Saturday, August 1, 2009

Kirby's 1965 427 Ford Shelby Cobra


As I have previously mentioned, the Friday night cruise-in in Kettering is remarkable not only for the number of cars, but also for the diversity of vehicles-- hot rods, classics, tuners, pick-ups, motorcycles and the occasional foreign cars. For some time I have noticed a fellow member and tennis player at Five Seasons Sports Club who sometimes arrived in a Bentley. On my way to the cruise-in yesterday I noticed that this same person -- Kirby -- was behind me on I-675, this time in a Cobra! We talked, and I discovered that Kirby, has quite a stable of cars. Perhaps we will get more of them on the blog in the weeks ahead.

During the early 1960s British manufacturer AC Cars produced a small volume, two-seater AC Ace, powered by a Bristol engine that had been designed before WWII. This beautiful car featured a hand built body with a steel tube frame, and aluminum body panels. Bristol decided in 1961 to cease production of its engine, based on a BMW design, and instead to use Chrysler V-8 engines.

In September 1961, Carroll Shelby asked AC whether or not AC could build him a car modified to accept a V8 engine. AC agreed, provided a suitable engine could be found. He first went to Chevrolet to see if they would provide him with engines, but was rejected. Ford however, wanted a car that could compete with the Corvette and they happened to have a brand new thin-wall small-block engine which could be used in this endeavor. It was a 260 cubic inch V-8, tuned for high performance. In January 1962 mechanics at AC Cars installed a 221 cubic inch V- 8 Ford engine into prototype chassis CSX0001. After testing and modification, the engine and transmission were removed and the chassis was air-freighted to Shelby 2 February 1962. His team fitted it with an engine and transmission in less than eight hours and began road-testing.

Production followed without a hitch, since AC had already made most of the modifications needed for the small-block V8, including extensive modifications to the AC Ace's front end. The most important modification was the fitting of a stronger rear differential to handle the increased engine power. A Salisbury 4HU unit with inboard disc brakes was chosen to reduce unsprung weight. It was the same unit used on the Jaguar XKE. On the production version, the inboard brakes were moved outboard to reduce cost. The only modification of the front end of the first Cobra from that of the AC Ace, was the steering box, which had to be moved outward to clear the wider V8 motor.

The first 75 Cobra Mark Is featured a 260 engine. The remaining 51 Mark I models were powered by a larger version of the Windsor Ford engine, the 289. In late 1962 Alan Turner, AC's chief engineer completed a major design change of the car's front end and was able to fit it with rack and pinion steering. The new car entered production in early 1963 and was designated Mark II. The steering rack was borrowed from the MGB while the new steering column came from the VW Beetle. About 528 Mark II Cobras were produced.

By 1963 the small block Cobra was losing its supremacy in racing. Shelby tried fitting a larger 390 cubic inch Ford engine, but it proved to be a failure. Ken Miles drove and raced this version of the Mark II and pronounced the car was virtually undrivable, naming it "The Turd." Consequently, a new chassis was developed and designated Mark III.

The new car was designed in cooperation with Ford. A new chassis was built using 4" main chassis tubes (up from 3") and a coil suspension all around. The new car also had wide fenders and a larger radiator opening. It was powered by the "side oiler" Ford 427. Rated at 425 bhp, this car had a top speed of 163 mph (262 km/h) in the standard model and 485 bhp, and a top speed of 180 mph (290 km/h) in the competition model. Cobra Mark III production began on 1 January 1965; two prototypes had been sent to the United States in October 1964. Cars were sent to the US as unpainted rolling chassis, and they were finished in Shelby's workshop. Although an impressive automobile, the car was a financial failure and did not sell well. In fact to save cost, most AC Cobra 427's were actually fitted with Ford's 428 in³ (7.0 L) engine, a long stroke, smaller bore, lower cost engine, intended for road use rather than racing. Approximately 300 Mark III cars were sent to Shelby between1965 and 1966, including the competition version.. Unfortunately,

The MK III missed homologation for the 1965 racing season and was not raced by the Shelby team. However, it was raced successfully by many privateers and went on to win races all the way into the 70's. Interestingly, 31 unsold competition cars were detuned and made road worthy and called S/C for semi-competition. Today, these are the rarest and the most valuable models and can sell for in excess of 1.5 million dollars.

Although successful in racing, the AC Cobra was a financial failure, and it was discontinued in 1967.

The Cobra made an immediate impact on the American music scene with a hit that made it to #$ on the pop-charts in 1964:

HEY, LITTLE COBRA
(written by Carol Conner)
The Rip-Chords - 1964
 
 
Hey, Little Cobra, don't you know 
you're gonna to shut 'em down
 
I took my Cobra down to the track, 
hitched to the back of my Cadillac,
 
Everyone was there just a waiting for me
There were plenty of Stingrays and XKEs,
 
Spring little Cobra getting ready to strike
Spring Little Cobra with all your might
Spring little Cobra getting ready to strike
Spring Little Cobra with all your might
 
Hey, Little Cobra, don't you know
you are going to shut them down
 
When the flag went down, you could hear rubber burn,
The Stingray pulled me going into the turn
 
I hung a big shift, and I got into high,
When I when I flew by the Stingray, I waved bye bye. 
 
Spring little Cobra getting ready to strike
Spring Little Cobra with all your might
Spring little Cobra getting ready to strike
Spring Little Cobra with all your might
 
Hey, Little Cobra, Don't you know
you are going to shut 'em down
 
Around the turn into the straight away
I was blowing off everything that got in my way,
 
Stingrays and Jags were so far behind
I took my Cobra out of gear and let it coast to the line.
 
Spring little Cobra getting ready to strike
Spring Little Cobra with all your might
Spring little Cobra getting ready to strike
Spring Little Cobra with all your might
 
Hey, Little Cobra, Don't you know
you are going to shut 'em down
 
Shut'em down, shut'em down, shut'em down...




4 comments:

  1. good one... thanks for sharing....


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