Real ride: 2009 Shelby S/C Cobra CSX

What do you get when you cross a tiny British roadster with a Ford 427 cubic-inch big block? You get a Gorilla in a boxing ring that refuses to get out until at least somebody takes a beating. The 2009 Shelby S/C Cobra is brutal, aggressive, unforgiving, and uncompromising. There are not many vehicles that could stand up to a Cobra in its top form. With approximately 535 horsepower (750 with a supercharger) waiting on tap behind a mere 1,116 kilos (2,460 pounds) of steel, fiberglass and/or aluminum, the S/C is really nothing more than a glorified adult go-kart.

I have personally watched S/C Cobra’s take down Ford GTs, Dodge Vipers, Turbo Porsches, and quite an array of other supercars twice its price. The old saying goes, you get what you pay for, and with the 2009 S/C Cobra, $50,000 US goes a long way. There’s no traction or stability control, tire pressure monitor, cupholders, computer adjustable struts, air conditioning, side windows or hardtop for that matter. If you get hot in a Cobra, you go faster. If you lose traction, you’re not driving it right. If you’re wondering if that left front tire seems a bit low, you better get out and check it. If you need a cupholder, well, then bring a friend along for the ride. It’s just that simple.

The 2009 Shelby S/C is one heck of a deal for those who want to experience all the explosive raw power of a traditional supercar, but with none of the frills that tend to weigh down the traditional price tag. The life of a CSX 1000/4000 begins at the Shelby plant where they assemble the body and chassis (suspension, brakes, differential, electronics, etc.), leaving the engine as a separate component for the customer to fill in later. This way of doing business releases Shelby from the responsibility of crash testing their vehicles, but as importantly it allows the customer a lot of say in the build process.

There are only 100 S/C Cobras assembled each year. They come as either a CSX 1000/4000 (427 big-block) or CSX 7000/8000 (assembled in preparation for a 289 small block). Now the 289 maybe quick, but the 427 is an absolute monster. A well-built 427 Cobra can get into such numbers as 0-60 (96.6 km/h) in 3.6 to 3.8 seconds, and the quarter mile in just 11-something seconds (depending on the tires and driver).

The seats of the Cobra are a standard bucket vinyl (leather optional), and while not the most comfortable they get the job done. The interior dash layout is nothing spectacular either (speedometer, gas, rpm, etc.), but if you’re driving a Cobra the way it was meant to be driven, you won’t find yourself admiring the inside near as much as watching the blur of the world go by on the outside. A 427 big block is not a subtle engine as you can imagine, and it made quite a bold statement everywhere I went. There is really no need for a stereo or voice navigation system, as the chances of hearing either of these would be slim to none.

Even among the overabundance of fame and glitter on the streets of Las Vegas where I tested my 427 S/C, it made itself an attraction everywhere I went. Off the strip and onto the open Nevada highway, the Cobra was exhilarating to drive to say the least. Just a slight twitch of the right foot sent the Cobra on an all-out rampage down the blacktop. The open air experience was wonderful at inner city speeds, too. On the highway, the wind whiplash darn near took my head off, but that’s all part of the experience of driving an original Cobra. They weren’t exactly built with aerodynamics in mind. The windshield offers just enough protection to keep the bugs out of your teeth, but when it comes to throwing around its light and nimble frame, the weight savings are worth the inconvenience.

When making the decision to purchase a Cobra, you will also have the option of going with any number of reproductions available. The Cobra body style is one of the most imitated in history, but if imitation is a form of flattery, the S/C is practically the Elvis of production vehicles. While purchasing an imitation may be fine for some folks, others will want nothing to do with anything but an original. The 2009 Cobra is still made in much the same way as back in 1962. The curvaceous roadster body style comes standard in hand-laid fiberglass, but true Shelby aficionados will prefer the hand-formed aluminum body, which is imported from either England or Poland. It is then shipped over to Las Vegas for final assembly and inspection.

At Shelby, the body is sanded, painted, and placed on its 4-inch diameter (3-inch for 289 engine) tube steel frame. The suspension (dual A-arm, independent four-wheel, coil-over shocks) and steering are bolted into place along with the brakes (11″ dual piston Baer), differential (Dana 44 gears, 3.54 standard ratio), bumpers, fuel tank (87 litre standard, 159 litre optional), seats, carpeting, electronics, 15-inch standard wheels, exhaust (dual headers, side pipes), and the all-important “427 Ford Cobra” emblems.

Once the 427 is dropped between the fenders, all that is left to do is initiate yourself with the traditional forehead sunburn that comes from a two-hour test-drive, which inevitably will turn into an all day driving marathon. In my book, there is nothing quite like the driving experience that a 427 S/C Cobra can offer. Sure, an original 1966 AC Cobra might be the cat’s meow, but when they are going for over $1.2 million US a pop, the purr of a 2009 S/C is the perfect combination of originality and affordability.

The car I drove was a fiberglass-bodied 427 (non-supercharged) CSX 4000, priced at $119,999 US (the equivalent of $132,661 CAD at the time of writing), engine and transmission installed. The base S/C “Roller” with the fiberglass body and no engine or transmission is $49,995 ($55,260 CAD), while the aluminum body is $114,995 ($127,115 CAD), also without engine and transmission. I can’t really give estimates of the engine and transmission combos since these are completely up to the customer, although Shelby has said they can certainly help steer customers in the right direction, they really don’t get too involved in the project once it “rolls” our of their parking lot. Still, if you’ve got a spare small block in your garage, less than $50k is reasonable money for the car of your dreams.

Who says that average, hard-working, middle class folk can’t own a supercar? Certainly not Carroll Shelby…