FORMULA FORD YEARS...
Bill started his motorsport career racing Formula Fords as a teenager in the late 70s. Here he competed against some of the most promising talents around, including Nigel Mansell and Willy T. Ribbs.
Debuting in the 1977 Formula Ford Dunlop Star of Tomorrow series, Bill was immediately competitive. Bill’s championship fight went down to the last race of the season, where he unfortunately finished a tantalisingly close second, just a single point behind Willy T. Ribbs.
Bill continued his Formula Ford career for the 78 season, competing successfully in both the Townsend Thorensen and RAC Formula Ford British Championships. However, at the end of the season, the self-funded 20 year old ran out of self-funding, and was forced to step out of the world of motor-racing.
SOME OLD RACECAR, GOING CHEAP...
Almost 8 years after his departure from the paddock, Bill decided to give motorsport another go. This time, flush with experience from his first foray, and now all too aware of the lofty costs of the sport, Bill realised that whatever race car he would buy would depreciate in value over time. His solution to this, buying one that had already completed its depreciation spiral.
Bill entered the esteemed 1987 AMOC Inter-marque Championship with his new purchase, a 1964 FIA-bodied 289 Cobra. Having seen the car advertised in the back pages of Autosport, the bright tangerine of the Cobra had caught Bill’s attention, cutting through the often-lacklustre colour vibrancy of print in the mid 1980s.
Bill spent much of the 1987 season getting his eye back into racing and beginning the massive learning curve of getting an already vintage car working well enough to challenge for the class podium.
Bill returned to Inter-marque for 1988 and 1989, where the Cobra was fiercely competitive, winning not only it’s class championships, but beating the contemporary cars to the overall Inter-marque title too.
Having enjoyed success with his Orange Cobra, Bill decided to jump into top-flight historic racing, after discovering a 1963 Cobra to restore to official FIA Historic GT Championship regulations.
The remains of the Cobra, CSX 2212, a car originally gifted to Ford Global executives by the Shelby American Racing Company, were carefully 'race-stored' following it's arrival into the UK.
Entering into the 1990 FIA European Historic GT championship, Bill clocked 2 wins in his maiden season, returning again in 1991 for another 2 wins but this time joined by an additional 6 podium finishes.
In 1992, Bill and the British Racing Green Cobra took 4 wins, multiple podiums and the championship battle down to the final race. Unfortunately in the final moments of the race, the car suffered a gearbox failure, which demoted the car to a second place finish in the standings.
MAKING A POINT...
Having acquired a serious taste for Cobras, and a real understanding of how to run them, in 1987, Bill had set up the Uniclip Automotive racing team, which specialised in building, restoring and race preparing Cobras across the UK and Europe.
In an effort to promote the business, Bill set his sights on a longstanding world record for Cobras. In 1965, Ken Miles had taken a big-block, 427 Cobra, from 0-100-0 in 13.8 seconds. Bill, wanting to show the advancements that he had made, wanted to break the record with a small-block 289.
The opportunity to do so (on official record) came in the form of the 1991 Autocar 0-100-0. Coming down to the final two competitors, Bill’s opposition finalist, Ray Mallock in the RML GT40, put in an impressive time of 16.3 seconds. With one final attempt remaining, Bill launched the Cobra from a standstill, hit 100mph, and returned to standstill in an astonishing 13.3 seconds. This not only wrapped up the Autocar title in dominant fashion, but also toppled the previous Cobra record Bill had set out to beat. Bill’s orange Cobra sat at the top of the Autocar table for 15 years, holding off factory backed Lamborghinis and WRC cars, until it was finally toppled in 2004.
NOT JUST ANY VAUXHALL...
Enticed by the competitive racing and significant prize money and buzz around the series, Bill decided to jump into the BRSCC Auto Express Thundersaloon Championship. Thundersaloons, aimed at competing with the BTCC, saw an unusual hybrid of European Touring cars sporting conspicuously powerful engines.
Bill’s team, Uniclip Automotive, took the bodyshell of Vauxhall Calibra, and then completely re-engineered it, converted the car to rear wheel drive, and dropping a 600hp 6.6 litre Pontiac V8 into the engine bay. The result was a flame spitting monster, distinctly dfferent from the mid-range sports-saloon it started it's life as.
The car was competitive but proved unpredictable at first. However, as it’s debut season in 1993 progressed, the car began clocking improved results, including a win at the Snetterton round.
1994 and 1995 saw an array of wins for Bill, the Calibra being a frontrunner of the series, often found side-by-side with the Vauxhall Carlton of Pete Stevens. Unfortunately, however, in 1995 the series folded and Bill, who now had no use for a Pontiac-powered Vauxhall, sold the car on.
BACK TO THE FUTURE...
After an ‘eye-opening’ experience in BRSCC Thundersaloons, Bill returned to the historic racing scene with new knowledge and a renewed sense of purpose. The Green Cobra experienced a development ‘golden age’, the work of Bill and the Uniclip Automotive team shaping the trajectory of European historic racing to this day.
Now pioneering, the first of it’s kind in Europe, LeMans style hardtop, the Green Cobra became a force to be reckoned with. In fact, by 1998, Bill had won his 3rd straight FIA GTS 12 Championship and was on his way to a record fourth.
Running alongside the Green Cobra, the Orange Cobra continued to run in the Intermarque championship, and Bill began to dip into the historic touring car world with a Ford Falcon run in FIA TC65 events.
Business was booming for Bill's race team, a large majority of the race Cobras in Britain gracing the workshop, either for race preparation or set-up consultancy. The name had carried into the road car market too, with a continuous stream of demand for fire-breathing Cobras capable of smoking the modern supercar.
DRIVING AN ICON...
Following an impressive European record, Bill and the Uniclip Automotive race team were invited to race prepare and run the historically-significant GPG 4C (HEM-6) Cobra for it's return to the track and the 1998 (and first) Goodwood Revival.
Following the Revival, the team continued to run ‘GPG’ for a long while, Bill partnering with owner Graham Bryant across Europe. Notable success came in the 2002 LeMans Classic where the Cobra outperformed the higher class GT40s to take a second place overall at the LeSarthe circuit.
The 2004 Revival was probably the pinnacle of Bill’s time with GPG. After a troublesome qualifying, the car started on row 7 of the grid and the meeting looked like a bust. However, in the words of the commentator, Bill “came from nowhere” to take second place in the final moments of the race. A consistent recovery stint, setting multiple fastest laps, had seen Bill surprise even the broadcast directors, who had missed GPG’s progress until it was battling for 3rd place.
MEETING AN ICON...
During the 2002 Goodwood Revival, Carroll Shelby had crossed the pond to run a Shelby Daytona in the RAC TT. Shelby had suffered a blown engine in qualifying and Bill and the Uniclip team (at that time running GPG) had worked through the night, changing Carroll’s engine in order for him to be able to start the race.
Following a long stint developing and racing GPG, Bill now turned his attention back to his own Green Cobra (CSX 2212). In 2005, Bill flew the car out to the USA with the intention of running a variety of North American events across the continent. Almost unbelievably, the Cobra blew its engine in the very first event, the SAAC meeting at Riverside.
Over 3 years after his own engine issues, Carroll kindly offered to repay the favour, with the Green Cobra returning ‘home’ to the Shelby American race team for an Engine strip and rebuild. This wonderful act of kindness from automotive royalty, meant that CSX2212 was the last race Cobra that Carroll Shelby personally oversaw work on.
The car, now running again, competed in the Montery Rolex Historic Grand Prix before returning to the UK with an extraordinary story. Bill and Carroll went on to become good friends over the latter years of Carroll’s life, his remarkable charm and fantastic sense of humour is still greatly missed to this day.
BUYING AN ICON...
Back in 1999, Bill had been asked by the Duke of Richmond (then, Lord March), to man his 1963 Ford Galaxie in the St Mary’s Trophy. Almost rained off, Bill battled hard against troubles in qualifying and the elements to bring the car home. Despite all, the car left a lasting impression on Bill for its impressive balance and surprising poise.
In 2008, Bill came across the rusted remains of a 63 Galaxie, showing the hallmark signs of Holman and Moody. The car, upon further inspection, proved to be one of the four original Galaxies sent to Europe to stamp Ford’s dominance in touring car racing. With help and verification from the late Alan Mann, as well as the archives of Holman Moody and Ford, the car in the scrap yard turned out to be the Ex-Bo Ljungfeldt, Tour De France/Alan Mann Racing Galaxie.
After a huge restoration project, the Galaxie made it's return to racing at the 2011 Goodwood Revival, and in 2013 took a first St Mary's Trophy round win and a third place overall with Bill and Jochen Mass sharing the driving.
Since then, the Galaxie has enjoyed great success across a variety of series, and is often a car to be reckoned with, even against the later Falcon and Mustang TC65 touring cars, as shown by it's fastest lap and overtaking antics in the 2021 Goodwood Pierpoint cup.
A DIFFERENT SHADE OF GREEN...
Following the passing of Carroll Shelby, the 2012 Goodwood Revival hosted an all-Cobra memorial race. Bill set his sights on winning this ‘Shelby cup’ and dedicating the victory to his late friend. For the event, Bill was paired with ex-Formula 1 driver and contemporary commentator, Martin Brundle. The car was running well, setting blistering times in testing, and looked one of the favourites for the event.
In qualifying, Brundle, who was having difficulties adjusting to the Cobra, made a mistake at the St Mary’s complex, spinning out into the infield. In perhaps the most unfortunate possible circumstance, the trajectory of the spin speared the Cobra into the retired GPG 4C parked on the side of the track, sending both cars for large rebuilds.
During the rebuild process, Bill made the decision to repaint the Green Cobra to a colour more fitting for the increasingly popular world of Historic Racing. Returning to racing at the 2012 Goodwood Revival, now sporting an 'AC racing green' paintjob, CSX 2212 has graced the event every year since.
The 'emerald' Cobra, with the number plate 'COB 289' has become a feature car of the event, the last 3 years, challenging for the win in epic style.
THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO...
2017 saw the debut of our ex-Holman Moody 1959 Ford Thunderbird at the Goodwood Revival, St Mary's Trophy for pre 1959 Touring cars. Having rolled out of the workshop the evening before qualifying, the car suffered initial teething problems resulting in a pit lane start for 9 times LeMans winner, Tom Kristensen, in the Saturday's pro-driver race. Tom set-off from the pitlane as the pack exited turn 1, and the ensuing spectacle was history. Cutting through to 3rd on the road, the footage of the 'big old bird' went viral globally.
In 2021, Bill and Romain Dumas paired up to take on the race, this time with a Thunderbird far more composed in its development cycle. Romain stormed to victory in the first, pro-race, while Bill cut through the pack after a greasy qualifying to take another win and outright victory for the Thunderbird.
In 2019, the second Thunderbird acquired in the collection also made its debut. The 1957 Ford ‘Battlebird’ had undergone an extensive restoration programme to make a first appearance in the Goodwood Members Meeting’s Peter Collins trophy. The car is, without doubt, an unusual sight to behold amongst a roster of sleek 1950’s sportscars, but there isn’t a vehicle anywhere in the paddock that garners more attention.
With the normal 2020 Goodwood meetings having been cancelled due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, late in the year, Goodwood ran a solitary one-off race meeting consisting of the missed Revival and Members Meeting events.
With all our races bundled into one weekend, Bill, who would usually drive, had to step out of at least one of the invited cars. Fred, Bill's son, was most familiar racing a 1965 Mustang, so a few weeks before the event, it was decided that he would step in as a substitute to drive the later-spec Boss 302 in the Gerry Marshall Trophy. Despite Fred's inexperience, Bill enlisted the talent of Andre Lotterer as the second driver to partner him.
Starting from the second row of the grid, Fred elected to start, and after a hairy moment at Madgwick corner, settled into sixth place. Following a string of overtakes, on lap 6 Fred made his move for the lead, having set the fastest lap of the race in his pursuit for the bolting lead car. Poking the nose of the Boss to the inside under braking at Woodcote, Fred scythed past, maintaining the lead until the pit stops.
Andre climbed into the car for the second stint, which went without a hitch. Driving beautifully, the only gremlin to the German ace, a headlight bulb going dark in the victory lap of the 1 hour long race. Crossing the line, Andre again cemented his strong record at Goodwood but also brought home a truly remarkable debut Goodwood win for Fred.
STILL GOING STRONG...
35 years on from Bill's 'impulse' purchase of the Orange Cobra, the team is still going strong. Infamous around the world for antics in 1950s and 60s V8s, the Bill Shepherd Automotive team is consistently found at the front of historic racing grids in a new era where race meetings can see hundreds of thousands of present spectators, and millions at home.
Bill, still wielding Cobras and door-handling Galaxies, is now joined by his son, Fred, in the daily running of the ever-growing team. Comprising of a crack squad of engineers, Mechanics, designers and fabricators, the future for the team looks brighter than ever. We look forward to even more exciting 'race-storation' projects in the future... watch this space!