The Shelby Cobra’s shape is instantly recognizable by anyone, even those who aren’t well versed in automotive history. The sweeping curves of the AC body and muscular stance imparted by its more sporting nature are dead giveaways to its purpose. But, even for those of us who know a thing or two about cars, differentiating Cobras can be a little tricky. Thankfully we have an expert like Cobra guru Lance Stander of Superformance to help guide us through the model range.
Superformance 289 Slabside Cobra
The first — and arguably prettiest — of the Cobras is known as the Slabside. The slabside Cobra gets its unusual appellation from its lack of fender flares. This is arguably the purest version of the Cobra formula of big American engine in a tiny British sports car. The slabside is easy to spot thanks to its lack of a hood scoop and a rear exit, undercar exhaust. Also notable is the fact that the slabside has both bumpers and bumperettes. It’s a low, elegant car and thanks to its more balanced attitude due to its smaller engine, it’s a pleasure to drive. That fun and easygoing demeanor makes the slabside a favorite for those owners who plan to do a great deal of touring or other extended drives. It’s a relatively comfortable car and thanks to its solid little engine, a dead reliable one as well.
Shelby Cobra 289 FIA
When Carroll Shelby decided to take the Cobra racing in Europe, specifically at Le Mans, he ran into a few snags with the legendarily persnickety FIA or Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. Their rules at the time mandated that all cars competing at Le Mans be equipped with a speedometer, something that was (and remains) typically omitted in race cars. Shelby protested but when he found the FIA unwilling to budge on the subject, he installed a speedo way over on the passenger side of the dash where it would be nearly unreadable to the driver.
The FIA also mandated that the trunk be able to hold a suitcase which the Cobra was unable to do. Shelby’s solution to this was to put a suitcase into the trunk and smash the lid down so the corners would dent out the soft aluminum decklid. He then has his team bang out what would become known as the car’s dimples so the suitcase would just barely fit. There were other practical concerns too such as adding a roll hoop and wider tires. Of course, wider tires necessitated fender flares and fender flares are universally cool. The FIA Cobra also features an undercar exhaust but this time it exits to the side directly in front of the rear wheels. Wider tires came with bigger wheels and thus better brakes. Better brakes demand more cooling and so they added ducting. The FIA Cobra with its screaming 289 and race car looks remains an incredibly popular choice for Superformance buyers who are looking for the ultimate driving experience.
Shelby Cobra 427 Roadster
Eventually though, Carroll Shelby got the idea that what the Cobra needed was more power, so he somehow managed to shoehorn a 427 cubic inch Ford V8 into the Cobra body. The fenders swelled and the proportions grew in order to wrap around that massive engine. The first 427 that came along was the Roadster. These cars lacked the 289 FIA car’s race car touches, so gone was the hood scoop and roll bar. The 427 Roadster added creature comforts like an ashtray and a glove box. It still had an undercar exhaust and like the original slabside, it exited at the rear of the car. It also retained the slabside’s rear bumper.
The Cobra that most people think of when they think of Cobras is the outrageously muscular and intense looking 427 S/C. This car with its exaggerated curves, big side pipes, and hood scoop leaves no mystery as to what its ultimate purpose is. The 427 S/C comes equipped with coilover suspension to help manage the added weight that came with the move to the larger engine and tame some of the cars wayward handling characteristics. The S/C also loses the Roadster’s ashtray and rear bumper. It comes with a roll hoop for safety and not much else. This is the ultimate expression of the Cobra formula and there is nothing on the road that comes even close to driving one of these quickly on a race track or in a canyon.
Original Cobras of any type are rare and essentially priceless now. The fact is that Carroll Shelby simply didn’t build that many in the grand scheme of things. The great thing about a company like Superformance is that they’ve made the cars accessible and they’ve done it in a way that doesn’t compromise quality or the driving experience. The Superformance continuation cars are so close to the originals that Mr. Shelby himself even gave them his seal of approval. Even if you don’t want to stick exactly to the original specs, Superformance is happy to help you modify your Cobra to be the car of your dreams and registering the cars is easier now than ever before thanks to the Superformance-backed Low Volume Manufacturers Bill which makes getting a title and registration simple no matter what state you’re in.
The Shelby Cobra is an essential piece of Americana. It represents one man’s quest to build the best with the least and it changed the course of automotive history forever. Seeing one on the road is always special but seeing one in your garage is better still. Give Superformance a call and make your Cobra dreams come true.