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Small-block Cobra turns 50

2011-01-24 14:33

CLASSIC COBRA: Forget about bulbous surfacing and ornate bonnet scoops. This is a contemporary incarnation of the original small-block Cobra, with all the AC Ace elegance that it implies.

It's been a half-century since Texan Carroll Shelby shoehorned a Ford's small-block V8 into a British sports car to create a performance  icon, the Cobra.

Although numerous (ill-conceived) replicas (euphemistically called "continuation" models) and litigation concerning naming rights have tainted the Corba’s reputation somewhat in the decades since its racing success in the 1960's, it remains an icon; a rare, yet perfectly balanced, Anglo-British automotive collaboration.

Despite the official AC Cobra nameplate now being owned and operated by (surprise, surprise) a German company in Heyday, near Dresden, Carroll Shelby will for ever be seen as the man behind the world’s most famous reptilian supercar.


To celebrate the 50 years since the first of his leaf-sprung Cobras was assembled Shelby's rolling out a 50-unit production of CSX8000 chassis-numbered cars. They will be available in either composite or traditional aluminium finish, the latter featuring bodywork laboriously crafted by hand on an English wheel.

With a square-cut grille, instead of the open-mouthed, deep-mesh finish popularised by the 427 Cobra, the 50th anniversary Cobra's aesthetic appeal majors on elegance instead of sheer muscle-car presence. It does without the oversized wheels, bulbous fenders, bird-swallowng bonnet scoop and side-exit exhausts - all features of the rather ornate big-block 427 Cobras.

The commemorative car have a chassis fashioned from 76mm steel tubing with all-independent suspension. Steering is managed by an unassisted rack-and-pinion unit.

Hidden behind those classic 15" wireframe wheels (72 spokes each) are 405mm brake discs clamped by Baer callipers, and yes, these 50th Anniversary Shelby Cobras run bigger brakes than their rolling wheel diameter…

True to its classic Cobra billing, there are period-specific cabin details such as a single rearward field-of-view aid (no side mirrors), while the three-spoked steering wheel perfectly obscures the stark instrumentation with its ill-placed 1960's racing posture.

Shelby promises that all materials trimming these commemorative Cobras will be premium, with Rosso leather contrasted by Wilton wool carpeting. The seats are classic buckets with lap-belts only and no support beyond your shoulder.


The Shelby Cobra assembly facility in Las Vegas will only assembly 50 commemorative cars, priced at the equivalent of a rather dear R495 000 for a glass fibre-bodied example and R950 000 for a proper aluminium surfaced car. Pretty expensive, especially if you consider those prices don’t include a small block Ford V8 or its accompanying transmission…

Collectors will no doubt find (some) justification to pay a premium for something that pays homage to, and is officially blessed, by Carroll Shelby.

Besides, with its styling cues taken from the original small block Cobras, instead of the latter (crasser) big-block cars, this 50th anniversary Shelby Cobra is sure to become the pet snake of choice for discerning American muscle-car collectors.

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