This car shouldn’t be very good. But it is. I’m not a great fan of things that pretend to be something they aren’t. Kit cars being one example. So when we added a Cobra replica to the fleet I was ready for it to be popular but not very good. And I was wrong.
Before driving our latest addition I imagined that kit cars were very bad versions of the things they pretended to be. Having once spent more time than is strictly wise in close proximity to a Fiero-based ‘Ferrari’ I do feel some justification for this view. Type ‘Ferrari kit car’ into Ebay and you begin to have an inkling of what Dante was on about. The world of MR2- and 406 coupe-based 348s is one I just don’t understand. And, personally, I feel stronger and better for that. Even if the MR2 in question has ‘genuine Ferrari’ indicators. I feel the same about NGs and Beauforts. There are many more. Surely if you can’t have the real thing you want something that looks pretty much like the real thing.
The AC Cobra must be the most copied car in history. There are loads of kits and even the factory, under a different name, makes what are effectively high quality replicas. When you catch sight of one it’s easy to see why. The Cobra shape is astonishing, muscular and sinuous in a way that an E Type can only dream of. It’s a perfectly proportioned shape and, when mated to a beefy V8, has the go to match the show.
The market for Cobra kits is therefore easy to understand. Original Cobras are silly money so a kit, for us mere mortals, is the closest we’ll get. It helps, of course, that not many of us will ever get close to the small number of original Cobras that left the Byfleet factory, so we’re not really entirely sure exactly what it should look like. But even a close approximation of a Cobra looks arresting. It doesn’t need to drive well. After all, there are plenty of proper classic cars – 1960s Austin Healeys being prime examples – which are more a battle of wits than a nice driving experience.
So I approached the latest addition to the Great Escape Cars fleet with some trepidation. Proper Cobras are lethal machines – I’m told – and the reason why we have a speed limit on motorways (a journalist tried, and succeeded, to max a Cobra on the M1). Our hire car is an Autokraft Python kit built in the 1990s. The original owner, an engineer, built it and never drove it, garaging it for 20 years before it came to us with 700 miles on the clock. It’s finished in burgundy with a cream interior and has a Rover 3.5 litre V8, 5 speed Rover SD1 box and XJ6 rear axle. Sure, it’s a bitza but a good one. It feels well built and solid, with good attention to detail, and purposeful, a feeling enhanced by the bucket seats and race harnesses.
The Rover V8 is one of the greatest sounding engines of all time and in this installation sounds as good as it ever has. The car rumbles like a Cobra should. You sit low, of course, in a wide cockpit but with a narrow pedal box. Everything is close to hand and the view down the bonnet, past the air intake, is highly evocative. The view through the rear mirrors is all Cobra. Literally. This car has big hips and a big fuel filler and that’s pretty much all you’ll see behind. Not to worry, because you won’t be holding anyone up in this car.
Even with the small block Rover engine powering it along this Cobra is quick. The venerable V8 is highly tractable and easy-revving, hence it’s popularity in endless British cars. The Rover SD1 box isn’t the last word in finesse but it hardly matters because of that tractability. Which sort of encompasses the car’s character. The big-tyred, big-hipped Cobra won’t win any B-road blasts – it’s a bit too wide and stiffly sprung for that – but on a straight or smoothly curving A road it feels at home, providing an opportunity to gun the throttle and revel in the rumble.
The Cobra is quite unlike the rest of our fleet. Perhaps only the Corvette comes close. It’s raw, brutal and brash. Whereas an E Type feels slightly apologetic about the attention it creates, the Cobra simply doesn’t care. And that, I feel, A Good Thing. In a world where we are told to worry about everything, especially the impact we create on the world around us, here is a car that sticks two fat fingers up to all that. I loved it.