For almost 50 years now, the Shelby Cobra has been the de-facto image conjured up when we think “sportscar”. But like a tuxedo, there are many subtle differences between the models that should be known before you decide to approach an owner, or if you’re lucky enough, purchase one for yourself.
To make a long story short, Shelby did not design these cars himself- they were in fact already in production by the AC Car company in England prior to Shelby coming onto the scene, but they used an anemic BMW straight-six (and later a 2.6 Ford Zephyr), not the 221 cu. in. v8 that he requested. Shelby was key in having the company fit the later V8, and after initial testing proved positive, modifications were made to various suspension pieces and the car was offered for sale through Shelby in 1962.
Fast forward a few years and the Cobra (with Ford’s support) has morphed into a serious race car- new chassis design, new motor options (from 289 cubic inches to 427) a wider body to accept some very large tires, and an increased opening in the front to cool down that much larger engine. It was lighter and more powerful than any Corvette or Ferrari of the day, and essentially the 427 set a benchmark for performance on and off the track.
At this point, and having won everything else, Shelby decided that the next step had to be taken and built six coupes based on the aerodynamic design of Peter Brock. These cars were to compete directly with Ferrari in the 24 hours of Lemans and because of the slippery shape they were capable of 200+ miles per hour. Not surprisingly, they won their class in 1964 and ignited the Ford-Ferrari wars that would continue on until the end of the decade. Oh yeah, and they also managed to set 23 land speed records at Bonneville!
Why do you need to know all this? It’s all about cutting the wheat from the chaff, and as there are a metric shit-ton of bad replicas on the street you might find yourself talking to someone who is trying to pass off their car as the real “six figure” deal. There are very few originals floating around, and while some replicas are very, very good.. some are downright embarrassing:
If you’re interested in one of these cars there are no shortage of quality replicas available (both the 427 and Daytona coupe versions) however we here at the ESM office would like to steer you in the right direction and suggest you give the all-aluminum Kirkham body a good look as they will retain their value in the long run and you can also opt to leave them unpainted, giving you a look that is completely impossible with fiberglass (and totally badass).
Personally, I feel the way to go is with a well-done, as-close-as-possible to the original 289 AC Cobra. It’s got the narrow fenders, wire wheels and a little less power, but you can drive this thing anywhere without setting off car alarms or watching your girlfriend burn her leg on the side exhaust pipes. Again.