Steve McQueen drove a black one that he “borrowed” from the factory. Elvis drove a white one in the 1966s rock-star/racer flick Spinout. And douchebag laureate Dan Bilzerian, predictably, has a chrome edition with a license plate that reads SUCK IT.
The Shelby Cobra is, above all, a design that has stood the test of time (even if its demographics, as noted, have gone downhill).
First unveiled in 1962, the car largely considered to be the quintessential American roadster of the ‘60s began as a collaboration between the UK’s AC Cars and legendary Texas-born racing driver Carroll Shelby. With its big, wide haunches and souped-up engine, the car is a sucker punch to the solar plexus — fast, loud and sexy as hell.
Or at least it was, until the emissions and safety regulations of the ‘70s consigned it to the scrap heap of history. Almost. These days originals bring in over a million bucks at auction. But you can buy a “continuation” car, built under a license granted from Carroll Shelby himself to a company called Superformance (before his death in 2012) that is better than the next best thing.
Based in Irvine, CA, Superformance meticulously crafts Cobra continuations (don’t call them “replicas”) of the originals. They will sell you a “rolling chassis” without powerplant or transmission, leaving the option of how much juice to give it up to the individual buyer. The cars start around $80,000, and — vitally — tend to increase in value, not depreciate.
Shelby Cobra Continuation (4 images)
The edition we tested in California earlier this year was fitted with an engine of considerable size. While there have been a number of modifications to the original vehicles, Superformance has kept those changes as subtle as possible, and at first glance, the strikingly beautiful roadster looks like a perfectly restored vintage find. It drives like its name, sans power steering, and thanks to the preservation of old-school (read: flimsy) seatbelts, feels like one too.
How about a radio? Superfluous. With the basso profundo of the huge, snaking exhaust testing out the car’s acoustics, you wouldn’t be able to hear it anyway. The pipes also get extremely hot, and are prone to smoking if you get stuck in traffic, which in Southern California is par for the course. Remember to step wide when exiting, lest scorching pant burns become a fixture of your wardrobe.
On the road, all these shortcomings are — if not exactly forgotten — diminished. Driving the Superformance Cobra is a raw, visceral experience, the kind that even modern supercars just don’t deliver except in carefully controlled conditions. There’s not much separating you and the tarmac, so cornering at high speed will make you feel like your life hangs in the balance. In a good way, of course. The roar of the engine is deafening, the exhaust fumes make your head spin, the heat is nausea-inducing and things like lumbar support are laughable frivolities.
And damned if we can’t wait to do it again.