Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe review: The 1960s classic car has been reborn, and is more thrilling than any comparable Porsche
Ah, the weekend toy. The car you own as much for the kudos as the fun of driving it. The weekday family SUV demands a certain conformity if it’s not to embarrass the family it’s bought to transport. But such restrictions don’t apply to that special something you keep in the garage.
And what could be cooler than a Shelby AC Cobra? The famously brutish Anglo-American sports car of the 1960s, it was the hypercar of its day, all Corvette-beating V8 engines and extreme top speeds. Period BTCC racing driver Jack Sears is among the most notorious AC Cobra pilots; back in the days of no speed limits on the M1, he took one up to 185mph. Legend status was assured.
Higher top speeds were tricky, though, because the AC Cobra didn’t have a roof. Aerodynamics were – how can we put it? – appalling. So Carroll Shelby developed a fix: a sensuous, slippery coupe version, called the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. It did the job, beating Ferrari to win the 1965 FIA Sports Car Championship title. That they only built six originals further bolsters its desirability; the last one to sell made $7.25m at auction.
So it’s elite, top-table weekend toy stuff. But unless you work on the top floor of the elite city investment bank, you may not have $7.25m to splash. Enter a company in leafy West Sussex called Le Mans Coupes Ltd. They are selling a recreation, one officially sanctioned by Carroll Shelby himself before he died. And although nobody need know this, it only costs £123,000.
The chassis is built by a company in South Africa, and uses a 2013-spec Chevrolet Corvette engine producing a thundering 520hp. You need a Porsche 911 Turbo to top that. This weighs just 1,250kg, too – a fair bit less than the porky Porsche, driving the rear wheels only, with no traction/stability control or anti-lock aid in sight. If your weekday SUV bores you to tears, this is the lightning-bolt antithesis.
Like a 1960s classic, it looks wonderful, all gently flowing curves and voluptuous surfaces. It’s simple and pretty, and the duck-tail rear end is a treat. It’s more workmanlike inside – they didn’t bother too much about pretty interiors in the 60s – but the period dials, steering wheel and toggle switches are cute.
Should I be terrified, I ask the man from Le Mans Coupes as I sit, terrified, in this intimidating car? It’s a pussycat, he insists, but I miss the rest of what he says as I fire the engine and a blast of V8 harmony erupts from the side-exit exhausts. Down on the stiff, heavy clutch, snick the chunky, no-nonsense gear-lever into first and hope it doesn’t bite my arm off. I’m sweating already.
Five minutes later, I’m beaming. This car is wonderful. Like every true muscle car, it’s all about the engine, a pounding heavyweight that makes light and almost imperceptible work of any challenger, no matter how aggressive a diesel-engined company car driver they are. The noise is heavenly, rendering the Halfords stereo redundant. The experience is analogue, uncorrupted and all-encompassing.
It rides better, cruises more comfortably and handles more precisely than you’d expect, too. You’ll need nerves of steel to push it hard, but it gives so much within your comfort zone, there’s no need to press too much. Power alone will help you clear most other road users with ease.
Like me, you’ll get out at the end a sweaty wreck, thrilled in a way no modern car can match. An hour at a time is enough to give you happy feelings all weekend, certainly enough to keep you ticking over for another week of SUV drudgery. Weekend toy perfection. You’ve earned that bonus: why not invest it in something genuinely inspirational?