 into production in two year’s time.

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1 Specifications (Concept)

Engine 6.40-liter, aluminum block, naturally-aspirated V-10
Lubrication Dry sump
Output 605 horsepower at 6,750 rpm
Torque 501 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm
Top speed (limited) 180-190 mph
0 to 60 mph 3.9 seconds
Transmission Ricardo six-speed manual transaxle
Suspension Unequal A-Arms, control arms, coil springs, monotube dampers, anti-roll bars
Brakes Brembo discs with four-piston monoblock calipers
Weight 3,700 pounds

Brief history

2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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"The greatest accomplishment of my life was winning the World Manufacturers’ Championship in 1965," is what Carroll Shelby used to say when talking about the first time he crushed Ferrari on his own terms, the only time he did it with a car bearing his own name. That car?

The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe was designed by an ex-GM designer and engineer by the name of Pete Brock.

Brock worked on the gloriously beautiful Corvette Sting Ray Racer of 1959 and actually warned Bill Mitchell about some potential design flaws that were later fixed in time for the launch of the C2 Corvette.

Brock, who was new at Shelby’s shop, realized that the Shelby Cobra was never going to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, even with the mythical 289 (4.7-liter) V-8 and the aerodynamic hardtop in place. It simply wasn’t fast enough. Having studied in the GM library the findings of German aerodynamicists from the ’30s, he found out he could reduce drag by employing a straight-cut tail instead of the usual elongated, streamlined setup used on pre-War land speed record cars such as the Auto-Union Type C Streamliner. This tail was the creation of one Wunibald Kamm who came up with this sloping tail that abruptly ended with a vertical or slightly angled surface.

1963 Shelby Cobra Exterior
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The first Cobra Coupe he constructed with the help of one mechanic and British driver Ken Miles incorporated the Kammback design and featured a long hood with a chiseled nose.

Most everybody at Shelby’s shop was happy with the Cobra Roadster who’d just won in 1963 its first World Championship race at Bridgehampton and they thought the Coupe was ugly and a useless diversion. However, the team quickly changed its mind when Ken Miles drove the wheels off the prototype at Riverside in late ’63, running at or above Ferrari 250 GTO speeds down the back straight.

Shelby wanted to beat Ferrari at any cost, so he dully urged everyone to back Brock in further refining the Coupe. However, due to the lack of time needed to machine new parts, the car debuted at Daytona in 1964 without the ducktail. On the banking, the pressure pushed the car down anyway, so the lack of downforce at the back wasn’t noticeable and the team soldiered on without it. Shelby won Le Mans that year with the Coupe that has, by now, been renamed ’Daytona Coupe’ since it debuted at that venue. The team missed on the title after the second to last race, at Monza, was held but without any points up for grabs for the world championship standings. It’s said that Enzo Ferrari himself pulled some strings to take the round off the world championship calendar so that Shelby wouldn’t beat Ferrari at Monza.

1964 - 1969 Ford GT40 Exterior
- image 674960

In 1965, Shelby was going to go all in: there would be the Shelby American operation which would manage the cars that raced Stateside and then, back in Europe, the cars would be run for Shelby by longtime Ford associate Alan Mann who had his own team of mechanics and drivers.

While Shelby took over the GT40 program, the mechanics were still able to improve the Cobra Daytona Coupe's design in some areas, for instance, the roofline that became smoother and gained some vents.

Part of the deal with Mann wast that one of the cars would be crewed by his drivers, Jack Sears, and John Whitmore. At Daytona, the first round of the ’65 season, Shelby dominated with its four Cobra Daytona Coupes and even won overall for the first time ever with the improved GT40 now wearing the classic blue-and-white paint scheme. At Sebring, in pouring rain, the GT40 played second fiddle to the Chaparral 2 prototype, but the Cobra Coupes won again in the GT category, despite having to stop so that the mechanics could drill holes in the floor for the excess water to drain out of the cabin. Many cars that day died out with burnt electrical systems.

After that, the World Manufacturer’s Championship moved to Europe and Shelby’s American drivers designated to do the full season, namely Allen Grant and Bob Bondurant, learned that Mann wanted his drivers to stay in front no matter what. At Monza, the first European race that the Coupes took part in, Bondurant was on the 5.0-liter (Division III) class pole but was ordered by Mann to start from behind the British-crewed car. The American ultimately ignored team orders and won at the Italian Temple of Speed. The same scenario would repeat itself throughout 1965 as the Cobra Daytona Coupes with their 390 horsepower 4.7-liter V-8s were unstoppable in the GT division, although Bondurant had to fight with the Sears/Whitmore car that was favored by Mann time and again.

1964 Ferrari 250 LM Fetches $14 Million at Auction High Resolution Exterior
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Why did the Cobras basically sweep the Division III category? Well, Ferrari stopped developing the 250 GTO at the end of 1964.

The Italian automaker was unable to homologate the 250LM as a GT car because of low production numbers and the fact that it wasn't - as Ferrari claimed - based on the GTO.

This forced Enzo to concentrate on overall wins with its sleuth of open-top prototypes such as the 275P. So, with no opposition in Division III (for cars with an engine capacity of over 2.0-liters), the Shelbys racked up most of the wins. They won at the Nurburgring and at Le Mans while a 250 GTO driven by Peter Sutcliffe won at Spa. Ferrari also won overall and in class at the Targa Florio while a few of the Hillclimb rounds were also won by Ferrari who’d won at Mugello overall as well. The Tourist Trophy was won by a Brabham overall, but John Whitmore won in Division III aboard a Cobra Roadster entered by Alan Mann.

The Cobra Daytona Coupe could become champion in its class by conquering the Reims 12-hour race held on July 4th, 1965. The race unusually kicked-off at night and, after completing 270 laps, Bondurant and Frenchman Jo Schlesser won their class, beating the Sears/Whitmore car by 29 laps while all three of the GTOs retired. Bondurant became champion, and then he won one more time, at the ’Coppa Citta di Enna’ held at the fast Enna-Pergusa track in Italy to make a point.

1964 - 1969 Ford GT40 High Resolution Exterior
- image 469597
With the championship sealed, the cars were all retired from competition as Shelby prepared to take on the world once more in '66 with the heavily updated Ford GT Mk. II.

However, there was one exception: The former ’French’ Daytona that ran in an all-white livery at the Nurburgring 1,000-kilometer round of the ’65 season, chassis #CSX 2300. This car was bought by Oscar Koveleski in March of ’66 and then ended up in the hands of future Shadow Racing founder Don Nichols. Nichols, one of the Americans that helped conceive and build the Fuji Speedway in Japan with the desire to run NASCAR events there, shipped the car to Japan that same year.

It arrived just at the right time for it to be entered for its final race: the 1966 Japan GP. Tadashi Sakai drove it around Fuji Speedway all the way up to second overall, passing some of Japan’s finest drivers and their purpose-built machines. Sadly, the engine gave up and Sakai’s efforts in the No. 21 car went unrewarded.

The original Daytona Coupe is an amazing machine even to this day. Car & Driver tested one back in 1966, and it managed a 0 to 60 mph time of just 4.4 seconds. Impressive as it is, you must remember the Coupe only weighed about 2,300 pounds, and it could reach almost 200 mph down the Mulsanne Straight. "It was a big step forward over the roadster," said Jack Sears quoted by Edmunds. "With that, you’d just grit your teeth and get on with it, but the Coupe had good handling and was fun to drive."


2005 Ford Shelby GR-1
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The Shelby GR-1 is probably one of the more tasteful concepts that tips its hat to a legend of old. It looks fast and muscular while standing still and that’s why we rejoiced at the news that it will be put back into production. Apparently, the car was close to the conveyor belts in 2005 too, but Ford shelved the project after the disappointing sales of the Ford GT. In spite of the early hype, the retro-looking GT was made in only 4,038 examples by the time its second and final model year had come to a close. Ford was projecting a 4,500 production figure to make ends meet, so the Blue Oval didn’t want to risk it again with the GR-1.

The new-old Ford GR-1 will be built by Superformance and will be co-developed with Shelby American. Ford’s blessing is also there, and so are the buckets of performance. According to Lance Stander, the CEO of Superformance, the replica will receive a supercharged V-8 with over 700 horsepower that will be sent to the wheels through the same dual-clutch Tremac transmission that’s in use on the Shelby GT500. A 6-speed manual is also in the works.

So, after over a decade of waiting, we will probably see this concept run amok in real life. In fact, we should see about 200 of them roll out of the factory, and some of the chassis will feature an electric drivetrain! Here’s to many more concepts that deserve to be brought back from the dead!

  • Leave it
    • The original running and driving prototype will probably never be up for grabs
    • The reproduction will also cost a lot of money, expect a price tag of about $300,000

Further reading

1964 - 1969 Ford GT40 Exterior
- image 674989

Read our full review on the 1964 - 1969 Ford GT40.

2017 Ford GT High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 610226

Read our full review on the 2017 Ford GT

2005 - 2006 Ford GT High Resolution Interior Exterior
- image 5163

Read our full review on the 2005-2006 Ford GT

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
About the author

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