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Japanese style for iconic Cobra

2010-05-21 08:11
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Baby Cobra
Model Baby Cobra 40.27
Engine 780cc turbo tri-cylinder
Power 116kW
The Cobra. As high-performance automotive icons go, it remains the quintessential muscle car.

Unfortunately, in the decades since the legendary Cobra MKIII (a collaboration British AC Ace chassis and an oversized 427 cube Ford V8) the nameplate has endured a torrid time – doing great injustice to its fabled standing in the history of performance cars.

Ownership of the rights to the AC Cobra name has changed hands numerous times and currently a South African, Alan Lubinsky, is trying to revive the brand in Germany after a project in Malta ran up huge unpaid debts. Unsurprisingly, nothing has come of it yet…

The Baby Cobra - a Smart ForTwo's worst nightmare. For $40 000, it ought to be.

A Kei car Cobra?

Trust the Japanese though, to bring a smile back to Cobra enthusiasts the world over with a Kei-sized replica.

Spotted at a recent track day in Japan, the Baby Cobra 40.27 (you’ve got to love the irony of its nomenclature, accurately reflecting its imperial cubic capacity) is one of the cutest performance car caricatures you’re likely to see.

To grasp the Baby Cobra’s fundamental concept, it’s essential to understand the Oriental design idiosyncrasy of Kei cars. In Japan, where urban road congestion is apocalyptic, government tax incentives for cars shorter than 3.4m have spawned an entire range of very small, curiously packaged models known as "Kei cars".

Of all Kei cars, one stands out in particular – Suzuki’s oddly-named Cappuccino.

Despite its frothy name, the Cappuccino combines everything which made Mazda’s MX-5 the world’s best selling roadster ever in a Kei-sized package. Featuring a 660cc engine and rear-wheel drive it remains, even after running out production in 1995, the quintessential Lilliputian roadster.

Therefore, it’s hardly surprising to find the Suzuki’s Kei-car sportscar serving as the base for the Baby Cobra, manufactured by a company of the same name based in Nagoya.

Side-exhausts are fake, bonnet air-intake does service forced induction. Period 15-inch "Halibrand" styled wheels are awesome - they roll 205/60 rubber up front and 275/50s at the rear.

The little Cobra that can

If you’ve always lusted after a classic 1965 Cobra look-alike replica, yet only have access to a truncated parking bay (and find the regulation 7l V8 engine a touch out of step with your environmental principles) the Baby Cobra is a rather compelling alternative.

In terms of size the wheelbase discrepancy between the original Cobra and this Cappuccino-based replica is a staggering 400mm. It might be a lot smaller, yet the Baby Cobra is perfectly formed and cues proportions and surface bulges perfectly in tune with the original car’s styling.

The original Cobra, with its aluminium construction was admirably light, yet the Baby Cobra trims down the 1965 car’s kerb weight from 1 044- to 640kg thanks to its smaller size.

Purists expecting dexterously hand rolled aluminium surfacing (fabricated on an English wheel like the original MKIII Cobras) will be disappointed to find the Baby Cobra’s strengthened Cappuccino chassis covered with composite bodywork.

Cabin looks authentic enough - except for the 10 000r/min calibrated engine speed dial...

Espresso pace

Powering the Baby Cobra is Suzuki’s 660cc turbocharged triple, which has less than half the cylinders and only one-tenth of the original 1965 Cobra’s V8’s 7l swept capacity. In terms of output the numbers are comical. The Baby Cobra’s 47kW rating could probably do duty as a starter motor on the MKIII Cobra’s 362kW competition V8.

For potential owners who require keen performance the Baby Cobra company offers a performance upgrade of the turbocharged Suzuki engine. On request they’ll increase the Baby Cobra’s capacity to 720cc and fiddle (quite extensively) with the boost regime to more than double power to 116kW, which should put performance in the Lotus Elise league.

Providing traction security for the Baby Cobra is a limited-slip differential at the rear, whilst massive 300mm rotors - hidden behind the gorgeous "Halibrand" style alloy wheels - ensure deceleration dynamics original MKIII Cobra owners could only dream of.

To shore up the Baby Cobra’s dynamics is a coil-over suspension kit with adjustable dampers and 70mm of play.

For Cobra purists there’s an extensive options list of fantastic period detailing available. This includes black bucket seats, a classic Cobra-spec driver’s wind-deflector and even white dummy side-exit exhausts.

Cabin appointments tally four-point Simpson race harnesses, a 160mph road-speed and 10 000r/min engine-speed dial – the latter’s five-digit calibration something unique to a Cobra badged car…

So, is the Baby Cobra company’s Suzuki Cappuccino-based 1965 replica the ultimate in contemporary retro kitsch, muscle car sacrilege or simply the coolest Kei-car ever made? We don’t care – because it’s just so cute.  


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