Shelby Cobra Replicas: The "Fad" That Wouldn't Die
By Bill Stephens
Fads have come and fads have gone in the collector car hobby ad infinitum. Many of them were just that. Momentary movements within the special interest automotive realm which will be remembered as merely flashes of frivolous foppery.
Neon light kits hung on chassis and under hoods.
Aftermarket Rolls-Royce front ends for Volkswagen Beetles.
Electric horns which sound the first few notes of “Dixieland.”
Custom wheel inserts which a make your wheels appear to be rotating when you stop.
However, there are other fads which have exhibited amazing sustainability, such as million megawatt sound systems, ultra-dark tint windows, and crate engines.
But the fad which has not only endured, but has flourished into a long-term, multi-million dollar industry for the past 40 years or so was thought to be a three-and-out kind of brainstorm when it was first hatched.
Shelby Cobra replicas, or kit cars.
This Shelby Cobra 427SC replica is one of thousands which have been built over the past 4 decades.
Without debate the most replicated vehicle of all time, the legendary Cobra of the 1960’s has spawned an ever-increasing army of homebuilt and factory-produced offspring which numbers in the many thousands across the globe. Even before the prices of original Cobras — of which roughly 1,000 were built -- zoomed into the outer reaches of sanity in the 1980’s, the first inklings of the counterfeit Cobra marketplace had already shifted into gear.
People like Steve Arntz was one of the Cobra replica pioneers, who produced a fairly primitive fake Snake in the late 1970’s. Companies like Everett-Morrison, Contemporary Classic, and ERA were soon fighting for sales turf as the upward spiral of prices for genuine Cobras continued into the next decade and beyond. Certified Cobras with the coveted CSX prefix on their VIN were now trading for well over $100,000 — cheap by today’s standards — and well-turned out replicas were selling at barely half that.
But there was still a feeling in the automotive mainstream that this was a phenomenon, rather than a wave of the future. Building your own Cobra from a kit or having a turnkey car constructed by the kit manufacturer was such a novel idea, there were plenty of naysayers to the idea.
I recall ordering my factory-built ERA 427SC Cobra replica in 1987 and having friends tell me, “You’re spending $35,000 for a kit car? You must be nuts! In five years, those cars will be worthless!” They were partly correct.
Many of the slipshod and under-engineered replicas from that time period did go the way of all flesh with hardly a whimper. And many of the replica companies which sprouted up almost on a weekly basis in the 1980’s and 1990’s have also disappeared without much of a trace. But the Cobra replica itself has remained a very popular alternative for enthusiasts who dream of owning one of history’s truly great performance sports cars but can’t quite handle the mid-six to seven figure price tags hanging on whatever original versions still exist. Plus, resale values on high-end replicas which faithfully reflect their forbearers and boast credible construction far outperform the depreciation curve on nearly every OEM car purchased from a new car dealer.
There are numerous Cobra transactions in the recent past which have helped to generate lots of heat in the Cobra replica trade. Two years ago at the Mecum Auction in Monterey, Calif., a world championship-winning 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes — one of six ever built — sold for a record $7.25 million. One of six original Shelby Cobra Dragonsnakes hammered at $850,000 at the Mecum affair in Kissimmeee, Fla., in January and a 1963 289 Cobra changed hands for $450,000 at Mecum’s Original Spring Classic in Indianapolis in 2011.
But the most telling indication that the Cobra replica concept hasn’t run its course quite yet is that the man who first conceived and gave life to the Cobra in 1962, Carroll Shelby, finally jumped on the bandwagon he watched leave without him and has been reproducing dead-on replicas of his greatest claim to fame in a variety of iterations since 1995 (after a controversial run of what were claimed to be unfinished 427 Cobras was quietly halted several years earlier).
It was a fad which became a fixture and companies such as Shelby himself, Kirkham, ERA, Superformance, Backdraft, Factory Five, and several others duplicating the almighty Cobra will be happy to build you a repopped version of the car you’ve always wanted but just haven’t been able to afford. If you’re waiting for this Cobra replica business to turn ice cold, you may be in for a long wait.
Now, how long do you think 22” wheels will be the hot setup?