06 October 2020 | Columns
Ever since I was young, listening to old-school music, watching old movies, I would be in awe when I saw the characters in the films or music videos drive an old Porsche or Jaguar. I always knew I was different from all my other friends and family members. When watching the Ford vs Ferrari movie, in that moment I knew that I was a car fanatic and that I had a thing for old cars. I instantly fell in love with the Shelby Cobra. So, I just felt its right to do more research on the car and the man that created this gem, Carroll Shelby.
Even before he started racing professionally and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Carroll Shelby had a dream of building sports cars under his own name. But in the early sixties, that dream seemed impossible. His health forced him to stop racing and his other business ventures didn’t look promising. But in 1961, he got the news that AC Cars from England would stop production of their AC Ace model since the Bristol six-cylinder engines weren’t available anymore. A true entrepreneur at heart, Shelby realised that the light and quick British roadster could be a perfect match for a powerful American V8 engine and that this could be the chance of becoming a constructor, and not just a retired racing car driver. Very soon, he contacted AC Cars and they sent him an engine-less body to his shop in California. With some help from Ford Motor Company and a small team of mechanics, the first Shelby Cobra was introduced in 1962. It was powered by Ford’s 260 engine, and later with a venerable 289 V8, and it pretty soon took the sports car world by storm. The combination of lightweight body, small dimensions and brute US power proved to be revolutionary and the car did extremely well in competition all around the world.
However, Shelby’s ambition wasn’t about to end there as he knew that the Cobra had more potential. So, in 1964, Shelby started working on Shelby Cobra 427, an even more extreme version powered by a monstrous Ford big-block seven-litre engine with around 450 bhp and over 600 Nm of torque. It was insane to put this kind of power in such a light car, but Shelby was not a guy who cared about the sanity of his vehicles. He thought there was no such thing as too much power and he was determined to build the ultimate classic muscle car. Installing a 427 V8 proved to be more difficult and the Cobra body needed to be stretched and widened with necessary improvements to the chassis and suspension. The overall design remained the same, but although 289 and 427 Cobras looked very similar, none of the body panels, except for bonnet, boot and windshield, are interchangeable.
Shelby Cobra 427
For those that could tame the beast, the Shelby Cobra 427 was one of the quickest models on offer at the time, capable of sprinting from zero to 100 km/h in under five seconds. As the story goes, Carroll Shelby would cheekily place a $100 note on the Cobra 427’s dash and wager that anyone who could reach it during acceleration could keep it. It’s reported that just 348 Shelby Cobra 427 units were ever built, but many were crashed and destroyed due to its unwieldy nature. Even rarer are models equipped with the power boosting ‘Competition’ package designed for racing, or with the ‘Semi-Competition’ package for owners that wanted a road-ready vehicle that could also be raced on occasion.
Just 348 Shelby Cobra 427 units were ever built. Because of the rarity of the Shelby Cobra, a number of companies have produced replicas over the years, which can be purchased relatively inexpensively due to the simplicity of the platform. Carroll Shelby passed away in 2012, though his legacy lives on with a number of high-performance vehicles carrying his name.
I had the great opportunity to sit in a Shelby Cobra earlier this year and my heart never felt so full. When I asked the car dealer the price, he said it was N$454 000, and at that moment I wanted to go rob a bank immediately. So the moment you see a young girl with a bloody red Shelby driving down the streets of Independence Avenue, playing loud Miguel music and with two beautiful Weimaraner dogs, just know it is me!