Jim Smart
November 1, 2007
Photos By: Mark Houlahan

If ever there was a guy who has lived his dream, it's racing legend Carroll Shelby. It was during the Great Depression when his dream emerged as a germinating seed on the Texas prairie: to go racing and build the world's fastest sports car. Shelby sure got his dream-racing Aston-Martins and winning Le Mans in 1959.

Long about the same time, John Tojeiro of England was building a sports car known as the AC Ace, powered by a Bristol 2.0L six-cylinder engine. When Bristol announced it would stop making this engine, Tojeiro had a serious dilemma. He investigated a variety of engines without success.

Thousands of miles across the Atlantic and North American continent, Shelby had a challenge of his own-how to produce a sports car and what to power it with. When he learned the Ace was about to be chloroformed, he got on the horn to General Motors, seeking small-block Chevrolet V-8s to power what would be known as the Cobra. Because Chevrolet already had a sports car in its Corvette, no one at GM was buying. GM would ultimately regret this decision.

Shelby decided to darken the door of then Ford Division General Manager Lee Iacocca with the same idea he proposed to Chevrolet, only this time, it was Ford's new small-block Fairlane V-8. Because Iacocca was seeking a hot performance image for the Ford Division, he jumped on the idea and welcomed Shelby. Tall, lean, and good-looking, Shelby was just what Iacocca was looking for at the time; he had just the kind of suds to take Ford places it had never been before.

Ford provided Shelby with a 260ci small-block V-8 for the prototype Cobra being built in Los Angeles. There would be thousands of others to follow, in displacements as high as 427 ci sporting legendary performance that would take Shelby back to Le Mans as a world-class car builder.

This is a Jack Roush 427IR with eight-barrel fuel injection. Ready to go are 560 horses along with 550 lb-ft of torque, all from a ready-made, high-performance crate engine you can trust. You've got to love the retro ceramic-coated bananas.

When Shelby went racing with his Cobras, they were light, fast, and handled like no other sports car at the time. Where they suffered was aerodynamics-those open-air cockpits created all kinds of air-disturbance issues that adversely affected high-speed performance. Shelby watched what Chevrolet did with its slippery Corvette Stingray coupes and decided to use the same approach with his Cobras. His Cobra roadster became the legendary Daytona Coupe, which beat Corvette by four seconds its first time out with Shelby at the wheel. The following year (1964) Shelby's Daytona Coupes would achieve world dominance over both Chevrolet and Ferrari.

In a world of fiberglass and aluminum Cobra replicas, it's challenging to define the difference between what Shelby built 40 years ago and what reputable car builders like Superformance bring us today. Shelby's Cobras were aluminum-skinned; most replicas are fiberglass or composite. It's a jungle out there because not every replica is a good one.

Superformance brings us a ready-made, well-built composite-body, tubular, double A-arm chassis Cobra sports car that transcends Shelby's magnificent work four decades ago. Superformance takes Shelby's Cobra concept to the next level, with Shelby licensing to back it up, resulting in a round-tube, space-frame design that gives these cars an authentic look. Engineering began with Jim Price, late Ford chassis engineer Bob Negsted, and Roush chassis engineer Dan Bamford. Wes Schultz performed finite element analysis. These gentlemen collectively developed one of the best independent automobile chassis in the world by taking Shelby's approach from four decades ago and going one better. Negsted had the good fortune of working with Shelby long ago, bringing his expertise to Superformance before he passed away a few years ago.

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