To Drive or Display? The Conundrum Around Three Bare-Metal Shelby Cobras.

One bronze, one copper and one aluminum, all for sale through RM Sotheby’s

1965 Shelby Cobra in copper
Can you see yourself in this copper Shelby Cobra? No, seriously, you can see yourself in the metal.
©2021 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's

Whenever you buy a car with a certain level of collectibility, there’s always the action-figure factor. Do you display it, keeping it literally or figuratively under wraps in a climate-controlled garage like a mint-condition Star Wars figurine in its original packaging, hoping for a return on investment? Or do you drive it? That is, do you play with it the way it was meant to be played with? This could also be called the Ferris Bueller factor. 

In no instance has this conundrum been starker, at least in recent memory, than with three bare-metal Shelby Cobras that are currently for sale at RM Sotheby’s, with prices ranging from $385,000 to $475,000.

All three Cobras are 427s, which means they’re the big-block V8 version of one of the most recognizable sports cars ever made. That’s a point for driving. But they’re also sculptural oddities, one being finished in polished aluminum, one in polished copper and one in polished bronze. That’s a point for showcasing. So what’s someone with a few hundred thousand bucks burning a hole in their pocket to do?

First, let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with.

  • Bronze 1965 Shelby 427 S/C Cobra
  • Copper 1965 Shelby 427 S/C Cobra
  • Aluminum 1965 Shelby 427 S/C Cobra

Yes, these are truly something to behold. But they may also be hard to decipher for those not part of the Shelby Cobra cult, which is still as strong as ever despite the originals numbering in the hundreds and only being made in the ‘60s.

All three of these cars are listed as 1965 Shelby 427 S/C Cobras — 427 originally denoted the 427-cubic-inch Ford FE V8 engine, though these feature slightly larger motors built by Carroll Shelby Engine Company; S/C stands for semi-competition, meaning they’re road legal but also built to race; and 1965 is the date of the original vehicles, not when these three were made.

To explain that nuance, you must know these all feature bodies built not by the late Carroll Shelby or his namesake company, but by Kirkham Motorsports, a leader in the Cobra replica market (a vast field, if you can believe it). The company’s peculiar beginnings are worth a full read from the pages of The Wall Street Journal in the late ‘90s, but the condensed version is that Utah Mormon and Cobra fanatic David Kirkham started making replicas out of a fighter jet factory in Poland that rivaled Shelby’s own continuation Cobras. Since their start in 1994, they’ve gone in and out of favor with Shelby American, as the blog Cobra Authority has detailed, but these three cars currently for sale are all part of the period where they were on friendly terms.

You can tell because they all have CSX serial numbers; the aluminum is 4428, the bronze is 4600 and the copper is 4602. Essentially, this means you’re getting the best of both worlds: unique, handcrafted bodywork courtesy of Kirkham and the blessing of Carroll Shelby, the man who started this whole craze in the first place.

But that doesn’t answer the main question, does it? Not being original 1965 Cobras does seem to give the new owners some leeway in ripping around roads or racetracks, but again the unprotected, mirror-shined metal does mean any nicks, scrapes or dings will stick out like a sore thumb and probably need to be buffed out after every outing.

Maybe the solution is to take another step back. The Shelby Cobra is somewhat of an American daredevil, a car prone to crashes thanks to the oversized power shoved into a small, nimble package. And if you’re going to buy a respectable 427 Cobra, you’ve got bigger things to worry about than a few scrapes on the car. 

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