It is difficult to imagine modern-day America and Britain combining their efforts to create a thing of great beauty and desire, with Theresa May and Donald Trump at the helms on either side of the Atlantic. But, perhaps the world has come full circle since AC Cars and Carroll Shelby collaborated back in the 60s. This particular Backdraft Cobra has some bright orange bits (much like Donald) and certainly knows how to dance at the back (unlike Theresa, despite her highly documented efforts to prove otherwise).
In 1961, Carroll Shelby did something very American – he asked AC Cars if they would build him a car designed to take a V8 engine. At this stage, he didn’t even have an engine lined up for the car.
Chevrolet had no interest in creating another competitor for the Corvette, so they refused to supply an engine. However, Ford obliged. The Ford – Shelby partnership would prove to be one of the finest in motoring and racing history.
AC Cars air freighted a modified body to Los Angeles on 2nd February 1962. Shelby, assisted by hot rodder Dean Moon, transplanted the 4.3l Ford engine (along with its transmission) into chassis number CSX2000 in less than 8 hours. Not bad for a day’s work!
The Cobra had a somewhat unglamorous start to its racing career. A 6.4l Mark II Cobra was raced by Ken Miles at Sebring, who named the car “The Turd” in a 1960s version of Kimi’s team radio. The car failed to finish the race. To be fair, Shelby was focusing his efforts on the Ford GT40 project at the time, which dominated Le Mans in the mid-60s and embarrassed the Italians.
A new chassis, Mark III, was designed with various tweaks including coil spring suspension, wide fenders and a larger radiator opening. The 7.0l Ford 427 cu in engine with a single 4-barrel Holley carb was good for 317kW and a top speed of 264km/h. That’s no joke in an open top car.
The Mark III competition models were even more ridiculous, with 362kW and a top speed of 298km/h. Due to missed homologation deadlines, 31 unsold competition models were detuned, fitted with windscreens and sold as road cars. Original examples are among the most valuable Cobra variants.
The combination of rarity and desirability sets the scene for various manufacturers to produce replicas that give us normal folk the ability to enjoy what the Cobra was all about. While a Lotus 7 replica offers a precision driving instrument for tight roads, the Cobra offers you control of Thor’s Hammer.
Backdraft is to Cobra what Caterham is to the Lotus 7. Factory-built to an extremely high standard, the Backdraft Cobras are sold globally. To sweeten the deal, they are built right here in South Africa by TR-Tec in Durban.
This particular car has insane road presence. Low and loud, the black and orange paintwork perfectly complements the immense performance. The LED / xenon headlights give the design a modern touch and look superb in a tunnel, which is exactly where you want to be in a V8 monster.
There’s no end to the amount of attention you get on the road. People wave, hoot and even shout as you thunder past, waking up the neighbourhood to the sweet symphony of eight cylinders. This is a car that inspires pure joy in anyone who comes into contact with it.
Against this backdrop, a tragic story emerges. Nicholas Elliott starts to talk about his dad and why we are sitting in this car.
Graham Elliott was always a car guy. Like so many petrolheads, the closest he had ever gotten to his dream car (a Cobra) was posters and models. His artistic side appreciated the beautiful British lines and his racing heart loved the performance.
Graham fought against throat cancer and was in remission for 6 years. Nicholas had started a successful business and decided that it was long overdue that his dad finally lived his dream of owning a Cobra. The dream started to feel real with a trip to Cape Town in Christmas of 2017, where Nicholas rented a Cobra for Graham. The car was everything he hoped it would be and reaffirmed his dream of owning a Cobra.
Nicholas wanted a high-quality Cobra for his dad, which made the Backdraft a natural choice. Although his dad loved the more traditional blue and white finish with a wooden steering wheel, he knew his dad would equally appreciate the blacked out, aggressive look of this car. The manual gearbox would be the clincher.
While dealing with the Backdraft agent to purchase the car, Nicholas’ dad had been admitted to hospital. In an incredibly cruel twist of fate, Graham had picked up a lung infection in Cape Town. After a 4-week fight in hospital, Graham succumbed to his illness on 22nd April 2018.
Grieving, Nicholas decided that buying the expensive Cobra no longer made sense.
Of course, he was wrong. It made absolute sense.
Wearing his dad’s running jacket that Nicholas’ older brother passed down to him at the funeral, the emotion in the car was genuine. The V8 soundtrack was all that could be heard for a while, as we contemplated how fragile life is and how some dreams just can’t wait.
“I climb in the Cobra, put on the jacket and hang out with him.”
Rest in Peace Graham Elliott. Your memory lives on.