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The Shelby Cobra Turns 50


A Mark III Shelby Cobra at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance

A Mark III Shelby Cobra at the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance

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In 1962, a new sports car with a British body and an American V-8 engine appeared at the New York Auto Show. Built under the vision of Carroll Shelby, a Texas chicken farmer and racer, few could have envisioned that the Shelby Cobra on display would eventually become one of the most iconic cars in the automotive world.

The story of the Shelby Cobra is filled with deals that fell apart or never came to fruition.  A.C. Cars, the supplier of the body and chassis behind the Cobra, wasn’t Shelby’s first choice for a partner. It was only after Austin-Healey declined Shelby’s request to buy rolling chassis that the Texan turned to A.C. as a potential supplier.

Ford wasn’t his first choice of engine supplier, either, but General Motors shot down his request to buy small block V-8s, as they feared the car would be competition to its own Chevrolet Corvette. It was fate, then, that blended the A.C. Ace rolling chassis with the Ford V-8.

Although two engines, the 289 cubic-inch V-8 and the 427 cubic-inch V-8, are most closely associated with the Cobra, the first 75 Mark I cars came equipped with a 260 cubic-inch Ford V-8. Later Mark I examples (51, according to Wikipedia) got the 289 cubic-inch V-8, which carried over into Mark II cars as well.

It was the Mark III cars, with their 427 cubic-inch V-8 engines, that really solidified the Cobra’s reputation as a widow-maker. As The New York Times explains, the Mark III Cobra was capable of running from 0-100 mph, then back to zero, in less than 14 seconds, while most new cars couldn’t hit 60 mph in the same time.

As iconic as the Cobras have become, not many originals were built. Only 343 Mark III Cobras were built from 1965-67, plus another 655 Mark I and Mark II cars. Ironically, production of Cobra copies probably numbers into the tens of thousands, with kits covering the quality gamut from good to incredibly bad.

Shelby American will even sell you a “continuation Cobra,” with either a fiberglass or an aluminum body and a genuine Shelby “CSX” serial number. Prices for a rolling chassis start at around $60,000, which is a fraction of what you’d pay to buy an original, with or without an engine.

This much is clear: while other sports cars have come and gone, the iconic Shelby Cobra seems to soldier on, largely unchanged. We wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Cobra models in production (probably with hydrogen-powered hybrid drivetrains) five decades in the future, either.
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  1. truly a car and man meant for history, its amazing how much a Cobra (original) cost now.
     
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