Part 1: The legal battle starts...
Sunday, March 18, 2001
Legend of the Cobra Car Takes a Twist Into Legal Quagmire
A Philadelphia collector owns the $4-million vehicle.
Racing buffs and others want it.
A court will settle whether it was legally sold.
By SCOTT MARTELLE, Times Staff Writer
About the only fact the friends and relatives of Donna O'Hara can agree
upon is that she's dead. And that a dented blue Cobra Daytona Coupe race car
the Sears employee had hidden away for nearly three decades is worth a lot
more than it looks. Somewhere around $4 million, in fact.
But that's where the agreements end. And the squabbling begins.
In the five months since O'Hara, 56, burned herself to death on a
Fullerton horse trail, her friends and relatives have become embroiled in a
lawsuit over rival claims to the rare 1964 race car once owned by reclusive
music producer Phil Spector.
The dispute includes allegations of a stolen document and lies told, of
duplicity and a secret sale in February that sent the car to a private
collection in Philadelphia--a distressing development for a nationwide
circle of car buffs and high-end collectors, enthralled by the discovery of
a machine long believed lost.
"The car's been missing for 30 years," said Lynn Park, a Cobra
collector from La Canada, who once tried to find the car, known to
collectors as the CSX2287. "A lot of people have tried and it was still
missing. When it surfaced, it was quite something."
The story of the missing Cobra, and of the legal fight that has erupted
in the wake of O'Hara's suicide, has more twists and turns than a Grand Prix
race course, its arcane details hard to follow and at times hard to believe.
Even for the judge.
"I am going to challenge all of you and ask if you are not making this
up," Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray told an array of
lawyers who filed into his courtroom March 6 for a hearing on an injunction
over the sale of the car. "This smells from many standpoints."
Few of those involved in the case will talk, leaving the debate to
their lawyers, who along with court records tell a tale that alternates
between misguided naivete and willful skulduggery.
And it all begins, innocently enough, with Carroll Shelby, a
larger-than-life Texan now living in Bel Air, who built the CSX2287 as the
first of six racing coupes that won him a world racing title in 1965.
Shelby himself once tried to buy the car back from O'Hara, but had no
better luck than any of the others in persuading her to part with it, let
alone admit she had it.
"It's a very strange, strange thing," said Shelby, known as much for
his brashness as for his cars. "That woman was kooky."
Shelby, a race-car driver in the '50s, began building his Cobras in
1962 through his Shelby American company in Los Angeles. But the original
cigar-shaped coupes didn't have the speed to beat Enzo Ferrari's Italian
speedsters on the international racing circuit.
In 1964, Peter Brock, a Shelby designer, tinkered with the original
Cobra design to make it more aerodynamic, closing the roof and dropping the
rounded back in favor of a camm, or concave, design, among other alterations.
The new version, the CSX2287, was built at Shelby's shop near Los
Angeles International Airport and ran 20 mph faster than its
predecessor--enough of a gain to challenge the fastest cars of the day.
Over the next two racing seasons, the CSX2287 and five subsequent
Daytona Coupes won their class in a series of races, including the grueling
12 hours of the Sebring race in Florida. And they brought Shelby American
the FIA World Championship--the first American team to win it.
Shelby retired the cars after the 1965 season, and after the CSX2287
set two dozen speed records at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. Shelby hoped
the cars' fame would make them valuable to race buffs, and in December 1965,
he sold the CSX2287 for $4,500 to Jim Russell, founder of the Russkits
company, which made toy slot-racing cars.
There was little interest, though, in the others.
"They sat around for a couple of years," Shelby recalled. "We took
engines and wheels and transmissions out of them, and they were just laying
around. Finally, people started buying them. Some of them went for less than $4,000."
Russell kept the CSX2287 about a year before selling it to Spector. The
sale price is unknown, but Russell had advertised the car for $12,500, said
Ned Scudder, historian for the Shelby American Automobile Club, a group of
The car was trouble for those who expected to run it on the streets of
Los Angeles. Built for high-speed sprints, the cab became uncomfortably warm
as the car engine heated up, among other problems.
"It wasn't a street car; it was a race car," Shelby said.
Still, Spector drove it on the streets. Scudder said the legend is that
Spector racked up so many speeding tickets, his lawyer advised him to get
rid of the car before he lost his license.
Park, the collector, said Spector simply grew disenchanted with the
CSX2287, which at the time was little more than a novelty.
"It overheats and does all these things wrong," Park said. "So he took
it to a shop to get it fixed and they told him it was going to cost an
outrageous amount of money to fix and they offered to scrap it for 800
Attempts to reach Spector for comment were unsuccessful. But lawyers
involved in the case said that Spector's bodyguard, George Brand, offered
the music producer $1,000 for the car. It's unclear how or when Brand passed
the car on, but his daughter--Donna O'Hara--wound up with it in the early '70s.
Brand now suffers from Alzheimer's disease and is in an Orange County
nursing home, said Milford W. Dahl Jr., a family lawyer. Dorothy Brand of
San Diego, the bodyguard's ex-wife, wouldn't discuss the car or its history.
According to court papers, O'Hara let a childhood friend, Kurt Goss,
drive the car occasionally in the early '70s, but then took it off the road
and put it in storage, where it fell out of public view.
O'Hara was divorced in 1982 and her ex-husband declined comment this
week on why she hid the car away. Bu elusiveness added to the car's
mystique for collectors. The story of the "lost Cobra" became legend,
spawning streams of rumors about its fate. The car had been destroyed.
Shelby, himself, had it hidden somewhere.
One of the rumors turned out to be the truth: that the car was sitting
unrestored in a Southern California storage facility.
"The other (five) coupes had been accounted for," said Park, the
collector. "This one car, it could never be confirmed where it was. A lady
[O'Hara] owned it but she would never confirm its existence. You would go
and talk to her and she'd say she's not interested in talking."
* * *
In recent years, at least two collectors approached O'Hara.
"She was offered about a half-million," said Robert Lavoie, a lawyer
representing Goss, the childhood friend. "I don't know why she wouldn't
sell. She told some people she was just going to hold onto it and someday it
will be her retirement."
Exactly who had the right to sell the car lies at the heart of the
legal dispute. Goss alleges that on Oct. 17, O'Hara called and asked to meet
at her La Habra apartment. She then told him that she wanted to give him the
car and three other, less valuable vehicles.
"Donna also indicated that in the unlikely event that anything should
happen to her, she wanted me to look after her personal effects," Goss said
in a court statement. He also said O'Hara filled out a state Department of
Motor Vehicles form transferring the cars to him, but never filed it.
Yet O'Hara's cousin, Charles Jones, said in court documents that the
DMV form was found by relatives after the death, that the space for listing
the recipient of the cars was blank, and that Goss took the form without
Five days after Goss met with O'Hara, the "unlikely event" occurred.
The exact details are sketchy, as are the reasons, but in the dawn
hours of Oct. 22, O'Hara huddled in a recessed area beneath a bridge over a
Fullerton horse trail, doused herself from a bottle of gasoline, lit a match
and descended into agony for the 15 hours or so it took her to die.
Contentious to the end, her first words to a Fullerton police officer
who rushed to help her were, "Shut up." She wouldn't tell police or hospital
officials her name, and it was more than a month before O'Hara's body was
identified. That came only after friends finally reported her missing to La
Goss said in his court statement that after he learned of O'Hara's
death, he met with some of O'Hara's relatives, including her mother, Dorothy
Brand. A few days later, he paid the back rent for the Anaheim storage
garage where O'Hara had kept the car. But Goss said the manager of the
facility told him he could not remove the car without documents proving
Meanwhile, Martin Eyears, a Montecito rare-car dealer, contacted
O'Hara's boss, hoping to get in touch with O'Hara to revive an earlier offer
he had made for the car, according to Eyears' lawyer, Paul Rafferty.
The boss told Eyears that O'Hara had died and agreed to pass along that
he was interested in the car to O'Hara's mother. Brand called Eyears and on
Dec. 16 they struck a deal for $3 million, according to court records.
Eyears said that Brand assured him she and her ex-husband were O'Hara's sole
heirs and that she had the right to sell him the car.
Attorney Dahl said this week that since O'Hara died without a will, her
parents, as her closest relatives, are the heirs. Among the legal issues to
be decided is whether Brand should have submitted O'Hara's estate to
probate--in which the court appoints an overseer for disposing of
assets--before the car was sold.
Dahl simultaneously argues that probate was not required in this case,
despite the value of the car, and that Brand sold the car out of naivete.
"I think she's a very unsophisticated and naive lady, who doesn't have
a lot of money" and is unaccustomed to the intricacies of probate and
courts," Dahl said.
After striking her deal with Eyears, Brand went on vacation. When she
returned, she obtained power of attorney for her ex-husband, filing papers
in a San Diego court on Jan. 30, Dahl said. A week later, Eyears paid Brand
$3 million and took the car. Eyears, in turn, agreed to sell the car to
Steve Volk, president of the nonprofit Shelby American Collection museum in
Boulder, Colo., for $3.75 million, then backed out of the deal a few days
later, Volk said in court records.
"We have been tracking this particular Cobra coupe for 15 years and
were actively bidding on the car when Dorothy surprised all parties with a
secret sale," Volk, who is out of the country, said in an e-mail. "We are
still a buyer for the car and are hoping that the sale will be reversed and
that the vehicle will be sold to the highest bidder. We . . . are seeking
this particular car because of its original condition. We believe it has
significant historical value and should be displayed, as is, to the public."
Eyears eventually sold the car to an East Coast collector for an
undisclosed amount. Lawyers identified the new owner as Dr. Frederick
Simeone, a Philadelphia neurosurgeon. Simeone did not return telephone calls
Goss, meanwhile, said he learned the car had slipped away when another
potential buyer told him a rumor was floating among collectors that the car
had been taken out of storage and was for sale.
Goss checked the garage and found the car gone.
And now $1 million of the money is gone too. Brand gave $150,000 to
three charities and the rest to family members, Dahl said.
On March 6, Gray ordered the remaining $2 million placed in a special
interest-bearing account until the convoluted ownership issue can be worked
out. A hearing is set for April 17.
Part 2: Rock Legend Insists Rare Car Still His...
Phil Spector enters a dispute in O.C.
over the sale of $4-million Cobra racer.
By SCOTT MARTELLE, Times Staff Writer
A bizarre legal battle over a long-lost, $4-million race car took yet
another strange twist Tuesday when a lawyer for Phil Spector contended that
the pop music legend still owns the rare 1964 Cobra Daytona Coupe.
"Mr. Spector is the owner of the Cobra," Peter C. Sheridan, an attorney
for Spector, said Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court. "He never gave it
or sold it to anyone."
Sheridan later declined further comment, referring questions to Spector
attorney Robert Shapiro. Shapiro said in a telephone interview that he
planned to file court papers arguing that Spector believed the car had been
stored on his behalf nearly 30 years ago and was unaware it had been sold.
Spector's claim came during what was to have been a routine court
appearance in a civil lawsuit over the sale of the car. The key issue is who
owned the car following the suicide last year of Donna O'Hara, who had kept
the legendary Cobra in storage for nearly 30 years.
Longtime family friend Kurt Goss of Anaheim said O'Hara, who lived in La
Habra, gave him the car a few days before she burned herself to death Oct.
22 on a Fullerton horse trail.
But O'Hara's mother, Dorothy Brand of San Diego, argued that there is no
proof O'Hara gave the car to Goss. O'Hara died without a will, and Brand
argued that as her daughter's closest living relative, the car is hers.
So Brand sold it for $3 million in January to a Montecito rare-car
dealer, who resold it days later to a Philadelphia collector for an
estimated $4 million.
How O'Hara came to have the car remains murky.
The Cobra, known as the CSX2287, was built in 1964 by racing legend
Carroll Shelby and set land speed records.
It was sold in 1965, but the initial buyer soon sold it to Spector.
Those involved in the case said O'Hara's father, George Brand, was
Spector's former bodyguard and that he bought the car for $1,000 around
1970, when the reclusive music producer planned to scrap it rather than pay for
Shapiro said Brand actually was Spector's house manager. He said Spector
"neither sold nor gave" the car to Brand, but turned it over to Brand to
place in storage.
Asked how someone could not realize one of his cars was missing for
nearly three decades, Shapiro said the CSX2287 was an investment.
"Isn't that the definition of an heirloom?" Shapiro said. "This isn't a
man who gets in his car every morning and checks his oil and pressure and
drives it to work. He is the most prolific producer in the history of music
and he's extremely focused on his work. He delegates most of these things to
Shapiro said Spector hoped to have the court order either the car or the
proceeds of its sale--about $4 million--be turned over to him.
Brand said his claim surprised her. "It just gets thicker and thicker."
The Final Chapter
Part 3: December 8, 2001 ORANGE COUNTY...
Legal Triangle Over Legend's Race Car Ends
Courts: Carroll Shelby's rare, blue Cobra Daytona Coupe was at the center of a
dispute involving a collector, a mother and a childhood friend.
By STUART PFEIFER, TIMES STAFF WRITER
A classic Cobra race car has a home, and the man who claimed to be the legal
owner has more than $800,000 under a legal settlement reached Friday.
The agreement, finalized in a Santa Ana courtroom, resolved a long-standing
feud over a blue Cobra Daytona Coupe race car--one of six racing coupes
manufactured by former world racing champ Carroll Shelby.
For more than three decades, the rare race car--which had set land speed
records--gathered dust in a storage unit, value quietly growing to more
than $3 million. Last year, the car's owner, Donna O'Hara, committed suicide
on a Fullerton horse trail.
O'Hara's mother sold the car for $3 million. It was later purchased by car
collector Frederick Simeone, a Philadelphia neurosurgeon.
That's when O'Hara's childhood friend, Kurt Goss, stepped forward and
announced that O'Hara had promised him the car. And the legal battle for the
race car was on.
Superior Court Judge James P. Gray approved a legal settlement Friday in
which O'Hara's mother, Dorothy Brand, will pay more than $800,000 to Goss.
Three charities who received some money from Brand chipped in another
After estate taxes and gifts she has already made to charities and family,
Brand will end up with virtually nothing, said her lawyer, Milford Dahl.
Reclusive music legend Phil Spector had also asserted ownership of the car.
Built in 1964, it was sold in 1965, but the initial buyer soon sold the car
to Spector, who claimed he turned it over to O'Hara's father, George Brand,
to place in storage.
Part 4: Please contact me if you have current information on this car!!