Monterey 2024

1964 Shelby 289 Cobra "Snake Charmer"

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United States | Monterey, California

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Chassis No.
CSX 2227
Engine No.
3493
Documents
US Title
  • Offered by the family of original owner Hank Williams, “The Snake Charmer”
  • A single-owner 289 Cobra—well-loved, meticulously kept
  • Accompanied by its original build sheet, sales form, and memorabilia, including a collection of trophies and the famous “Snake Charmer” Cobra team shirt
  • Retains its numbers-matching body and engine; never restored, only maintained, with fabulous patina
  • Well-known and beloved within California sports car and national SAAC circles
  • One of the most historically potent, evocative 289 Cobras—a genuine legend
Please note that this lot is titled as a Ford and reflects, date first sold as 1965.

A MAN AND HIS CAR

History is full of happy coincidences, or perhaps one should call them fate—connections that seem happenstance but that led to a magical story better than fiction. Such circumstances led Henry “Hank” Williams to the door of Norman Ford Sales of Pomona, California, in 1965. Hank was a fascinating person, a man of many parts and diverse talent: A decorated World War II hero who had taken part in the invasion of Normandy Beach, a medical professional, and a jazz musician who played drums with the likes of B.B. King, Fats Domino, and Ray Charles. He had achieved some considerable success and, like many young men of his time, liked sports cars. An Austin-Healey had been his original mount, but it was rapidly becoming outclassed on the track. Originally, he planned to replace it with a Corvette, and so went to his local Chevrolet dealer.

This was March of 1965, however, and Hank Williams was a Black man at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Not a single salesman at the Chevrolet dealership would acknowledge or approach him. He left without a word said and drove straight to the closest Ford dealership, Norman Ford in Pomona, California. There he found both a young salesman, eager to make his first sale, and a Shelby 289 Cobra, chassis number CSX 2227—one of the last of the leaf-sprung Mk II versions, finished in Princess Blue.

It may have been fate, but it was still not a seamless transaction. The exuberant salesman wrote up a sales agreement and Hank paid him a deposit on the spot. When the new owner returned to complete the sale and collect his Cobra, however, the car was missing; the sales manager informed him that not only was it no longer at the dealership, but it was never supposed to have been sold in the first place, having actually been on loan from another dealer (or so the line went). Hank calmly responded that he had a signed contract for the Cobra, and that they could either honor his contract and produce the car within 24 hours, or he would return with his lawyer. The Cobra magically reappeared in short order, and Hank took delivery of his new car.

Fates had collided. A love affair was born and for the next 60 years, no one else would own that Cobra. In fact, no one else would even drive it.

THE “SNAKE CHARMER”

Hank Williams drove his Cobra to work during the week and raced it on the weekends, just as he had planned. Along the way he made the car his own by acquiring an original Cobra removable hardtop (now impossibly rare), so that his wife would be comfortable riding in it around town. He also repainted the car Silver Mink, a 1964 Lincoln color, and retrimmed the interior for durability and to suit his taste in red Naugahyde. He added a hood scoop and dual four-barrel carburetors, replaced the factory wires with American five-spoke wheels, and installed sway bars. The original engine was rebuilt in the 1980s after being bored .030 over, but the car otherwise remained untouched during its lifetime of ownership with one caretaker.

Hank’s racing career with the Cobra was legendary up and down the West Coast. Man and car were together in nearly 400 races (394, by his count): SCCA, Solo 1, rallies, slaloms, and private club events. He became good friends with several luminaries of the scene, most prominently Carroll Shelby himself. After Shelby won at Le Mans, he appeared at a California race wearing one of the team shirts from that event. Hank literally talked Shelby into giving him the shirt on his back, earning him the well-deserved and celebrated nickname that would persist for the rest of his years: “Snake Charmer.”

Hank and his cherished Shelby shirt were a regular sight behind the wheel of his beloved Cobra at numerous SAAC events and car shows, where Carroll Shelby inevitably looked up his old friend “to chew the fat.” Hank crisscrossed the country in his customized van, pulling the Cobra in a custom trailer to attend these events—which included a spirited drive around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the grand opening of the Shelby American facility in Las Vegas.

As reproductions and Shelby’s own continuations began to flood the scene, Hank was very proud that he had always owned an original Cobra, and acquired California license plate “NO KIT” to advertise that fact. That plate was on the car for many of the miles traveled by Hank in his Cobra: over 140,000 miles, a figure many people today do not approach in their “modern” car. The last of those miles he covered driving at his birthday celebration in Huntington Beach in June 2022; he was 98 years young that day. He would live to be 99.

The “Snake Charmer” Cobra is sold today from the Hank Williams Trust, still in Hank’s name on the original 1965 title, in the original envelope, with its nearly 60-year-old Silver Mink repaint, red Naugahyde interior, and gentle bumps and bruises from decades on the track. It is accompanied by all the ancillaries of a life well-lived: an impressive history file, including, remarkably, the remnants of the original build sheet, the original Buyer Form and Cobra New Car Warranty, and a 1968 Williams pink slip, from when they really were pink; an original Cobra brochure; a collection of over 260 trophies and awards; Hank’s iconic racing jacket (abundantly covered in pins and period Cobra and racing patches from SCCA and various circuits); and, of course, that shirt, charmed off Carroll Shelby’s back. Following Williams' passing, his Cobra was exhibited at the Petersen Musuem in Los Angeles, California—further testament to its significance to automotive history.

The photography session for this catalogue (which took place at the Petersen Museum) was the first time since Hank took delivery of his new Cobra in March of 1965 that anyone other than the “Snake Charmer” had driven it. The next caretaker has a similar opportunity to experience first-hand—and to continue—the legacy built over a lifetime love affair between a man and his car.

Fate is a magical thing.