Cozzi-Jaguar Special

Don Sherman
Randy G

The first event in the Cozzi Special's short competition career was a March 1957 race at Stockton, California, for 2.0-liter-and-up modifieds piloted by senior drivers. Bourgeault scored a respectable eighth overall and third in Class C (3.0- to 5.0-liter engines). Cozzi must have felt like a young Enzo Ferrari. Ironically, during a job interview with Il Commendatore a decade later, Ferrari, amazed by Cozzi's teenage car-building exercise, exclaimed, "When I was eighteen, I didn't know anything!"

Cozzi implemented a few tweaks for the next race: shorter steering arms, a smaller front antiroll bar, and tougher brake linings. Chassis dynamometer testing revealed that the four-SU-carbureted engine produced 138 hp.

The adjustments paid dividends. Bour-geault led the first five laps around the Cotati, California, airfield course, finished sixth overall, and beat all Class C comers. Carroll Shelby won overall in a Maserati 300S.

Like a football legend retiring prematurely, the Cozzi Special was returned to street duty so that Cozzi could complete his studies at Heald College. His first engineering job at Lockheed Aircraft followed an interview with a recruiter and fellow Jaguar enthusiast who remembered reading his name in Road & Track.

The Cozzi Special was sold for $2500, about half its construction cost. Two years ago, at my prompting, Cozzi realized that an Internet search might flush his creation from hiding. Shaking the vintage-racing grapevine revealed a former owner in Palm Springs and reports of the car competing at the 1980 Monterey Historics but no other useful leads.

We learned that the best way to hide treasure from the Internet is to bury it with someone named Smith. After months of sleuthing, Cozzi and I discovered that Dave Smith of Salinas, California, had owned the car for nearly thirty years, that it was dusty but intact, and that he was not inclined to sell. However, two parties seeking the same prize have a way of motivating even the most reluctant seller.

The winning bid came from Hinton and Ligas, Florida vintage racers and Jaguar experts. Their Predator Performance crew had the Cozzi Special running within hours of its arrival in Largo, Florida. Their recovery and nut-by-bolt restoration were fortuitous on two counts: they appreciate the car's historical significance, and they have the expertise and resources to resurrect Cozzi's creation as a thing of polished and powder-coated beauty. The Cozzi Special returned to grace at Road Atlanta in the thick of Historic Sportscar Racing's Walter Mitty Challenge, an event founded in 1978 by the Atlanta Jaguar Society.

The most expeditious path into the cockpit is a contortion over the side and under the steering wheel. The barely padded, tubular-framed seats that Hagemann pirated from an airplane are surprisingly comfortable. The engine rouses to its rumbly life and rich, 1800-rpm idle at the flick of an ignition toggle and the punch of a starter button. The clutch, brake, and gas pedals all swing through long, easy take-up arcs, while the spindly shift lever is the perfect role model for notchy (resolutely H-shaped) action.

The fresh Dunlops that Predator has fitted to the wire wheels are narrower than the Firestone racing rubber Cozzi used, but they still exhibit impressive stick. I'd say the stiff frame, the 96-inch wheelbase, and the suspension hardware engineered by Jaguar constitute a fruitful marriage. The steering is heavy but quick enough to keep up.

When one driving shoe became wedged between the brake and the firewall, I yanked it off to press the right two pedals sock-footed. An experimental jab of the single-circuit brakes revealed impressive stopping power, no dive, and a tendency for the rear wheels to lock slightly before the fronts.

Buzzing the tach to 4600 rpm down Road Atlanta's long back straight yielded 92 mph, about three-quarters of the Cozzi Special's speed potential. Extracting the rest will require tuning and additional hot laps. I'd happily remove a shoe to step up to that task.

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