On any weekend in many parts of Australia you can see examples of America’s most potent sports car roaming local roads and parked outside beachfront cafes. But all is not as it appears.
Fewer than 100 of the famous/infamous Shelby Cobra 7.0-litre were made and when these cars sell they attract multi-million-dollar bids. So how do we get to experience the sound and fury of these marvellous cars on such a regular basis? Before answering that question, let’s look briefly at the events that created a legend.
The AC Cobra began life as a V8 powered version of the terribly British AC Ace. A two-seat roadster with six-cylinder Ford or Bristol engines, the Ace delivered enough performance to satisfy British buyers but not enough to gain a foothold in the V8-obsessed USA.
Enter Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby, who in 1962 asked AC to build a version suited to V8 power. Shelby supplied two of Ford’s new 3.6-litre V8s (soon upgraded to 4.2 litres) and within months the world was greeted by a new and exciting model; the Shelby Cobra.
With US buyers and especially the ‘weekend’ racers keen to beat their friends’ Corvettes on the road and racetrack, Shelby’s roadster provided a tempting platform for even greater performance. Late in 1962 the 4.2 was replaced by Ford’s ubiquitous 4.7-litre V8 and its front-end redesigned to accept rack and pinion steering.
Shelby’s next leap served to create one of the most fearsome motor vehicles ever produced. Not only was the Mark III version of the Cobra wider and stronger, the chassis was completely redesigned around all-coil suspension. Why? Because Shelby’s fearless engineering team managed somehow to somehow to fill an already-packed engine bay with 7.0-litres of Ford ‘side-oiler’ engine.
The 7.0-litre had been developed for Nascar racing and also provided power to the GT40 Fords that would humble Ferrari at Le Mans. Its effect when crammed into a tiny two-seater weighing less than 1100kg was unimaginable and even the most talented of drivers struggled to hang onto a Mark III once the throttle hit the floor.
Shelby planned to produce 100 cars for competition use but only 56 were ever made, plus another 31 modified for street use. It is these S/C (semi-competition) cars that have provided inspiration for many of the Cobra replicas built in Australia and countries across the world.
Replicas in general use a tubular steel frame hidden beneath fibreglass bodywork. They are designed to be bought as kits and constructed in the buyer’s home garage. However, most manufacturers will also supply cars fully built and complied for Australia-wide registration. Completed replicas with a variety of engines cost $70-100,000 yet deliver the same visual presence and auditory effects as genuine S/Cs costing $5 million.
Australia since the 1990s has seen numerous businesses become involved in the production of replica Cobra kits. Some of these fabricators no longer exist but the designs are all quite similar and damaged cars can be easily repaired.
Look overseas and the range of available cars expands to include some that are almost indistinguishable from an original Shelby car.
British-based Autokraft built around 500 ‘continuation’ cars with 5.0-litre engines and alloy bodywork. In 1984 when AC Cars was liquidated, AutoKraft acquired tool and drawings which allowed it to produce very plausible replicas. Just 480 were built and a handful have made their way to Australia.
Cobras (real and replica) are used very occasionally are ideal candidates for Enthusiast Insurance’s Drive Less…Spend Less motor vehicle cover.
To discover if your Cobra – or any kind of seldom-used cars – qualifies for Enthusiast’s most cost-effective level of cover, just visit www.enthusiast.com.au for a quote.