The Truth About Cars » shelby cobra The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » shelby cobra The Other Jim Russell Sat, 27 Apr 2013 18:27:15 +0000

(Reader John Kit, an avid racer of both slot cars and F2000 cars, discusses an important figure it slot car racing – also named Jim Russell)

Most of you are familiar with the Jim Russell of racing school fame, but there was also another man of the same name. The Jim Russell of this tale was a business consultant in Los Angeles in the very early 1960′s. Needing to pass some time one weekend, a friend introduced him to a new hobby of racing scale cars, powered by electric motors, around a track. It was the then new activity to be known as model car racing.

Jim took to the idea of model car racing and built his own track in his den. The result of an accidental varnish spill over one of his scale car bodies resulted in the idea of producing a coating to protect these scale racers from scratches that resulted when intense racing was done. He called the product “Russ-Coat” and started marketing it in 1963.

The success of this product and his interest in the hobby lead to the creation and marketing of other products related to the now booming model car racing hobby. His timing was impeccable. By 1963 the Wall Street Journal reported that the model car racing market was worth $100 million dollars. By 1965 there were more commercial venues to go and race model cars than there were bowling alleys in the United States.

Jim managed his company like an auto manufacturer. He sold a range of products from individual parts to complete cars.  He had a race team comprised of four members: Mike Morrisey, who was the “Captain”, Rick Durkee, Ron Quintana and Len Vucci. Like a full scale race team, they would travel across the country and compete against other hobbyists as a means of promoting products made by RussKit. Jim’s membership in an exclusive club, MESAC (Miniature Electric Scale Automobile Club), that was located in a building in Inglewood California, gave him a proving ground as well as the perfect setting to take photos to market his cars.

The products RussKit offered spanned a wide spectrum. Along with the motors, bodies and chassis components were real scale wire wheels and an LP of sounds and interviews from Laguna Seca in 1966.

RussKit’s financial success gave Jim the ability to sponsor full scale racing cars. One of the first was an “unofficial” Porsche team comprised of two Carrera 6 racers driven by Ken Miles and “Scooter” Patrick, which won the CSPRRC and was shown on the cover of the Laguna Seca album. He also sponsored a Lola T-70 driven by Ronnie Bucknum (this car is now owned and raced by AC/DC rocker Brian Johnson restored in the RussKit colours and livery). But these cars, while special, would pale when compared to Jim’s next purchase.

While attending a race in California, Jim had a conversation with Carroll Shelby. The subject of obsolete racing cars was discussed and Mr. Shelby mentioned that he was putting his cars on the market for sale. Jim agreed to purchase one of these cars for $4,500. A Cobra Daytona Coupe, CSX2287, the first one built by Shelby and the only one built in the U.S.

Jim intended to use the car as a promotional tool for his company, which he did. He also made some minor modifications to allow him to use the car on the street, and even drove it to work. The car attracted a ton of attention from neighbors and pedestrians, largely drawn by the sound of the race-spec V8.

Then the demand for the products of RussKit and all manufacturers of slot cars and slot car products went into a steep decline. In 1967 Jim sold the Cobra Daytona to music producer Phil Spector. Mr. Spector reportedly paid $12,500 for the car. Jim thought that he did very well on the deal, which on a percentage basis, he did. For a time, the car seemed to have vanished and then went on to have a very interesting few years with it being “found” in 2001 and ultimately landing in the possession of Dr. Fred Simeone who currently has it in his museum on display.

With the demise of the model car racing hobby, Jim was forced to close RussKit in 1969. He was then hired by Aurora Plastics and worked for them for many years where he was responsible for the AFX line of HO scale model racing cars.

Jim passed away in 2010 but he did get to experience the recent renewed interest in model car racing and the well-deserved appreciation and recognition of the RussKit products he developed and marketed. He was an automotive enthusiast of full size cars and ones made to scale, a loving husband and father and by all accounts a true gentleman.

]]> 20
Happy 50th Birthday, Shelby Cobra Sun, 01 Apr 2012 16:21:29 +0000

50 years ago, the Shelby Cobra made its debut at the New York Auto Show, spawning a rich legacy of American motorsport success, and rampant kit car clones. 

Jamie Kitman’s piece in the New York Times examines the Cobra’s genesis as one of the best examples of Anglo-American collaboration. The 1962 New York Auto Show saw the debut of the MKI Shelby Cobra, using the British AC Ace as a starting point. Out went the wimpy inline six, and in went a 260 c.i.d Ford V8, with a 289 c.i.d V8 following shortly after. Upgrades, both cosmetic and mechanical followed in the later years, – the 427-powered MKIII cars, with their big-block engines and flared bodywork, are the most well-loved, and often the basis for the ubiquitous kit cars that still survive to this day.

While motorsports greats like Dan Gurney, Phil Hill and Bob Bondurant helped propel the Cobra to motorsports success, Carroll Shelby’s marketing acumen was an even greater force for popularizing the car. The Cobra had a number of “product placement” gigs in Elvis films (such as Viva Las Vegas) and pop songs. It didn’t hurt that some of NASA astronauts also drove Shelby Cobras, helping put them front and center in the public’s eye.

Cobra production ended in 1967, with Carroll Shelby turning his attention to Shelby Mustangs and the Ford GT40 program. But the Cobra managed to survive in the hearts and minds of the public, and over the years, replicas, from third parties as well as Shelby American, have popped up in various forms. Some have been authorized by Carroll Shelby, while others have been the subject of frequent, well-publicized litigation.

The Shelby Cobra has managed to endure the test of time in a way that few cars have. Its shape, like that of the Citroen DS or the Datsun 240Z is at once a product of its time, but also avoids looking dated. A thriving kit-car industry (and a nearly endless supply of donor Mustangs) has ensured that new Cobras (regardless of provenance) hit the streets every year. Here’s to another 50 years of this audacious, belligerent trans-continental hybrid.

]]> 23