Vintage vehicles, Automotive history and stories from motoring's past. 

The Incredible Cobra

When you mention the word “Cobra” to any autonut, there’s a good chance that you’ll induce drooling and heart palpitations of epic proportion. But there’s always that guarded optimism when you see a Cobra - is it the real thing, or a replica? And how good a replica is it? 

The Cobra is truly a magical machine in so many people’s eyes, so much so that you can still buy replicas of a car that effectively ceased production in 1967. If you’re lucky enough to have a bunch of money sitting around and actually find an original S/C (semi-competition) model you will find your wallet to be well over a million dollars lighter when the transaction is completed.

Considering that many of the parts in the original Cobras came right off the Ford shelves, it’s no wonder there are so many replicas of this passion-inducing snake. 

AC Cobra History

In the early 1960s lots and lots of little companies were producing two-seat convertibles in England. Why, I’ll never know, as the weather there is generally dreadful but Americans took to these cars as well so there was a decent enough export market for these little two-seaters. 

AC Cars was no exception with a little two-seat car that started life with a Bristol straight-six engine wrapped with a hand-built body utilizing a steel tube frame. The body was constructed of hand-formed aluminum panels so the result was a relatively light and strong body powered by a pre-WWII BMW engine. 

Enter legendary car guy Carroll Shelby who wrote to AC to see if they would build him a car modified to accept an American V8. They agreed so Shelby went to GM to see if the Chevrolet guys were interested in a partnership. This would be direct competition to the Corvette so they were not interested. However Ford was interested in putting a Corvette beater into its line and so the partnership between Ford, Lee Iaccoca, and Carroll Shelby was cemented. 

After seeing how well this would all work, AC built completed cars including paint and body and shipped them to Carroll Shelby in Los Angeles where they were fitted with engines and transmissions and sent to drooling and excited customers. 

The first 75 of these cars were fitted with a 260 cu in Ford V8, then they switched to the 289 later on. 

A major design change of the front end resulted in the Mark II which featured the rack-and-pinion steering system from an MG and the steering column of a VW Beetle. The Cobra was incredible on the track and delivered the results that Ford had wanted - it was winning. But change was inevitable and, after some disturbing results with big-engined Cobras not finishing their races, a new car was needed. 

This is when Ford itself stepped in to help ready the Cobra for the 427 side-oiler engine. New structural and suspension pieces meant that the Cobra could handle the 425hp engine giving it a top speed of 164 miles per hour in the standard model. 

While the car was a hit on tracks and fulfilled Carroll Shelby’s goal of building a “Corvette beater,” the accounting department at Ford was less thrilled with the losses of the Cobra so, ultimately, production was ceased. Ultimately AC shut down and was sold off to Brian A Angliss who is a replica car manufacturer. 

The Replicas

For as rare as the original Cobras are, replicas are easy to find if you’re looking. But just because replicas might look a bit like the Cobras they portend to be, that doesn’t mean the replicas are done as well as the original. Some are simply new bodies on old chassis from donor Jaguars, Fords and other cars. 

Lee’s car was built by High-Tech Motorsports, owned by the guy who runs the body shop for Carroll Shelby in Las Vegas. He built these cars to Cobra specifications right down to the aluminum panels, chassis and more. The car is so close to the original even the turn stalk is on the right side of the steering column instead of the left, as it was in the original. The door latches are Cobra latches, the seat frames are Cobra seat frames. 

And under the hood is a beautiful 427 cubic inch “side oiler” V8 just like in the original. 

In fact, this car is so close to the original Lee’s girlfriend Cokie took the glove box door off the car, without Lee’s knowledge, and had it sent to Las Vegas where Carroll Shelby took the time to sign it and return it. That’s a huge highlight when looking at Lee’s car. 

Some of the younger people around aren’t sure what to make of Lee’s Cobra when they come up to him at a traffic signal but that doesn’t stop them from challenging him with their little four-cylinder cars. 

“I just look over and tell them I need an engine like theirs just to start my car.”  Lee relayed that one of the girlfriends of these embarrassed Rice Rocket car owners laughed hysterically at that comment. 

No matter what your feelings about the replicas or the original Cobras, a car this sexy with as much horsepower as this has is just enough to get any autonut to drool. Listening to the sound of that engine as it burbles under the hood is like a symphony and this is one concert I hope to attend again and again.

If you have a car that's part of your history it would be an honor to feature it and you here on the Curbside. Just contact us and let us know how we can reach you. 


Tony Barthel

Tony Barthel has been writing articles and blogs since 1996 with reviews of new cars, stories about old cars and the people who love them and finding the best car shows around for the Curbside car show calendar. He is also author of a book on event planning and public speaker on business and tourism marketing plus a YouTube creator of travel videos. Tony loves RVing and is the co-publisher of the StressLess Camping blog.