Larry H. Miller was a “car guy” more specifically, he was a “Cobra guy,” meaning that he had a deep passion for the cars built by Carroll Shelby and the Ford Motor Company. As a young man, Larry got into drag racing with a 1963 Ford Falcon Sprint convertible. But Larry always admired Carroll Shelby and the cars that he built, and he looked forward to the day when he could own one. Roll on many years later and what you have now is the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Auto Museum.
There are automotive museums that try to impress with sheer square footage and number of cars. Then there are museums like the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Auto Museum with a floor plan you could cover in under two minutes but only if you had no interest in legendary cars.
Once success had been achieved as an auto dealer, Larry Miller finally found an opportunity to purchase a Shelby Cobra. Of course one Cobra led to another, and another, and another, and the result is what we see in the Larry H. Miller Total Performance Automobile Museum. A few of Larry’s cars are on loan to the Shelby American Collection in Colorado, but the majority of his collection resides here. Almost every car on display is capable of being driven, and until Larry’s death in February 2009, a number of them competed in vintage racing events on both sides of the Atlantic.
The museum’s collection of Ford GT40’s, Shelby Cobras and Mustangs might be the most impressive spectacle of American racing history under one roof. These cars represent 50 years of American racing history and one man who made the world take note of what the USA was capable of: Carroll Shelby. The collection includes the 1966 Le Mans MKII Ford GT40 driven by Ken Miles and Denis Hulme (P-1015), the first-ever production Shelby AC Cobra Roadster (1962 CSX2002) and a Cobra Daytona Coupe (CSX-2299)—the GT winner at the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1965 Daytona Continental 2000km race, 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1965 FIA GT World Championship. It is the only known collection with one example of all five variants of the GT40.
If you don’t know the history of Miller Motorsport Park, here it is: Larry H. Miller.
Miller was the head of the Larry H. Miller Group of companies, a conglomeration of businesses that ranged from the Utah Jazz basketball team to movie theaters to a TV station to more than 50 auto dealerships, all stemming from one Toyota dealership he bought a piece of in 1979.
In 2004 he broke ground on Miller Motorsports Park, which was to be a small regional track, built on a modest budget, on land outside Tooele, UT that he would lease from the county. As construction on Miller Motorsports Park continued, Miller kept adding things. He hired track designer Alan Wilson, and what resulted was a challenging 23-turn, 4.5-mile road course, the longest in America. The entire facility is more than 500 acres.
Now to the cars, to describe them all in detail would take hours, so we felt it best to highlight a few of our personal favorites.
CSX-2002 (red No. 16): This was the third Cobra ever built, and the first Cobra race car. CSX -2000 was the original prototype, built in February 1962, which was painted in different colors for each auto magazine that was invited to test it (to make the impression that there was more than just the one car). In May 1962, CSX-2001 was shipped to Ed Hugus’ shop in Pittsburgh where the engine, transmission and rear end were installed. The car was sent immediately to Europe, where it remained for many years. CSX-2002 was the first Cobra built in Shelby’s shops in California, and was the first factory competition Cobra. It was this car in which drivers Ken Miles and Dave MacDonald did all the development work. Billy Krause drove it in its first race, the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at California’s Riverside Raceway in October 1962.
CSX-2019 (blue Dragonsnake): This was originally a “PR car” for Shelby, believed to have been used in promotional pieces and magazine articles. In the summer of 1963 it was rented to MGM Studios for use in the Elvis Presley movie “Viva Las Vegas” (red Cobra No. 98). In late 1963 it became the first factory Dragonsnake, or drag racing-equipped Cobra. The Dragonsnake project was originally devised as a morale-boosting exercise for workers in the Cobra production shop, who had watched their colleagues in the Cobra race shop get all the glory. The project was very successful, and the car set a national record in the F/SSP class. This led to a “drag racing package” being made available for sale (eventually, four factory-built customer Dragonsnakes were sold).
CSX-2128 (black No. 15): This was one of two Cobras built for the 1963 12 Hours of Sebring. In its original livery, it was photographed to appear on the cover of a record album called “Hey Little Cobra” by a band called the Rip Chords. This was allegedly the Cobra that made Larry Miller fall in love with Cobras. When it came up for auction in January 2005, the bidding came down to Larry and one other bidder, Larry emerged victorious, but later found out that he was bidding against none other than George Lucas!
CSX-2299 (blue No. 13 Daytona Coupe): Shelby wanted to race Cobras in Europe in 1964, but the Cobra roadsters hit an aerodynamic “wall” at about 150 mph and were unsuitable for the long, high-speed European circuits. Shelby had designer Pete Brock pen a fastback coupe body. Brock’s handiwork allowed the cars to go 20 mph faster just based on more efficient aerodynamics. Six coupes were built, and they were nicknamed the “Daytona Coupe.” CSX-2299 was the second one built, and it had the best racing record of the six examples. It finished first in the GT class and fourth overall in its debut race at Le Mans with Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant (handing Ferrari its first defeat in the GT class at Le Mans since the class was established in 1959), and took the same result in the season-ending Tourist Trophy at Goodwood in England with Gurney. It also took first in GT and second overall in the 1965 24 Hours of Daytona (Jo Schlesser/Hal Keck) and first in GT/fourth overall in the 1965 12 Hours of Sebring (Bondurant/Schlesser), helping Shelby become the first (and, to date, only) American manufacturer to win the FIA GT World Manufacturers Championship. CSX-2299 is considered the most valuable Cobra in existence, and perhaps the most valuable car in America.
P-104 (blue/white stripes, No. 72 Mk I): This was the fourth GT40 to be constructed, and the first to use thin-wall chassis tubing to save weight. Just days after construction was complete it made its racing debut in the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it qualified second but failed to finish after an engine fire damaged the car. After suffering through a difficult first year in 1964, during which chassis numbers P-101 and P-102 were destroyed in crashes, Ford turned the program over to Carroll Shelby, who was achieving international success with his Cobra sports cars. P-104 was the first GT40 delivered to Shelby’s shops in California, followed by sister chassis P-103, and was one of the first racing cars to utilize computerized missile aerodynamics technology and telemetry, thanks to Ford’s Nutronics aerospace division. The advancements made by Shelby in developing P-103 and P-104 laid the groundwork for the future success of the GT40 program, which claimed outright wins at Le Mans in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.
P-1015 (blue/white stripes, No.1 Mk II): One of the most significant GT40s ever, this Mk II was fitted with a 427-c.i. NASCAR engine and entered in the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona, the first-ever 24-hour race at Daytona, where it won overall co-driven by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby. It was then entered in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of eight Mk IIs entered (three each from Shelby American and Holman-Moody and two from Alan Mann Racing). Following the final round of pit stops, this car, entered by Shelby American and co-driven by Miles and Denis Hulme, was leading ahead of the No. 2 Shelby entry of Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon (P-1046), with the No. 5 Holman-Moody entry of Ronnie Bucknum/Dick Hutcherson (P-1016) 12 laps in arrears. As the end of the race neared, Ford executives, anticipating their first-ever overall win at the world’s most prestigious sports car race, ordered a “photo finish.” The cars closed ranks and crossed the line, but the race officials deemed that the No. 2 had started further back on the grid and had thus covered more distance and awarded that car the win. This controversial decision robbed Miles (who had won at Daytona and Sebring earlier in the year) the opportunity to become the only man to win the “Triple Crown” of endurance racing. Sadly, Miles was killed later that summer testing a prototype of the forthcoming Mk IV.
P-1074 (blue w/orange stripe, No. 40 Mk II): P-1074 was one of three Mirage prototypes constructed out of existing Ford GT40 chassis by England’s J.W. Automotive (JWA), a partnership between legendary racers John Willment and John Wyer. The cars were built to contest major international sports car races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, and other non-championship races. The cars were sponsored by Gulf Oil, and were the first racing cars to wear the iconic Gulf Blue-with-marigold-stripe livery. In 1970, the car was sold to Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions film company, who modified it extensively for use as a camera car in the filming of the epic movie “Le Mans.” The top was cut off and cameras were mounted in various places on the car in order to capture real-time on-track action for the movie.
J-4 (yellow No. 1 Mk IV): The Mk IV was the final iteration of the Ford GT40. In response to new rules for 1967, Ford built a new 427-ci.-powered “honeycomb” aluminum chassis as the successor to the Mk II (the Mk III was a street car) that was initially named the “J-Car” (after the FIA’s Appendix J rules that pertained to sports prototypes). There were four J-Car prototypes built before the “production” Mk IV was finalized, and a total of 12 chassis built of which only five were raced. This is the final prototype chassis and the car that was tested to determine the final body shape for the Mk IV. It only raced once, in the 1967 12 Hours of Sebring with Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren, but it qualified on pole and won the race, the first victory for a Mk IV. The only other race that Mk IVs competed in was the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, and chassis J-5 won that with A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney. Following that race the Appendix J rules were changed and the car was instantly obsolete.
I strongly suggest even urge and implore you to make the drive out to the track. Visit the museum. Learn more about these cars that put America at the forefront of international racing by beating Ferrari. Learn more about the man who built these pieces of history. Learn more about the man who acquired these cars and put them on display for all to see. Being able to see one of these cars in person is amazing, a few of them is awe inspiring, but all of them? That can be only described as a dream come true.