FEATURED:// Fake snakes part 1 - AC Cobra replicas

This has to be a fact of automotive life: most of us reading these lines will never have the opportunity to ever drive or own a genuine Shelby Cobra. And at the same time everybody reading this article had the dream ride . . . in a dream indeed.

The Cobra is the 60s embodiment of uber masculinity and everything racy. It has all a performance car could ever wish for: sexy roadster lines, huge capacity motor, stiff pedigree and that unique aura only a handfull cars own. Thank you Carroll Shelby.

It must be for those reasons since mid 70s every – it must’ve been every – schoolboy had at least one poster of a Cobra on his boysroom wall. A Mk3 replica surely, because they looked the hottest.
Let’s spend some words on Cobra replicas here. Because there are a good few manufacturers around. A bit of history first.

With the Mk1 Shelby Cobra - or Cobra 260 - the birth of the ultimate sports roadster was a fact. Basically a modified British AC Ace sports car fitted with a by Ford supplied hipo 4.2 litre light weight small block V8 started what would become a legend concept. The 900 kgs car was thoroughly tested in sunny California and in 1962 production started. 75 Mk1 with the 260 engine and 51 Mk1 with the bigger 289 were made.

Mk II Cobra trianing session @ Nurburg

A year later the Mk2 made its entry. With MGB / Beetle steering bits and equipped with the 275 brake 289 cu Ford Windsor engine 528 of these Cobras were produced. In 1965 Mk3 came in and shook up the world with bigger power and Ford chassis knowledge. Dimensions increased resulting in a dramatic and hard to beat road presence design holding a 7 litre (427 CID) V8 big block. Now this was the supercar of its day. And still, 425 brake in a kit weighing in at barely 1100 kgs is impressive and even intimidating stuff. The mind blowing acceleration – zero to 60 in well under 5 seconds – and 165 mph Vmax were figures unheard of. Downside was: only a few could handle this monster package and only a mere 300 Mk3s were made to sell. The Cobra concept did not became a financial succes. Which is all the more odd as a lot of todays kit car offerings are derrivatives of the Cobra.
In 1967 production stopped due to lack of money and back up by supplier Ford. Both the blue oval and Carroll Shelby carried on with other projects. AC England did a Mk2ish AC 289 untill 1969. In 1984 the AC factory closed down. But the Cobra was far from dead.

The famous name and the tooling stuff were licensed by Autokraft, which made name and sold Ford 302 powered Mk3s. But they were not the only ones who picked up Cobra cars . . .
It is safe to say the Shelby Cobra  - and the masculine Mk3 in particular – is the most replicated car ever. Well, together with Lotus Seven that is. Benefiting from the race victories and macho appearance today many workshops offer continuations. Most are improvements of the original concept with fiberglass body shells and Chevrolet power.
I was lucky to experience three replica Cobras: a 350 Chevrolet Dax Tojeiro, a 460 Ford Thunder Road RAM and a 302 Ford Hawk.

Hawk Cobra

The original Shelby CobraLet’s have a look at the Hawk. Amongst a Lancia Stratos rep the Sussex based company offers various 289 (Hawk 289) and 427 (Hawk Kirkham 427) Cobra kits that closely follow the original thing. They do look like genuine 60s cars. This is a difference with other companies who often prefer less accurate Cobra kits by adding mucho bling and plenty of overstatement. A very nice Hawk example is the 39PH (picture the original Wilment LM car) hardtop that brings back the ’63 Le Mans entry. A limited 10 piece run packed with FIA bits shows the companies focus and ambition. These Cobras can be entered in historic racing or enjoyed on a sunday mornings lanes outing.

Just like the original cars the regular Hawk 289 uses MGB and Jaguar XJ parts. The internals are covered by a fibreglass body. Engines range from 1.8 fours and Triumph 2.5 straight six to big Ford V8s. Not sure about other than Yank plants here, but it is our belief a Cobra should pack a V8 and nothing but a V8. Some think only Ford power should be under the bonnet. Different strokes for different blokes.

The Kirkham 427 is a gem in ally. Partially built in Poland this car offers everything a Cobra lover could wish for and with a decent pricetag. The brutal appearance begs for big power and Yank iron is a must here. A Rover V8 would be a missmatch. Think 300 to 450 brake of American muscle which is more than adequate. Considering this is a non-ABS and non-traction control car, and basically an early 60s design more bhp could make the big snake bite back awfull mean.

Dax Tojeiro Cobra

John Tojeiro was the designer of the original Cobra basis; the beautifull Bristol straight six powered AC Ace. He joined DJ Sportscars - founded in 1968 when Cobra production had stopped - in 1985. As a director he guided the company to a next level and within a few years Dax became the best known Cobra kit manufacturer. The Essex based workshop produced well over 2.000 427s since and production numbers are increasing. Their 427 is an easy to live with workhorse that can take any engine from V12 Jaguar to Chevrolet V8 and even straight six power if one would wish. Dax offers both IRS and DeDion rear axled cars.

Dax Tojeiro Cobra

A few years back I shared an outing with Andy Phillips and his hardtopped and Chevy 350 CID powered Dax. This kit was more than capable of a full two days and troublefree London to Huntingdon and back, London to Beaulieu and back trip. Some run!

The car is uncomfortable and loud and the fragreance of Optimax is part of the experience everytime the loud pedal is firmly stepped upon. But bloody hell I got a rides well worth! The sidepipe exhausts are essential on 427s - a correct 289 has two tail pipes - and are best to be avoided after a run: hot! The noise is intoxicating and thus right in your ear. Conversation is a no go, radio is a silly option. Fresh air comes from windows that flap open, winding windows there are none. Seats are overly comfy though. Tightly strapped in a 4-point harness there is no room to move about. Which is exactly what you want when shifts go down and revs go up.

Dax Tojeiro Cobra on the AutobahnEveryone with MGB- or Triumph TR4/5/6-experience can point out a picture of how a Cobra feels. Apart from the improved urge and noise the seating position and roadhandling show their periods worth. And there’s another major difference compared to the little Brit bros: one does not need to change gear to make serious progress. If you do you are certainly in for a treat. In Andies car the big Holley carb makes the engine sing a drunken bassy song, with thundering pops and bangs that make any TVR sound shy. At speed the raw V8 comes in Nascar mode. A year after my first trip in his Dax he brought the car to the Continent to take part of a spring run. Enjoying a passenger ride in a 383 CID 600 brake Ultima CanAm - not a bad place I can tell you - Andy passed us on a Sunday morning stretch of German Autobahn: hair in the back of our necks stood up when looking at 140 mph. “I would not like to go any faster”, Andy reasured me afterwards.

I guess the raw factor is part of the charm although I found a 302 powered Hawk easier to live with. One of the major benefits of being a kit car is that all can be adjusted and made to completely satisfy the owner. Let’s step up to Thunder Roads RAM Cobra . . . if you dare!

RAM Cobra

Realm Engineering is in the Cobra busines since the early 80s. Next to rep XKSSs, C-, D- and E-types they offer the only Cobra rep with Carroll Shelbys approval: the RAM.

More of this in the February issue of ClassicCarsMonthly.

Words and photography: Albert Mensinga