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Old 02-01-2005, 21:16   #1 (permalink)
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US:First Drive: Ford Shelby Cobra Concept

First Drive: Ford Shelby Cobra Concept
We strap ourselves in and hit the track in Ford's 600-horsepower, million-dollar baby

By Matt Stone
Photography by John Kiewicz
Motor Trend



Our March, 2004 cover story peeled the skin off the Ford Shelby Cobra concept car that made its public debut at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show. Most people loved it, some loathed it, but everyone was excited about three things that it represented:

*Ford's renewed relationship with Carroll Shelby,
*Future production potential for the Ford GT's chassis, suspension, and gearbox,
*The fact that Ford is serious about developing a high-performance V-10.

As part of that story, Shelby his-own-self took me for laps in the Cobra around Irwindale Speedway's immaculate half-mile oval. This memorable experience took place about two months before that Detroit reveal - none of which kept him from revving the experimental V-10 to redline, drifting the hand-built show toy through the corners like a sprint car, or laying down foot-wide patches of black rubber. At the conclusion of that unforgettable "First Ride" Shelby, and Ford global design chief J Mays promised: "Next time, you drive."



Exactly a year later, the scene was much the same: Irwindale Speedway, Shelby Cobra concept, Carroll Shelby, Mays, and me. Good to their - and Ford's - promise, I was at the wheel. As Austin Powers would say: "Grrrrrr - yeah baby..."

Getting a V-10 to sound right, given its naturally offset firing order, is tough; the Viper pipe-benders have struggled with it for years. The Cobra's starter sounds like a meat grinder, but once the one-off, 6.4-liter, all-aluminum, 600-horse DOHC V-10 lights up, it's magic. The big-inch exhaust note burbles like an expensive speedboat at idle, and rises to a considerable whoop as the revs come up. The closest noise analogy I can come up with is a Lamborghini Gallardo with the mid-range cranked up to 11. Or a turbine-powered industrial vacuum cleaner. The pipes exit out the rear, which probably helps balance the exhaust note, but one has to wonder: what would it sound like with sidepipes, a la Cobra 427 S/C?

Ford has continued to develop this concept car (although "engineering prototype" is probably a more accurate term) over the last twelve months, although it's fundamentally the same. The cool looking, but difficult to tune and modulate, slide-valve fuel injection system has given way to new intake manifolds with individual throttle butterflies. The chassis settings and alignment have been fiddled about, as has the shift linkage for the six-speed, rear-mounted Ricardo transaxle.



The magic word here is torque. That, combined with a relatively light weight of 3200 pounds, makes an enviable power-to-weight ratio. Revs are electronically limited to 6000 rpm in first gear, but that's all that's necessary for a hard launch and a tire-barking shift to second. It takes a careful launch to avoid hazing the 13-inch-wide tires, but once hooked there's plenty of traction. We were not able to run numbers on Irwindale's short straights, but 0-60 is surely in the sub-4.0-second range. Even at that, Ford development engineer Manfred Rumple wants more torque. "Why not 7.0 liters?" he wonders aloud. Indeed - why not?



We expected the transaxle's remote linkage to be stubborn, as they're often wont to be, but not this one. It's slick and direct; in fact, a little more resistance would be welcome. Otherwise, the shifter is accurate and direct with minimal slop, although you wouldn't confuse it with the super-short throws of a Lotus, Miata, or NSX. With the gear ratios on board this day, Irwindale could be taken in third all the way around, or with brief downshifts to second for maximum thrust (and exhaust burble) coming out of the corners. We take second gear up to about seven grand, and it's all too happy to go there.

Handling is best described as neutral up to about 8/10ths, with the appearance of some investment-protecting understeer coming in near the limit. If understeer isn't your thing, there's plenty of oversteer as close as your right foot. A power steering pump malfunction meant we had to strong-arm the wheel without the aid of any hydraulics, so we can't tell you much about steering feel or response. But considering that the system is much the same as you'll find on a GT, it probably works as well as the rest of the car. In our original story, we griped about the gauges not looking macho enough for a car like this; to that, add the fact that they are unreadable in the sunlight. If Ford produces this car, it would need a serious rethink in the instrumentation department.

What all this typical road test type talk can't convey is the I'm-a-lucky-car-fool feeling of it all, not only from a wind-in-the-hair kinda of way, but from a historic standpoint. Most turntable dream machines don't run under their own power, much less powerslide their way around a racetrack. But a lot of production intent-style engineering has gone into this car; work Ford didn't need to do if all it required was feedback on a styling buck.

Said and done, it feels and sounds like a Cobra - loud and hairy-chested and big boned - yet possessing the potential for a level of sophistication you'd expect of a modern sports car. We suspect Carroll Shelby himself would vote for using a V-8 instead of this V-10, as good as it would probably be. Not a problem, as the GT's 550-horsepower, supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 is already in certified and in production. This concept also represents the possibility of a real live Ford-powered Shelby Cobra for the 21st century, although our inside info hints that the scrumptilicious Shelby GR-1 coupe is likely to get a production go-ahead before this rough-and-ready roadster would.


Shelby's roadster concept has evolved from its debut at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, to a (non-running) coupe version called the GR-1, as seen at the the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, 2004 SEMA Show, and 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show...

The sun has hit the horizon as we crank off our last few laps; the Cobra ticks and clicks as it cools down in the pit area. A group of Ford engineers and product development types gather round, asking the usual "How was it?" All I can think of is "Memorable - and worth waiting a year for."
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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

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Old 02-01-2005, 21:19   #2 (permalink)
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Re: US:First Drive: Ford Shelby Cobra Concept

Sidebar: On The Road With CSX2000



C. Van Tune photo

If the Ford Shelby Cobra concept represents the latest chapter in the Cobra's automotively biblical story, then CSX 2000 - the very first Shelby Cobra - represents its Genesis. It was built by Shelby and a memorable gang of SoCal hot rodders in Dean Moon's shop in early 1962, as a new Ford small block V-8 was lowered into the empty engine bay of an AC Ace roadster. This is where the whole Cobra thing began.

It was Shelby's development mule, a show car, a press car; it was on the move all the time in those early days, and was repainted several different colors so people would think there was more than one. Carroll Shelby has owned it was born, and it is absolutely not for sale at any price. As I circled the racetrack in the latest Shelby Cobra, I could not help but recall the time I drove the first Shelby Cobra. The group of people who've driven both is undoubtedly small: me, perhaps one or two others, and Carroll Shelby of course.

CSX 2000 is wonderfully worn, but beautiful in every way. Half the gauges don't work, though the right turn signal does. All the time. No matter which levers I fiddle with. The car's thin, wood-rimmed, alloy-spoked steering wheel feels like it's made of Red Vines. There are a few, shaggy tears in the original leather seats. A crack in the blue paint on the top edge of the dainty, alloy passenger door reveals a glimpse of an earlier coat of yellow. The engine compartment is a bit shabby, the welds on the hand-made headers not exactly NASA quality. Who knows how old these rock-hard, Goodyear Motorway Special tires are; 6.70-15s on the rear, a 6.50-15 on the right front, and a 6.40-15 on the left front -- close enough. Some would label CSX2000 as "weathered" or even "thrashed"; others would say it has "patina." We'll just say it's fabulously unmolested, and deserves to stay this way.

Turn the key, press the starter button, and the solid-lifter V-8 snaps awake, settling into a slightly cammy, clackety idle. Wisps of blue smoke trail from the 1.5-inch-diameter dual tailpipes, indicating piston rings that were indeed rode hard, put away wet, and haven't seen much action in the last 20 years. But the little 260 revs willingly, and once running, transforms the first Cobra from a vaunted, horrifyingly valuable museum piece into -- as Shelby calls 'em -- a sport car. It sounds good. It even smells good; old car smells. Depress that firm clutch pedal, select first with the stubby gearshift, and we're away.

The engine -- plenty broken in by now -- revs easily, and speaks the expected, small-block Ford sounds. Each tall gear seems to pull forever. Redline is 5750 rpm, though it's been to 7000 and more, countless times. We dare not take it there, lest one of those original piston rings decides to help an original piston ventilate the original engine block -- not something I want to be responsible for. But a crisp 1-2 shift at 5000 revs brings a bark of old rubber, and suddenly it's 1962: I'm Sports Car Graphic's John Christy, doing the very first article on Shelby's new creation.

There's plenty of play in the worm-and-sector steering, but it's probably caused by the tires. They make the whole car feel squishy. But considering that at least two of them were put on the car when JFK was in office, I'm just happy they roll and hold air. Better not push the handling thing. No such problem with the brakes however; the unassisted four-wheel discs, inboard at the rear, require a firm shove with the right foot, but there's plenty of stopping power. And little dive or squat either. No computer-aided designed, electronically managed suspension system here; just transverse leaf springs, and worn out shocks.

Let's go through the gears again. That tall rear-end ratio lets the Cobra roll at freeway speeds in second, and comfortably in third. Fourth feels almost like an overdrive; imagine what this combination of flexible V-8 power and light weight would be able to do with drag strip gears. The engine's hardly smoking at all now, after a bit of a workout; maybe there are some rings left in there after all. Another 1-2-3-4 run -- at nearly redline this time -- amid much whooping and hollering from both myself and passenger, former MT Editor-in-Chief C. Van Tune. Though it wouldn't much impress a Viper RT/10 these days, the Cobra is fast -- way fast -- when viewed from through the eyes of 1962. And none-too-shabby even today; it should still crank out a 0-60 in about 5.0 seconds.

The ride is relaxed, and the feeling from behind the wheel is not unlike that of my own Sunbeam Tiger -- no surprise in that it too is a British roadster with a 260 Ford V-8, and enjoyed having Carroll Shelby as its father. But the Tiger is luxurious by comparison, although the Cobra has more legroom, and a more athletic feel.

As I drove CSX 2000 through the Nevada desert on this hot summer day, I had to wonder: how many road tests has this car been through? How many burnouts, quarter mile runs, speed shifts, and doughnuts has this poor baby laid down (on its original engine and trans, remember)? How many Corvettes has it hosed the highway with, on yet another midnight prowl? How many books and magazines has this single little roadster appeared in. How many of my journalistic forbears -- including some of the greats of this business -- and movie stars, race drivers, engineers, and other hangers on, have worked it through the gears "just one more time," with a smile on his or her face?

Hard to say. I'm just damn glad to have been one of them. -- MS
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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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