The Shelby Cobra might be the perfect culmination of the sports car. It has muscle, it has handling and agility. Whether sitting at a traffic light, parked at a car show or screaming through the gears on the road, it looks fast — because it is.
Undoubtedly, beyond all the trophies and laurel wreaths collected by these cars in the ’60s, the car’s style and driving dynamics made the Cobra legendary and coveted by so many enthusiasts who have collected originals and created copies.
Because these cars are so rare and expensive, it’s not often that you can drive an authentic example. You can, however, drive something that looks and drives like the real deal.
Thanks to our friends at Superformance, we got just that; the opportunity to drive a “continuation” fully registered Shelby CSX7000 289 FIA Cobra. Superformance has been known for its bespoke, Shelby-licensed Cobra MKIII replicas, and have made a thriving business of creating and selling that experience.
However, many are not aware that Hillbank, the sales arm of the Irvine, California, based company, is also an authorized dealer of the Las Vegas, Nevada, based Shelby International. This means that in going to the vast showroom, gives the buyer a choice to purchase the real DNA and lineage of Carroll Shelby’s cars, credited with winning the World Manufacturers Championship in 1965, along with the six Peter Brock-designed Cobra Daytona Coupes.
The pure unadulterated sexiness of this car gives any red-blooded male a quick shot of testosterone at first glimpse. Just like its museum piece brother, chassis CSX2345, this metallic-Guardsman Blue beauty, with two enormous Wimbledon White stripes cascading its body, makes it recognizable even to the casual observer. The 289 FIA Cobras remain amongst the most desirable from the Shelby stable. The mind immediately trails back to the Ferrari and Corvette Grand Sport-challenging AC-bodied race cars in the hands of Bob Bondurant, Roy Salvadori, Sir John Whitmore, Jochen Neerpasch…
The heritage and detail of the car is immaculate. Looking at several of the Cobra quirks gives the mind such a flood of history, and brings back all of the great Carroll Shelby stories. Built by Shelby in 2015, this continuation car is close to the real deal — with of course the exception being a high-strength, hand-laid fiberglass composite body. Shelby does produce a limited number of aluminum bodied steeds as well.
The team would not bring the first Cobra to LeMans until 1964. AC Cars Ltd. of England ran two Cobras in the 1963 race; with one DNF and the other making an impressive fourth in the GT class.
Arriving in Europe in 1964 to compete against all of the great marques at the great tracks and races such as the Targa Florio, Nürburgring and Spa Francorchamps, the first major hurdle wasn’t the racing itself — it was the notoriously nit-picky, hair-splitting tech officials of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. Many teams throughout the years have told tales of run-ins with the arrogant rule-enforcers, who sometimes seemed to almost make the rules up as they went along.
The first issue was the Cobras didn’t have speedometers — a requirement by the FIA. So Shelby, after a lost protest and in an almost defiant tone, fitted a speedometer on the passenger dashboard. This was almost completely out of sight to the driver, but it passed. The continuation model also sports a speedometer on the passenger side. Undoubtedly, this adds to the whole “fearless driver/terrified passenger” as a squeamish rider may find himself looking wide-eyed with knowledge of the three digit speeds…
Another FIA mandate required the trunk able to hold a suitcase! Needless to say, the race drivers were not packing bags or carrying any suitcase housed spares while racing, however, as part of another of the FIA quirks, it needed to be done. Shelby had a solution. He placed a “regulation sized” suitcase in the trunk space and slammed the lid down! Amazingly the trunk shut enough, making two dents, for crew members to fabricate two “pyramidal” corners in the deck lid to allow the fitment. Again, not unlike the Gurney Bubble roof notable on later GT40s, the suitcase dents show pretty on the car in our hands — and specific to the FIA version.
MKIII FIA Standard Equipment
• Show quality two-stage paint finishes.
• Hand-laminated fiberglass body with reinforcing inserts.
• Heavy-duty, TIG-welded, 3-inch, Tojeiro-style frame chassis.
• Transverse leaf spring style suspension.
• Salisbury limited slip differential.
• Wilwood front and rear disc brakes with double master cylinders.
• Aluminum six-pin-drive, FIA-style wheels (Knock – off) with 15-inch tires.
• Original style shifter and hand brake lever.
• Aluminum interior, trunk and engine compartment.
• Sun Visors and wind wings.
• Original style latch-lock seat belts.
• Moto-Lita wooden steering wheel.
• Monza style filler.
• Aluminum high-performance radiator, shroud and fan.
• Original style gauges (Stewart Warner) and switches.
• Stainless steel, 14-gallon fuel tank
• Stainless steel roll bar, chassis-mounted
Getting into the FIA Cobra, after the walk around, reveals a tight but comfortable, glove-like fit with an adjustment of the seat. The Mota-Lita wood steering wheel, aluminum interior with leather seats and vinyl dash get the mind reeling to a simpler time where this purpose-built racing beast was just about speed and cornering. There are only latch-hook lap belts.
Considering how I normally would strap into a race car with a six-point harness, there seemed to be a certain amount of freedom of movement — but then I recalled how dangerous this car would be to race. Even in full race trim, there are no modern sanctioning bodies that would allow this car on track without further restraints. We would not be running this car on track today anyway: just around town in Irvine and Lake Forest, near Superformance headquarters. Pretty scenery nonetheless.
Behind the Wheel
Now situated and comfortable, strapped in I flipped the ACC and hit the starter button. The Ford Performance 363 with four two-barrel Webers roared to life and shook my bones to the core. At idle, the engine sounds escaping the silver, ceramic-coated headers and exhaust had an almost serene rhythm as I clutched and pushed forward the bent shifter into first and eased the car from the industrial park driveway.
Once onto the street, I gently brought the car to the main crossroad. Oh-Boy! Gently away in First gear and a pull into Second and the Ford motor roared as the shifts came smoothly through the Tremec TKO-600 five-speed transmission; laying the rubber to the road with a 3:54 Jaguar rearend and independent halfshafts… Blam! Almost as fast as we got up to Third, it was already time to blip the throttle and come to a stop for the first traffic light.
The brakes are nice — probably far more grabby than the original — Wilwood power-assisted vented disc brakes with custom Shelby calipers, front-four-pot and single rear-pot. This makes the car drivable on suburban streets. We are now making a right onto a six-lane divided thoroughfare, and I let it rip! Up through the gears the engine roars with that distinctive throaty SBF growl. The speed keeps coming as well — both my passenger, Dave Cruikshank (Corvette Online Editor) and I are firmly planted back in the seats. Our smiles are from ear-to-ear, but our laughs are barely audible over the engine roar and wind noise. These cars are not meant to be social anyway — unless they are parked anywhere, drawing a crowd.
Cornering was surprisingly easy. The ladder-frame chassis was stiff, and the fully independent front and rear suspension held the road nicely as braking, shifting, turn-in, apex and exit was far easier than I imagined. Figuring I would have to “muscle” the car a bit through a corner, like so many other behemoth cars, made me realize this was a serious machine with the track in mind.
Sadly, this was not a track day with the FIA Cobra — but instead a suburban drive through Central Orange County — but we look forward to the opportunity to getting such a drive in the near future!
With a chassis price of $114,600 as tested and the engine at $26,640, this is a beautiful example to be had for a grand total of $141,240. I really like the car – just an absolute thrill for the senses. My kids don’t need braces and college that badly, do they? Did I mention my wife likes the Cobras, too?
Remember though, if the authentic Shelby is too rich for your pocketbook, Hillbank has plenty of other choices, including that bespoke MKIII. Looking through the thesaurus, I think I will still just stick with, “Wow!”