The car buff world was all atwitter (pun intended) last week about this concept illustration: This is the Ford Cobra Snakehead, designed on computer by Andrus Cipriani as a modern interpretation of the old Shelby Cobra, the result of Carroll Shelby’s dropping an American V-8 into a British AC Cobra roadster.
As you might imagine, the original Cobras — powered first by a 289 V-8, and then in the great American tradition of adding more power, a 427 V-8 — were unbelievably fast and quite crude. I have yet to drive one, but I imagine the originals had to be the vehicular equivalent of Winston Churchill’s line about the thrill you get in being shot at but missed, given the huge power over the front wheels but the lack of modern tires, brakes, suspension parts and safety devices on the rest of the car. (Which meant that, contrary to cars today, you had to drive more carefully.) I’m not necessarily sold on this design, which to me looks like the product of a May–December romance of a C3 Corvette and a C7 Corvette, with some late 1990s Mustang in it. Others have pointed out that the hood line is too high.
But I like the concept of the concept — that is, that Ford needs a car to compete with the Corvette. Ford — that is, its Lincoln–Mercury dealers — sold the De Tomaso Pantera from 1971 to 1974. The Pantera was an Italian-designed two-seater with a 351 V-8 mounted in front of the rear axle. The Pantera is an excellent-looking car, and was better equipped than Corvettes of the day (a 5-speed transmission, air conditioning and power windows were standard), but its sticker price was $10,000, nearly twice the price of the Corvette. After Ford ended its relationship with De Tomaso, De Tomaso continued building the car until 1993. (And reportedly De Tomaso is bringing back the Pantera, but with a Corvette V-8, not a Ford.) Around the time Carroll Shelby developed the Cobra, Ford developed the GT40 racer to challenge Ferrari. Four decades later, Ford built the GT as a tribute car in 2005 and 2006. Similar to the Pantera, the GT sold for $140,000, three times the price of a Corvette of the day, without three times as much or better equipment.
So Ford has tried, unsuccessfully, to compete with Corvette. The problem is that neither the Pantera nor the GT really competed well with the Corvette, I think, because they were so much more expensive while perhaps not seeming worthy of Ferrari/Porsche-level prices. The Pantera wasn’t exactly an American car, either; American cars of the ’70s had a deserved poor quality reputation, but Italian cars? Mama mia! And one good reason GM has wisely stayed with the front-engine rear-drive format for the Corvette is not just the price jump to mid-engine, but the drop in practicality. Few people would assume you could put more than one suitcase between the front wheels of the Pantera or the GT.
The difference between the days of the Pantera and the GT and today is that Government Motors has a huge black eye among many car fans because of its government bailout, and the related Cash for Clunkers abomination. I like what Ford has done with the Flex (the 21st century station wagon) the Mustang, and a few other models.
Unlike the Pantera and the GT, however, a Corvette-fighter needs to be comparably priced to the Corvette, which currently lists at $49,045. If Ford builds a car smaller than a Corvette, it can use its new 5-liter 444-horsepower V-8, and wouldn’t need to put in the GT500KR’s supercharged 5.4-liter 500-horsepower V-8. (Not that I’d stop them, of course.) Yes, the Mustang has two more seats than the Corvette, but no one buys a Mustang for its back seat.
Ford could do something analogous to the original AMC AMX, a shortened two-seat version of the original Javelin (AMC’s answer to the Mustang) with more engine than the original Javelin offered. It might look something like this from the proprietor of artandcolourcars: This is not about Ford’s needing a Corvette-fighter any more than anyone needs a Corvette. (Why, look at me: I’ve never owned a Corvette … not that I’m bitter about that or anything …) Corvettes are halo cars for GM, and, I would argue, Ford — the only non-federally-bailed-out member of the Big Three — should have its own halo car.