Scott Killeen
August 1, 1998
Contributers: Scott Killeen, Dave Smith Photos By: Dave Smith

The early morning air hangs over Willow Springs Raceway like a veil over a canopy bed. There's a stillness--that stone quiet hush of the awakening desert. Coyotes howl in the nearby hills. The faint rumble of an East Coast-bound "heavy" high overhead disturbs the silence, if only for a moment. A car door slams. Hands clasp in warm firmness. Two friends ready to tackle the track catch up on old lies and big promises. It's time to spin the cam lobes and the webs and go racing in a Factory Five Cobra.

Factory Five Racing is about motorsports--and Cobras in particular. Call it a shared obsession between two brothers, David and Mark Smith, who founded the company. Factory Five Racing has been committed from the start to engineering a faithful reproduction of the original legend, Carroll Shelby's Cobra, in an affordable package nearly anyone can afford and build. The Factory Five Cobra isn't a kit car. It's a masterfully engineered Cobra replica designed to excite the senses and provide hours of great entertainment at speed behind the wheel.

Factory Five Racing makes it easy and affordable to buy and build your own Cobra and here's why. CAD/CAM computer technology has made it possible to conceive and build a sporty two-seater Cobra replicar offering not only affordability, but reliability, for well under $20,000 complete. We didn't stutter--that's $20,000, ready to drive.

How can they do that? With off-the-shelf parts from late-model Fox-bodied Mustangs, including the engine, transmission, rearend, and suspension pieces. Find yourself a crash or theft-recovery '86-'95 Mustang 5.0L LX, GT, or Cobra. Then procure the engine, driveline, and chassis parts and you're better than halfway there. Buying a crash or theft-recovery costs approximately $3,000. Factory Five Racing will set you up with the frame and the body, ready for you to complete in your spare time.

The Factory Five approach to Cobra building is basic. It is to successfully engineer the chassis and body, and let Ford's own reliability take care of itself, because within every Factory Five Cobra beats the heart of a Mustang. The Factory Five Cobra replica is an accurate reproduction of the look, performance, and spirit of the original Shelby Cobra, only better because it employs the best 21st century technology available. Engineering and design are where it all begins. You get to determine where it all ends when it's time to twist the key.

Where it begins is with a tube frame, which weighs less than a square-tube design. We're talking 1020 cold-rolled steel tubing in a ladder frame, which offers superior torsional-load rigidity and a vertical-load resistance equal to that of any square-tube design. Important revisions to the original Shelby Cobra design make the Factory Five Cobra a superior design.

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When we get into the body--cool, lightweight aluminum is spoken here. The cockpit, trunk, and engine compartments are entirely 6061-T6 aluminum, which is precision-cut without the use of fiberglass. Dave Smith tells Mustang & Fords that fiberglass is certainly cheaper than hand-formed aluminum panels. However, fiberglass isn't as strong or as safe as aluminum. Shelby knew this 35 years ago. Factory Five makes it a practice today.

Where Factory Five successfully uses fiberglass is in the body. What you get from Factory Five is a ready to prep, paint, and assemble body in black gelcoat. It's a gorgeous piece for anyone excited by the prospect of building his or her own sports car.

Gordon Levy and Craig Anderson of Southwest Specialty Cars (Dept. MF, 571 N. 54th St., Chandler, AZ 85226, 602/981-5767) got interested in the Factory Five Cobra early on, becoming factory authorized builders in January 1997. Since that time, Southwest Specialty Cars has built more than 15 Factory Five Cobras and actively campaigned in road racing events in these cars. This is proof of the pudding--an open track where Southwest Specialty Cars has flogged the Factory Five Cobras to excess, and with success. It's also a great testimony to the car's integrity and fiercely reliable Ford mechanicals.

Gordon Levy carries impressive credentials--credentials that make him the man for the job when it comes to building Cobras. He's a three-time SCCA E-street-prepared solo racing champion. He has whirled the internals of everything from Mustangs to Corvettes to Cobras. Gordon understood going in that few enthusiasts could afford a $250,000 Shelby Cobra--neither could he. The Factory Five Cobra made perfect economic sense to Gordon. What's more, it was likely the most fun a person could have with his clothes on for less than twenty grand. Southwest Specialty Cars went to work building affordable, great bang-for-the-buck two-seater cars.

Behold two glistening examples of the Factory Five Cobra from Southwest Specialty Cars. The red one is an all-out competition Factory Five Cobra from Southwest Specialty Cars, personally prepared and driven by Gordon Levy. Underneath the red epidermis is ultralightweight carbon fiber, which is much lighter than fiberglass. Can you say featherweight? That's a 540-horse 5.0L mill with Dart heads for serious twist. Underneath lies custom suspension with Panhard rods and a long list of other goodies.

The blue Cobra, driven by Craig Anderson, was conceived and built for street use and weekend fun. Check out the 17-inch Halibrands and BFGoodrich Comp T/A tires. A look under the bonnet reveals a basically stock 5.0L engine sporting top-end mods for hot street power. This is industrial-strength fun in a two-seater ride nearly anyone can afford.

We like the Factory Five Cobra not only for the level of enjoyment a person can have with it strapped to his backside, but for the great engineering and business feat it is. Just imagine, a two-seater sports car packing reliable 5.0L power for less than twenty grand. All you have to do is infuse your imagination and talent into something you really can call your own. Not bad.