1966 Shelby 427 Cobra

Get that, 14.5 seconds to accelerate to 100mph and then stop again. Until something better comes along, that may have to stand as some sort of high-water mark in performance for cars that are readily available to the general public” – US magazine Car and Driver puts an early Shelby Cobra 427 through its paces in November 1965

The Shelby Cobra 427

If the first, 289-engined Cobra was a basic, Anglo-American hybrid developed in the white heat of competition – often on a tight budget by a team of hot-rodders and race team mechanics – the 427 was something else. A new, computer-designed chassis with coil-spring suspension and bigger wheels and tyres, all enclosed in aggressively muscular bodywork marked the debut of a genuine, all-American Cobra.

Despite its very successful racing record, by 1965 Carroll Shelby had decided that his now heavily modified racing 289 Cobra needed more power – 400bhp+ power. The right engine was available – the ca 500bhp NASCAR 427 ‘side-oiler’ that was also used in the Ford Mk II prototypes – but early experiments of shoe-horning one of these big motors into the leaf-sprung chassis of the 289 revealed the need for a fresh approach. 

Thanks to his close association with the Ford Motor Company, Shelby was able to call on the services of FoMoCo chassis engineers Klaus Arning and Bob Negstad who, using nascent computer modelling and working with AC Cars’ Alan Turner, came up with a new design. It was based on the principles of the original Cobra’s, but had triple its strength. There were still two main frame rails running front to back, but these were now 22in apart and four inches in diameter. Coil springs front and rear meant the chassis could be race-tuned and fitted with wider, lower-profile tyres that would stay flatter on the road: all the better to transmit the street Cobra 427’s 425bhp. Not to mention the comp’ version’s 485bhp at 6,000rpm.

Many other components were strengthened to cope with the massive power and torque of the 160mph+ car: a Ford Truck & Chassis Division Toploader four-speed gearbox; heavy duty 11.5in clutch; special Halibrand alloy wheels with different offset front to rear; stronger wheel bearings.

Cobra 427s were still built in Britain before shipment and final assembly in California. First deliveries started in late 1965 and dealers retailed the Street 427s at a price of $7,495. After initial demand for racing cars had been met, production switched from the 427 Ford Galaxie fastback engine to a modified version of the Police Interceptor 428. For road cars, the differences were minimal as the big V8 still turned out a reliable 390bhp at 5,200rpm. Variations in exhausts, roll-bars and competition-style filler caps exist across the full spectrum of big-block Cobras. For 1966 the colour range included Wimbledon White, Ivy Green, Rangoon Red, Charcoal and Guardsman Blue. The interiors were always black. 

Production in the UK finished at the very end of 1966 after 348 cars had been sold. Many were raced as production sports cars as they required little modification from standard to make them highly competitive. They were still winning races as late as 1973. 

A big-block Cobra has become a byword for unbridled power, a machine that needs taming, the ultimate dragster at the traffic light grand prix. Until well into the 1970s, when Italian manufacturers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini finally got their mid-engined act together, there was no faster car in a straight line. 

This Motor Car

Chassis CSX 3276 was billed by AC Cars to Shelby American on 10 June 1966. According to the Shelby American World Registry, three months later an invoice was drawn up for: “1966 Cobra, Veh. #CSX 3276, Red, $6,145.00 plus freight, $320, total $6,465.00.” It was dated 15 September 1966 and made out to McCafferty Ford (Trenton, NJ). 

As delivered, evidence suggests that this late-model, Rangoon Red car was equipped with a 428 motor, rear exhausts and twin round rear lights. Like many Cobras, ‘3276’ had most likely been ordered to add showroom allure to the rows of staid Fairlanes and straight-six Mustangs. By early 1967 it was still unsold at McCafferty but in March was traded to a fellow Ford dealership, Pletcher Ford (Jenkintown, PA). The sales team at Pletcher had better luck and immediately sold it to Cecil Harris of Merion, PA.

Mr Harris’s ownership of ‘3276’ was not trouble-free. The World Registry notes that the car was returned several times for various minor faults, principally wiring and incorrect spark plugs. History does not record how long Cecil Harris own the car, nor its whereabouts until the early 1970s when it was exported to Germany. A succession of German owners (Rolf Versen, Wendelin von Boch and Gerhard Roeser) followed. 

It’s possible that it was during this period that the original 428 motor was substituted for a 427. During Roeser’s long-term ownership ‘3276’ was updated to S/C – ‘street-’ or ‘semi-competition’ – specification: a bonnet air scoop, chromed side exhaust and roll-bar, and competition fuel cap. The car’s original rear lights were replaced with earlier-type, rectangular ones. 

Still red and now registered ‘E-NX4’, CSX 3276 was featured on the cover of German magazine Motor Klassik in November 1987. In 1993 the car was returned to AC Cars in the UK for new panelwork to repair accident damage to its rear. The work might well have been completed by the craftsmen who had hand-formed it nearly 30 years earlier.

Our client, a devoted European Cobra enthusiast, purchased ‘3276’ in 2005. Since then, ‘3276’ has been carefully maintained and currently sports a ‘full fat’ 427 motor with rare aluminium cylinder heads, twin Holley carburettors and many other performance parts. In recent years, the side-exhausts and roll-bar have been painted black and the original Halibrands’ rims polished. 

Today, the car is ready for action, as eager to lay down perfect black stripes of rubber on the Tarmac as it was over five decades ago. Compared with the equivalent race-ready Ferrari, ‘big-block’ Cobras offer far more immediate performance at considerably more accessible pricing. 

Car and Driver closed its 1965 review of the “toughest looking car on the road” by concluding: “If you can scrape up the dough, we recommend that you take the plunge. Like they say, it'll never hurt you. Or at least it shouldn't.” There’s little more we can add.