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There simply weren't enough original Cobra's built to satisfy the number of collectors out there.
In the years since Ford and Shelby gave up importing the AC Cobra for sale in the US back in 1967, the iconic little roadster has taken on a life completely unlike any other car in history. The original stayed in production for years after the Shelby name was no longer being used in connection with it, but that's perfectly normal, the same thing happened to the Mustang, obviously. What's unusual is the sheer quantity of replicas, continuation cars, updated versions of the original and tributes.
AC didn't go out of business immediately after Shelby ended his involvement with them. They continued to sell the AC 289 and AC 428 until 1969 and 1973 respectively, and even sold an evolved version known as the Frua, basically a longer and more angular Mk III 427 Cobra. But AC shuttered their factory in 1984, and the name was sold to a Scottish company and here is where things start getting weird. Some Cobra replicas existed before this point, much as there are replicas of Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Small volumes were being built before the AC name was sold.
But when a company called Autokraft acquired the license to use the AC name for their replicars, the ensuing legal battle with Shelby failed to discourage bigger replicar companies from taking a shot at building their own Cobras. If anything, the failure on Shelby's part to completely shut down the Autokraft production of the Cobra served only to embolden the makers of Cobra replicas. Thus we have companies like Factory Five, a replica maker who for a time was getting sued by Shelby on what felt like a weekly basis (huge exaggeration there, but it did happen several times).
Their replica, known as the Mk4 Roadster, is one of two Shelby replicas built by the Massachusetts-based company. The other being a Daytona replica called the Type 65 Coupe, which also got them sued. Factory Five is probably the best known of the replica makers to have rubbed Shelby the wrong way, but there are so many others that they are too numerous to all be named here. Shelby's answer to this was to create his own version of a Cobra replica, starting back in the late Eighties. Known as "continuation cars", these are kits which are sold by Shelby without engines or drivetrains.
This practice allows the cars to be exempt from needing things like airbags, and keeps them as close to the originals as possible. These kits are usually bought by third-party companies who then install the engines and sell the cars as turnkey replicas. These sorts of replicas tend to be more expensive than many of the unlicensed reproductions, but there are some advantages to the continuation cars. To start with, continuation cars come with an actual Shelby serial number, and since production on the original Cobra barely cracked a thousand units, this is the closest thing to a "real" Cobra that can be had for anything less than a fortune.
The quality of a replica can also be questionable, but the fact that Carroll Shelby personally oversaw at least most of the production process of these cars should provide a certain piece of mind. Most continuation cars are also supported by a dealership network, which makes things easier on the customer as well. One of the best known sellers of continuation cars is Superformance, a California-based company which also makes a replica Daytona, GT40, Corvette Grand Sport and a Lotus Super 7. All of these are built under license, and show a real attention to detail. But some replica makers seek to improve on the original.
The Cobra is, after all, several decades old, and although a faithful reproduction is an excellent thing, cars continued to evolve after 1967. An excellent example of this is the CB/1, a car with a Cobra body, but which is far more modern in its underpinnings. This replica uses a twin-turbo 6.3-liter V8, a modified version of the Ford Windsor engine. It produces 650 horsepower and can hit 60mph in 2.85 seconds. It's not just fast in a straight line either, it has a thoroughly modern suspension and it can pull 1.15 lateral Gs on a skidpad. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but Carroll Shelby never saw it that way.
We understand his thinking, but it seems as though the downside of creating one of the world's most iconic cars of all time is that people will want to have their own, and there are only so many to go around. But what never seemed to bother him were tributes, of which there have been several. We will be exploring these in the next part of this series.