There are muscle cars, and then, there are muscled-up sports cars. The Cobra is considered the consummate 'muscle car'. But, in one move, Carroll Shelby effectively bridged the gap between muscle and sports cars and launched a whole new bread of machine.
During the 1960s, there were two approaches. In Europe, the cars were smaller and more-nimble. The premium was placed on acceleration and handling. In the United States, the cars were bigger and heavier, but quite powerful. The focus was on top-end performance in a straight line. While the muscle car was still the main interest in the United States, more and more people were being attracted to the smaller and lightweight European sports cars. During this time, grand prix racing, as well as, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, were quite popular, even with American audiences.
Carroll Shelby was a racing driver and was very familiar with what it took to have the best car. He had been devastated by the Corvettes during a race. Therefore, set off on a quest to create the best car; one that would completely demoralize its competition.
Shelby wanted a small car that was capable of housing a V-8 engine. Carroll had noticed the shapely lines of AC Cars' chassis and approached them about building a car for his purposes. They agreed. Then, Shelby went engine hunting. Initially, Shelby went to Chevrolet, but they turned him away for fear of competition with its Corvette. Shelby then went to Ford. At that time Ford was becoming interested in the European motor sport scene and understood what having a powerful, lightweight car could mean in competition. Therefore, Ford became very interested in the idea of a powerful, small and lightweight car, especially one that could defeat the Corvette.
Shelby's first 'snakes' were quite good in performance. However, the next couple of generations were no where near what Shelby had planned. Its second-generation machine was affectionately called, 'The Turd' by racing driver Ken Miles. This was because the car was virtually un-drivable due to the transverse leaf spring suspension the car had been designed to utilize.
Shelby had been promised Ford's aluminum-block 390 V-8. This met with some resistance. Therefore, Shelby would have to make due with the heavier 'side-oiler' 427. To be able to house the engine, AC Cars had to redesign their chassis with a wider wheelbase. Though frustrating at the time, this, and the inclusion of a new wishbone and coil spring suspension, proved to be just what was needed. The large engine, with the wider wheelbase, enabled the full potential of the Cobra to be unveiled. The Ford 520 bhp, 427 V-8 engine was purposed to push the square, heavy bricks of Nascar's day around at 170mph. When combined with the much smaller and lighter AC chassis, the power-to-weight ratio that resulted was truly lethal for the competition.
The car was light (500 pounds lighter than the Corvette), it was nimble because of its wider stance, but in addition to all of that, the car was incredibly quick.
In 1963, Cobra earned their first-ever race victory against a field made up of Corvettes, Jaguars, Porsches and Maseratis. Jack Sears and Peter Bolton reportedly hit about 186 mph in tests on England's M1 motorway before the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The story surrounding this episode, and the many fatalities on the M1, led England to establish national speed limits its highways. According to Sports Car Graphic magazine in 1965, 'Ken Miles took one of the street 427 machines out and did zero to 100 to zero in 13.2 seconds.' Many of Europe's small sports cars had been able to do the same test in under 30 seconds. This was how brutally quick the Cobra was. It had truly bridged the small, lightweight sports cars of Europe with the incredible high-horsepower engines of the United States. This rare combination made the car coveted for competition purposes, but surprisingly, it proved to be unsuccessful for Ford with the general public. Ford and Shelby ceased importing the cars from England in 1967.
The 427 Cobra presented at the RM Auction in 2011 in Scottsdale, AZ was a genuine 427-powered street Cobra. The car had been prepared by Hall Fabrication & Racing, Inc. The car originated from AC Cars in early 1966 and was then purchased by a gentleman from Kokomo, Indiana later that year.
The car appeared at the First Annual Brown County Indiana SAAC meet in 1978. The car was then sent back to England in 1979 as it was purchased by a Martin A. Colvill. Later on, it was purchased and sent to Germany. In 1988, the car was purchased by the 1988 British Touring Car Champion, Frank Sytner. The car eventually returned to the United States some time later.
In 2003, the car ended up making contact with one of the guardrails at the Monterrey Historics. This led the car to go through a no-expense spared restoration, including a bare-metal refinish.
The Cobra comes with a well documented history, including the original invoice from AC to Shelby American, photographs of the body stamp in various locations, as well as receipts from the car's owners throughout its time in Europe.
The restoration the car underwent was quite extensive. It included the brakes, cooling, electrical, suspension, chrome, paintwork and many other parts and components. The car is finished in red, while its interior has been finished in black leather and dark grey.
The car sports the usual AC Cars body styling expected for the 427 Cobra. Two large, round headlights accent either side of the wide-mouth open grille. The hoodline, trailing back from the grille opening is reminiscent of the Maserati or Ferrari grand prix cars of the early 1950s. The extra-wide fenders cover the car's obviously wider wheel base. A small, single-piece windscreen is about the only thing protruding up out of the top of the car. Along the lower portion of the sides of the car run the hallmark, large-diameter exhaust pipes. The interior of the Cobra offered had a wood trimmed steering wheel, complete with the AC badge. The instruments are correct Smiths. Large, shapely rear fenders help conceal the wide rear tires.
The car has a large-capacity fuel tank. The 520 bhp, 427 V-8 engine sports four Weber carburetors and aluminum heads. Stopping power comes from four aluminum-caliper disc brakes. It has a Ford Top-loader four-speed manual transmission, an independent front suspension comprised of unequal-length upper and lower wishbones with coil springs and telescopic dampers and a similar rear suspension with additional lower trailing links. Headed to auction, this Shelby Cobra was estimated to fetch between $650-$750,000.
The Cobra offered this year is one of just a little over 300 street-specified Cobras ever built. Chassis CSX3259 is truly a special car. Its rarity comes from what it represents. And what it represents is the focus of uniting two points of view. It is that rare amalgamation of a small, lightweight and nimble sports car chassis that would be at home on the twisty road tracks of Europe and an incredibly powerful American muscle car meant to take the car between point A and B in the fastest possible time.
Wikipedia contributors, 'AC Cobra', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 January 2011, 10:27 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=AC_Cobra&oldid=405303141 accessed 10 January 2011
'DOUBLE TEST: COBRAS FOR STREET & COMPETITION', (http://www.erareplicas.com/history/scg_427/index.htm). Sports Car Graphic Magazine: Double Test: Cobras for street and competition. http://www.erareplicas.com/history/scg_427/index.htm. Retrieved 10 January 2011.