Finding & Purchasing A Cobra Replica - Part 1
Be A Smart Snake Shopper
By D. Brian Smith
Photography: D. Brian Smith
A Brief History Lesson
Born and raised in the great state of Texas, Carroll Shelby was a talented young racecar driver whose last professional race was an overall victory at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. He piloted an Aston Martin DBR1 with co-driver Roy Salvadori for the David Brown Racing Team, a British team that had much success fielding a cadre of Aston Martins in the late '50s and early '60s. Shelby is reported to have been chewing nitroglycerin tablets while racing to lessen the chance that his weak heart would give out during the contest.
Born with a weak heart, his lifelong malady didn't keep him from his passion for racing or fast cars. Though he was forced to retire from competition after the Le Mans race, most automotive enthusiasts know that his greatest accomplishment was in creating a sensational little sports car called the Shelby Cobra. Mind you, he didn't engineer and design this car from scratch. Rather, in 1962, he approached AC Cars Ltd., a tiny British car company, and asked them if he could have an AC Bristol roadster, so that he could hot rod it by stuffing a Ford 260 ci small block V-8. The AC Bristol was a two-place, lightweight aluminum-bodied roadster that had a straight-six engine and could do a bit over 100 mph in race tune.
With a Ford V-8 fitted in the chassis to achieve a near perfect 50-percent front weight/50-percent rear weight balance, the sports car rocketed to over 150 mph, despite having the aerodynamics of an elephant running up hill with a headwind. The car was an instant sensation in terms of performance, so much so that Shelby convinced the Ford Motor Company to produce the sexy sports car. Sold from 1962 through 1967 as Ford Shelby Cobra 260, 289, and finally 427 Cobras, the numbers denoting cubic inch engine size, all told the Ford Motor Company produced approximately 1,000 Cobra roadsters over these seven years.
The first few years that Cobras were used cars some lucky gearheads bought them for next to nothing money, like most pre-owned vehicles. But a mere 10 years after the end of Cobra production, the sports cars began to climb in value. The cars sold new in the $6,000 to $7,000 range during their run and were already commanding mid-five figure purchase prices by the latter 1970s.
Fast-forward some 30 years later, an enthusiast needs to be a millionaire to afford an original Shelby Cobra these days. The street slab-sided Cobra 289 roadsters command upwards of $300,000 for a decently restored machine. The 289FIA racecars bring into the millions. Restored 427SC roadsters are worth in the high six figure range and get up to the low millions, if they have a notable history.
Racing history fans of the 1960s know that the Shelby American Racing Team in collaboration with the Ford Motor Company earned the FIA Manufacturers championship in 1965, by campaigning the 289FIA Shelby Cobra roadsters on the shorter U.S. circuits and the much more aerodynamic and faster Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupes on the longer and faster road courses in Europe. The U.S. and Shelby bested Ferrari, which had never been done before.
When it was new, the Shelby Cobra was the fastest production sports car on the planet. Given this fact and its world-beating race provenance, in addition to its limited production run - all of these factors and the indisputable beauty of the roadster - all helped to make it a very valuable commodity today.
Kit car companies began producing replicas of the roadsters in the late 1970s. There are now a number of reputable manufacturers producing well-engineered kits. The demand for Cobra replicas among sports car fans has never been higher. Some kit car hobbyists wish to construct their own sports car.
Other automotive enthusiasts don't have the requisite patience or skill to build their own dream car. These two articles are dedicated to those individuals who don't have the desire to tinker in the garage, but they have a need for speed, that is Cobra replica speed. In Finding & Purchasing A Cobra Replica Part 1 and Part 2, Redline Review will provide these replica speed freaks with a step-by-step guide to roadster ownership nirvana.
Doing Some Research
ClubCobra.com & FFCobra.com
There are two notable Internet forums that will provide you with an invaluable resource for uncovering the history of the Cobra replica(s) that you're interested in and also for being a possible resource in finding the particular roadster of your dreams. ClubCobra.com caters to the Cobra replica and genuine Cobra hobby in its entirety and also includes Daytona Coupe authentic and kit, as well as GT40 replicas and authentic 1960s racecars in the mix. All of the various replica manufacturers products are covered on Club Cobra. The membership base of replica enthusiasts on ClubCobra.com is well over 25,000. There is a very good chance that the replica you're going to look at is already known and with good probability is well documented on ClubCobra.com. Visit the forum, become a member (membership is free) and start doing some searches. Members will often times post a thread with full details of their replica, when they wish to sell the vehicle.
The same can be said for FFCobra.com, if you're seeking a Factory Five Racing (FFR) C. car, a FFR Type 65 (original Shelby American code name for Daytona Coupe), a FFR GTM, a FFR C. car Spec Racer or a FFR '33 Hot Rod. In other words, any Factory Five Racing vehicle that has ever been built or is under construction is probably written about (possibly from start to finish of the project) on this forum. There are even build logs of specific cars that include detailed notes and quality photos of the projects. FFCobra.com has well over 23,000 active members, most of them are passionate Factory Five Racing replica owners and/or builders. As you may know, Factory Five Racing is the largest manufacturer of kit cars in the world. The company has produced more Cobra roadster replicas than any other manufacturer. If you're interested in purchasing a completed FFR roadster, FFCobra.com is the best place to start performing your car search and the perfect place to learn all about Factory Five Racing. The company's website provides another excellent resource to learn all about its various vehicle kits.
Where To Look
The Cobras For Sale section of the CobraCountry.com website provides an extensive and informative classified advertising section for enthusiasts looking to buy or sell Cobra replicas. Ad listings provide large images of the replicas for sale from different perspectives and include detail photos of the engine compartments and interiors. There are comprehensive descriptions of each Cobra replica for sale in all classified listings. Seller contact information is also provided. Curt Scott, the originator of the site, has covered the Cobra replica hobby in particular and the kit car arena since 1996. He has also written a book called The Complete Guide to Cobra Replicas - All-New 4th Edition. The Cobra County website, the book and the classified listings in particular should all prove to be valuable resources in discovering the best replica for you to consider. You may even find the car that you end up purchasing.
On the day that I perused the EBay Motors website for Shelbys, there were no less than 233 cars listed up for auction. As you can imagine, many of these vehicles were Cobra replicas, Shelby Mustang re-creations, Daytona Coupe replicas and Ford GT40 re-creations. It's not hard to figure out why. With the passage of time, the genuine cars from the 1960s are being increasingly held on to as an investment, or they're in museums. From time to time, you'll see some original babies change hands for big bucks. Indeed, the number 26 roundel-filled Shelby Daytona Coupe that won the last race in Rheims, France in 1965 and gave Shelby American, Ford and the USA the World Manufacturers' Championship for the first time ever, sold at a Mecum Auto Auction for 7.25-million dollars in 2009. I salivate over how many cool replicas, muscle cars, vintage sports cars, houses and other sundry items I could have with that much cash in my bank account! For one miniscule, infinitesimal fraction of that amount you can buy a super fine Cobra replica. Simply let your fingers do the typing on EBay Motors and perform some searches and research.
In reality, it's not quite that easy. One does need to be smart about replica shopping. Should you find the roadster of your dreams, and you're determined to be the high bidder, remember that you still need to perform your due diligence and confirm the shiny sports car is everything the current owner says it is. If the car's across the country and the auction ends in four hours, you're out of luck. You ideally need to go and inspect the car, the same way you would if you were shopping to buy a used car to send your daughter off to college. I've heard plenty of horror stories about auto enthusiasts buying so called fully restored cars off EBay sight unseen. A good photographer can always make a car or anything look better in PhotoShop than it really is.
A case in point, several years ago I photographed a sweet 1969 Camaro Z28, with the purpose of selling a feature article to one of the major Chevy enthusiast magazines. The owner of the car, who is an astute gearhead and works in the automotive aftermarket industry, won the car on EBay. Since he lives in California and the Z28 was located in Texas, he had a buddy of his, who wasn't an automotive enthusiast, go and inspect the car in a town that neighbored his in Texas. Unfortunately, a really nice paint job was enough to fool this rookie into thinking the car was a rotisserie restoration. Shortly after the owner got the Camaro out of the enclosed trailer, he knew he had paid too much for the car. What added insult to monetary injury, several months after I had photographed the Camaro, the supposedly completely balanced, blueprinted and rebuilt engine went kaput.
The moral of the story is, if you're going to put faith in somebody, either trust yourself or hire someone who knows more about Cobra replicas (or 1969 Camaro Z28s) than you or your buddies do. Last I heard, the Z28 owner still has the car, but his bank account suffered big time. Caveat Emptor.
Believe it or not, going to a live auction can be a means to purchasing a Cobra replica or any other sort of enthusiast automobile, if you employ a viable strategy. You've no doubt heard of the various auction companies, so I'll list several of the largest - Barrett-Jackson, Mecum, Russo & Steele, Bonhams, Christie's, RM Auctions. I've been to various auctions over the years as a humble scribe, not a participant. What I've seen is typically that the replicas can be had for reasonable amounts of money. I covered the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is a seven-day affair held in late January every year. The cars that bring the big dollars are auctioned off on the final Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
At the start of the week, you'll usually see the low cost sales leaders up for bid. In other words, a Backdraft Racing roadster might be had for considerably less than what the owner paid, and it could be a low-mileage creampuff. You may well be high bidder on the first night of the auction for a superbly constructed FFR roadster that has fuel injection and an independent rear suspension at the very end of the first day of auction. That's the key. Get to the event at the very start of the auction; pore over the auction book, which shows all the cars up for sale with both photos and a reasonable description. Go and look at the cars you wish to bid on. In the case of Barrett-Jackson, the cars will either be in one of the immense temporary tent buildings, or they'll be located under the carnival tents (that's the more likely location for the replicas), barely shielded from the desert winter weather - typically cold and rainy. You may even get lucky and see the owner detailing his soon to be gone pride and joy. If so, you might convince the guy/girl to fire it up. You may even have an opportunity to drive the car a short distance, if the owner suspects that you're really a serious prospect. Realize that you need to have your wits about you, should you wish to bid on specific cars. Don't get caught up in some ridiculous bidding war just to beat someone else whose vying for the car. You could bid yourself broke. If you're a gambling addict, stay away from the auction. Alternatively, if you have a calm and logical disposition, you may win a wonderful Cobra car that could bring you years of unbridled enjoyment.
Hemmings Motor News
Hemmings Motor News didn't just make up their slogan, "World's Largest Collector-Car Marketplace." The automotive classifieds publication has been around since 1954. For many years Hemmings was the only place to seek out pre-owned enthusiast automobiles for sale. The publication is available on newsstands and via subscriptions. You can also look up cars on the Hemmings website - hemmings.com. The magazine has three specific sections where, within any given issue, you may find Cobra replicas for sale. They are: Racing & Hi-Performance, Replica & Kit and Shelby.
Auto Trader Classics
Before the days of the World Wide Web, Auto Trader published various and sundry car classified magazines for specific marques. The company still does so, and like the granddaddy, Hemmings Motors News, offers the same capabilities on the Internet. For enthusiast machines, the specific site is called - autotraderclassics.com. You can do various searches and discover Cobra replicas in several different categories and narrow your investigation to short distances from your home.
Your Local Newspaper
Before the Internet, we automotive enthusiasts used to rely primarily on our local newspapers and the Antiques & Classics section within the Automotive Classifieds. If I told you all the cars that I've found and acquired over the years in the Classifieds, you might not believe me. Or, you might start calling me Mr. Barn Find. That's Mr. Barn Find Smith to you, dude. All kidding aside, there are still some fantastic fully built Cobra kits lurking and slithering while waiting for the right new owner to find them in the daily newspaper. Some of the larger newspapers also offer the Classifieds section online. Check it out.
Craigslist.org is an online community that offers all kinds of goods and services for sale. You may find your replica there. I found a 1990 Mazda Miata with 35,000 miles on it and a new cloth top with glass rear window. The car now has 118,000 miles and is still going strong. I bought it for pennies on the dollar. Cobra listings certainly aren't as prevalent as daily drivers, yet you'd be surprised how many are on Craigslist.
Almost every major car show has an immense swap meet section, with used parts galore for sale and a new vendor row area that's busy marketing all variety of new components. There is also often an old car corral that's bound to have several road-going serpents for sale to a good home. Why not go and look at the cool show cars? You might drive home in a show and track worthy snake that's the envy of your neighborhood.