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Building a proper Cobra tribute car is not an easy or a cheap thing to do, but people still and forever will try.
Some would argue that the SRT (nee Dodge) Viper is the only real proper Cobra tribute to have ever been made. The car was designed with help from Carroll Shelby and it quite clearly was made to embody the same philosophy that went into building the Cobra. But with the exception of a couple of stylized cues, the Viper doesn't really look like the Cobra. So what about cars that are more clearly tributes to the original?
The most significant tribute to the original Cobra is unfortunately one which never actually made it to production. This was the 2004 Ford Shelby Cobra Concept, a working prototype designed with the help of Carroll Shelby and potentially a threat to the Viper. The concept debuted just a year after the introduction of the new GT, and one year before the retro fifth-generation Mustang. Ford was on a roll with their reimagining of Sixties cars, and the Cobra made a certain amount of sense. It was the first car to result from Ford and Shelby renewing their relationship, nonexistent since 1970.
The concept borrowed heavily from the new GT, and even used a version of the same chassis, modified for a front-engine car. But one big difference was found under the hood. Ford made a one-off all-aluminum 6.4-liter V10 to power the concept. And power it did, to the tune of 645 horses. At the time, this was one of the most powerful road car engines ever produced by Ford, and most of the more powerful engines to have come since then have also had Shelby in the name of the vehicles they were installed in. At just 3200lbs, the car was light, and the excellent power-to-weight ratio was favorable for fast driving.
The car never got past the prototype phase, even though Ford continued working on it, ironing out the expected prototype bugs, for at least a year after its debut. We might not have gotten a new Cobra out of this deal, but Shelby back working with Ford meant that it wasn't long before the new Shelby Mustangs would arrive, and that's hard to complain about. For a more traditional-looking, but still massively impressive Cobra tribute that you can actually buy directly from the shop that built it, might we suggest the Iconic AC Roadster.
This is a deceptively replica-looking car, although there are still some unique styling cues to let a trained eye know that they are not looking at just another 351-powered fiberglass repro that someone knocked together in their garage. For anyone who hadn't caught these exterior hints, a quick glance at the interior would reveal the AC Roadster to be something special. There is a genuinely obsessive level of attention to detail, and this is continued under the hood. Power is provided by a 7.0-liter Ford V8 which comes to the builders via NASCAR engine builder Ernie Elliot, and is further modified with custom-fabricated parts by Iconic.
The result is a scarcely believable 825 horsepower being sent to the rear wheels. Not only is this far more power than what was found in the 2004 Ford concept, but Iconic's take on the car weighs only 2,400lbs, 800 less than Ford's car. Under the skin is more impossibly flawless machine work. This is no parts-bin mash-up, Iconic put in the engineering and manufacturing time and effort to get every detail right. Even the suspension has been completely rethought, using inboard pushrod-actuated Penske shocks, the sort of setup you might find on an F1 car.
Helping to reign in all of that power is a list of electronic driver's aides as long as the patches of rubber the car itself is capable of laying down. Not only this, but the electronic architecture of the car is an Iconic-designed Ethernet system which is unique in the automotive world. Unsurprisingly, the car costs $475,000. You could get an original Cobra for that price, but even so, Iconic's profit margin is razor thin. The car is basically an excuse to showcase the car's electronics, presumably in hopes of landing a contract to design a similar system for a major automaker.
Other Cobra tributes have existed, but few have really brought anything new to the table in the way the two above cars did. It is a difficult line to walk, especially for a smaller company without a big budget. Infusing enough of the new while keeping enough of the old is the kind of thing which nearly every Cobra fan will have a slightly different opinion about, and it's impossible to please all of them. Nonetheless, we hope people continue to try. The Cobra is the icon that it is for a reason, and it sets a high enough bar that few who attempt to hurtle it in earnest will produce something which isn't great. It might or might not be a Cobra, but it's still probably an impressive car.