Thursday, March 24, 2005

Unsolicited Education: The Shelby Cobra

One of the questions I snuck in on the Ryan-trivia quiz was related to the car of my dreams. For those of you who have yet to write the quiz, you get a freebie: that car is the 1965 Sheby Cobra 427.

I could quote a lot of statistics involving torque and horsepower to try and convince you to hold a similar opinion, but that's pretty pointless. In fact, most of this post may be wasted keystrokes, as most of my friends and acquaintances aren't what I would consider to be "car people". At this point in the post, I could probably start discussing the mating ritual of the Chinese spotted panda, and no one would notice.

But I won't. I'm going to assume that this is of interest to some of you, or that some of you are really, really bored and are just going to read this anyways.

The brand "Shelby" is actually a reference to a pioneer in Ford history, Carroll Shelby. The man started of inauspiciously enough, as a auto racer who kept a steady day job as a farmer. One of his trademarks was to race in the striped bib overalls that he lacked the time to change out of on his way to the race track from a day of farming.

Shelby was good. Damned good. While his racing career was not always marked by victory (Shelby flipped an Austin-Healey four times in a single race in 1954, breaking numerous bones), he won many of his races (often in inferior cars) and was named driver of the year by Sports Illustrated in 1957. Following some pretty serious heart-related chest pains in 1960, Shelby leaves the racing business and starts a performance driving school.

Around this time, Shelby airmails AC Cars with the idea of putting an eight cylinder engine into a sports car. The name "Cobra" appears to him in a dream. After a succession of Cobra prototypes, the 427 is unveiled. In 1965, the Cobra 427 takes the FIA World Championship, wrestling away a title that's been virtually owned by Ferrari for over a decade.

While the real Shelby 427 is virtually unattainable (an original Cobra can command a price exceeding $400,000), the roadster has developed cult status among kit-builders and replica owners around the world. It's not hard to understand why: the vehicle is ridiculously light and carries an incredibly powerful engine, making it unbeatable by all but the world's fastest supercars.

Based on trials by Factory Five, a major kit manufacturer, their Cobra 427 replica is capable of the 0 - 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. If you want to beat that, you'll have to go for the $600,000 Ferrari Enzo. And with that, you'll shave off 0.3 seconds.

This is not a vehicle that you buy because it has the right brand name on the bumper. These things have no brand name - they are as varied as the fabricators that build them. This is a vehicle that people drive because they have a true love of automotives. Yes, it is ridiculously fast, but with that speed comes a lot of respect. This is not a vehicle that you take for granted. If you do that, it will kill you.

For a bare-bones kit, without engine or transmission, prices start at around $15,000 ($18,000 if painted), and for a completed vehicle (a "turn key") you can expet to pay somewhere above the $50k mark.

From my perspective, a price tag isn't nearly as important as what kind of value you get from the purchase. For those who appreciate a beautiful vehicle as a work of art, it's hard to get better than a Cobra replica. There's a lot of passion that goes into these vehicles. Not to disrespect someone who does an honest day's work on an assembly line at the GM plant, but the replica-builders are typically small operations turning out hand-built vehicles, and they do it with a great sense of pride in what they produce. I find that inspiring.


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