By D. Brian Smith
Photography: D. Brian Smith
High Dynamic Range Photography: Ben Moment
Most people know whether or not they have the do it yourself gene. The fact that my last name is Smith and somewhere in my lineage there must be a blacksmith or two, assures me that I possess the ability to build a Cobra kit. My great grandfather was an accomplished wood carver and played seven instruments, in addition to being an engineer. As a little kid I had as much fun building forts with my buddies in the backyard as I did defending the fort, when we played cowboys and Indians, or were attacking the Germans as army rangers in World War II. With much personal enjoyment and satisfaction, I’ve been building stories with words since I was in grammar school. The DIY gene is strong in the Smith Men. Messrs. Dan – our father, Kevin – my brother and I will relish the challenge of building a Factory Five Racing Mk roadster.
The Smith Men may want to create a Cobra. But, buying a nice pre-owned snake certainly has its merits. Think of all the time and possibly money you could save by building someone else’s creation, while the Smith Men are throwing wrenches in the garage. How many miles will you put on your Cobra while we’re wrestling with getting our snake ready for paint?
In part 1 of this snake-shopping story, I pointed out some of the top manufacturers’ vehicles. More replicas follow in Part 2.
Should you still not be certain about whether you’d be better off building a Cobra or buying a pre-owned snake, let’s take a step back and do a final bit of self-examination. How would you answer the following hypotheticals? If you’re the sort of homeowner who always has ongoing home improvement projects, whether or not your spouse spurs you into action, you probably have it. If there’s still some used oil stored in the garage from the last time you changed the oil in your daily drivers, you’re the sort that takes pride in getting your hands dirty and getting the job done. If you’d rather remodel your own kitchen, wash and wax your own cars, build the best science project with your kids, perform a brake job on your autos… if you have done or do all of these things, you could be a great candidate for creating your own Cobra replica. It’s wonderful that you’re good with your hands, you’re creative and you have the MacGyver sort of ingenuity to tackle such an immense undertaking. But, building a rolling, running work of art isn’t for everyone.
If you’re the sort of bloke who’d rather take your Cobra cruising with other enthusiasts, participate in car shows, or race your replica on the track than meticulously build your car from scratch for months and months in your garage, you may be better suited to finding a pre-owned replica to purchase. There’s nothing to be ashamed about realizing that you’d rather be enjoying your replica by driving and racing it than putting it together. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a step-by-step guide to buying the Cobra replica that best suits your sense of style, performance, and even takes into account your budget? Think of part 1 and part 2 as your map to Cobra replica ownership.
You’ve noticed how nice all of the various manufacturers’ replicas can be, if they are well built. Every one of these upcoming Cobras would be show-winning vehicles at almost any car show across the land, yet many of the cars are driven quite often and also see extensive track time. In fact, one of the most notable aspects of replica ownership is the fact that the vast majority of Cobra owners drive their cars. Cobra replicas aren’t just trailer queens and museum pieces. They’re driven more than the original cars from the 1960s, because those roadsters are too valuable to drive. How ironic is that? The fastest production sports car of the 1960s isn’t driven much these days. What’s even more ironic, many replicas would blow the doors off original Shelby American 289 and 427 Cobras in every aspect of performance, except of course on how much they cost to own.
What Car’s Right For You
There is nuance in the way the cars appear, differences in how the frames, suspension systems, interiors, etc. are constructed and look. There are even various ways in which each manufacturer’s kit is packaged, marketed, distributed and sold. Some of the photos point out how these different vehicles look and are constructed. The pictures will also give you an idea of what to look for in terms of quality of construction in selecting the best pre-owned replica for you.
Just as there are risks associated with buying used cars, so to are there challenges to finding the right pre-owned Cobra replica. In fact, if you think about it, performing your due diligence in selecting the best-used kit car is more critical than buying a used, factory built car. Not only are you interested in finding a Cobra kit that fits you physically, your style, performance and budget. You want something that’s built well, is reliable and is going to keep you and your passenger safe.
Vehicle’s History & Construction Quality
When contacting a potential Cobra seller, think of yourself as an investigative reporter. You want to know everything about this kit car. One of the first items you’re going to want to know is who built the car. From there, you can formulate all your other questions and get the answers you’ll need to make an informed decision. Should the builder and owner be one in the same, ask this person whether they have all the receipts for the components purchased in the construction of the car. These receipts provide the DNA of what went into the car and how well it’s built. Ask to look at these documents and study them carefully. If there are a bunch of no name automotive components on the receipts, that’s a red flag. You want to see names like Edelbrock, Finish Line, Holley, Demon, Hilborn, Smeding Performance, Roush, Keith Craft, Tremec, Ford Racing, Koni, Moto-Lita, Flaming River, ididit, Comp Cams, Bilstein, etc. If engine or body and paintwork were performed on the replica, see whether you recognize the names of the shops on the invoices. In fact, if the engine was built by one of the professional crate engine builders, like Keith Craft or Smeding Performance, the engine may well still be under warranty, depending upon how old the vehicle is.
You must confirm what company produced the kit and if it’s a manufacturer that is held in high regard in the Cobra replica arena. Determine whether the current owner is the person who constructed the kit and get an idea what technical skill level the person has. Ask if a donor car was used in the car’s construction and what used components went into the replica’s build. Query what would have been done differently if the owner/builder were to be building the project today. Find out how long ago the kit was built and how many miles are on the vehicle.
After all these questions have been answered, ask some more. Just like with shopping for a used car, queries like, why are you selling it; does the car burn or leak oil; has it ever been in an accident; is it currently registered; how often do you drive it; are you the original owner; etc. All of these questions need to be answered before you ask if you can get in the car and take it for a nice test drive. Indeed, before you drive it, you need to thoroughly inspect every nook and cranny of the car, crawl under it, hover over it, and give it your best gearhead appraisal of how well it’s constructed. Should you be a neophyte in the automotive and Cobra replica enthusiast arena, bring a Cobra expert buddy with you, when you go to look at the car.
Every aspect of the vehicle’s construction needs to be painstakingly scrutinized, including:
- Engine and drivetrain installation
- Accessories mounted properly and in good working order
- Suspension, brakes and steering installed correctly and functioning well
- Cooling, heating and air conditioning (if there) installed and operating properly
- Electrical system working 100-percent
- Evaluating how used all the components and systems are – engine, transmission, suspension, steering, brakes, paint, body, interior, electrical, tires (and where worn), etc.
When you take the replica out for a test drive, if you’ve never driven a Cobra before, do be gentle with your right foot, at least during takeoff. The Internet is littered with You Tube videos of new Cobra replica owners, who horrendously crash their cars the first time they drive them. Remember how much power these babies make, how short the wheelbase is, how light they are and respect that power to weight ratio. The laws of physics simply will not be denied. Even if you’re a Ferrari or a Corvette C-6 owner, those cars are refined. They’re modern vehicles with traction control, ABS and well behaved driving characteristics. Find out how much torque and horsepower the replica you’ll be testing has before you plant your right foot from rest. When the car’s yours, that’s the right time to see how fast it will go, so long as you know what you’re doing. If you break it, you bought it – is an appropriate concept to grasp as you spin the ignition key and push the start button on that initial test drive.
During the test drive is also a crucial point in evaluating how well the Cobra is built and how much it has been driven. Be sure to employ all your senses. Just like with your daily driven chariots, if you hear funny noises coming from the engine bay or the undercarriage, do some investigating. Should there be copious rattles, or you feel the chassis flex when you’re driving over railroad tracks, make a mental note of all the anomalies and idiosyncrasies as you’re cruising around in someone else’s hand built hot rod. Be blunt with the owner and get him or her to divulge what the cause of those peculiar noises, the frame flex, odd smells, etc is. There may be an easy fix to the problem(s). Perhaps just the shocks need to be replaced to solve a soft ride or a rattle.
Maybe the remedy to an overheating problem is the simple replacement of the electric fans in front of the radiator. On the other hand, the block may have a crack in it. Or perhaps the car’s been driven while hot for enough time that the aluminum heads are warped. New aluminum heads will set you back more than a thousand bucks.
A correctly identified problem is also a means to negotiate a lower price. Mind you, there are some things that could be too costly. If you see oil spots, when the owner backs the vehicle out of the garage, that’s could be a deal killer. If when you check the oil, there appears to be water in the oil that’s not good. Listen to your gut and that of the buddy you brought with you to inspect the replica. If you sense that something’s just not right, walk away. There are always more Cobras out there for you to check out. Find the right car for you.
In essence, your mantra should be that these Cobra replicas cost a fair bit of coin. You don’t want some unscrupulous character robbing you of your hard earned cash for an ill-constructed death trap. Old adages like Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer Beware; and if it seems too good to be true, it probably is – certainly apply here.