When you think of all the cars have that have come and gone since the first three wheeled Benz (“snuck” out of the garage and driven by his wife and son) hit the road in 1885, it inevitably will bring to mind of building a list of the greatest, most valuable, most beautiful, etc. But the one car that’s on several of those lists, is the creation of Carroll Shelby, the Cobra. I won’t attempt to detail it’s storied history, that’s been “done” … rather this blog is more on the experience of owning one.

To begin with, it simply doesn’t drive like any other car … please don’t interpret this necessarily as a good thing. Cobra’s have a habit of confusing of the front of the car with the rear. Step on the gas at your own peril … be certain to have the car pointed in the general direction you want to go. Not that the car will actually go that way, but much like a ballerina or ice skater, it just gives you a point of reference when it starts to spin. It’s the only car I know of that is steered with the throttle and brakes … the steering wheel is actually used very little if you’re in a rush. This can be very disconcerting, when at 100mph, the wheels lose traction and start spinning furiously when the lash is applied.        Often, I get the question “how fast will it go?” Not having a death wish, I don’t really know. I’ve read the story of one particularly intrepid soul who was clocked in excess of 190mph on a public road in England … supposedly this item was debated in the House of Lords and resulted in speed limits on England’s then autobahn-like highways. Cobras certainly have the horsepower for over 200mph speeds, but the brick-like aerodynamics make this probably impossible without going airborne.

You can tell who are your true friends, when after confining them in the passenger’s seats with a five point racing harness so tight it restricts breathing, they still actually want to ride in the thing. Everyone always asks “why” when I hand them earplugs upon sitting down … those that decline, sincerely wish they hadn’t when I turn the key. When the oversized engine literally roars to life, it’s startling. OK, … slowly we pull out of the garage and head for the feeder road of the freeway as we’re going to need A LOT of space. Now, on the floor! With acceleration akin to jumping down an elevator shaft (you may actually get severe tunnel vision) attached to the worlds’ biggest paint shaker, and God-awful noise similar to having your head in a metal garbage can being struck with hammers during a category 5 hurricane, the Cobra devours road at such a ferocious pace that it simply can’t be understood, only experienced. I stopped consuming Corvettes at stop lights … with less horsepower and almost 1,500 pounds heavier than a Cobra, it’s pointless … all it does is waste expensive tires and inhale gas. And with a Cobra, that last item is always in short supply. At times, it dips below two miles per gallon … well, OK, most of the time. So all trips are taken with a mindful eye on where the gas stations are. When we get back, no one steps out over the scorchingly hot side exhausts, without being at least a little “shaken-up”, so to speak. They tell me that although it scared the absolute **** out of them, they knew they’d be “just fine” because I’d been driving it for so many years. That’s when I tell them about the old axiom about Cobras: “There are no drivers in Cobras, only passengers”. And about 50% of the time, I add how pleased I am that this time we wound up going the in correct direction too!

Carroll said that the name “Cobra” came to him in a dream … but, for the other racing car companies, it was more like the beginning of a nightmare. The racing success of Cobras amongst those “in the know” is formidable. In 1965, due to the extreme cantankerous nature of the Cobra at high speeds (over 150mph), Shelby decided to put on a roof. The result was the “Cobra Daytona Coupe”, the only American car to this very day, ever to win the FIA World’s Manufacturer’s Championship for GT cars, beating Europe’s best; Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, and Aston Martin.

So a ride in a Cobra, is seeing, hearing and feeling a World Champion … a pedigreed race car that just happens to be (barely) street legal. It’s also probably about the least street-friendly car in the country … no radio, A/C, windows, door handles, glove box, headrest, sound-deadening … no anything really … except a couple of seats, a huge engine and the biggest grin in town from whoever is lucky enough to sit in the driver’s seat. Cobra owners call it “Being bitten by the Snake”.


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