From the October 1983 Issue of Car and Driver.
It’s 1965. You ease down into the low-slung monster, sliding your penny loafers deep into the footwells. You slip on your wraparound shades and roll up the sleeves of your white oxford shirt. Depressing the heavy clutch with a grunt, you bring the engine to life. The deep, thumping rumpa-rumpa can be heard long after you disappear down the road.
But something’s wrong. It’s the other cars. They’re different from anything you’ve ever seen—so sleek and small and none of them have tail fins! Then you see it, the license plate on the odd-looking four-door job up ahead: it’s dated 1983. Gulp.
Rod Serling would have understood the ERA 427SC: it’s not just a car, it’s a trip through the Twilight Zone. Here’s a car so powerful it can spin its tires all the way back to the sizzling Sixties, when real men tried to look like Troy Donahue and raw horsepower ruled at A&Ws around the country. Those were the glory days for American iron, when the acrid odor of rubber smoke hung over such infamous roads as the Connecting Highway in New York, Woodward Avenue in Motown, and Van Nuys Boulevard outside L.A.
The car standing triumphantly at the top of the high-performance mountain in 1965 was none other than the Shelby Cobra 427, a wispy English roadster from the Fifties, stuffed full of Ford’s biggest V-8. In C/D’s Cobra 427 test in the November 1965 issue, Brock Yates wrote that the Cobra’s performance “may have to stand as a high-water mark in performance cars that are readily available to the public” and that “we think the 427 Cobra is maybe the toughest-looking car on the road.”
Now, thanks to the magic of replication, you too can ride back, back, all the way back to the halcyon days of horsepower, behind the wheel of an ERA 427SC. Be forewarned that it’s not at all easy, though. Plenty of blood, sweat, and cuss words will be extracted along the way. And you’ll shell out a hefty bag of cash for the privilege. The first installment will amount to $14,800, the cost of a 427SC kit from Era Replica Automobiles (608-612 East Main Street, New Britain, Connecticut 06051), from which you will have to build your dream car with your own hands.
Replicars—kits or ready-made—are nothing new, of course. Unfortunately, most of them are the progeny of opportunistic manufacturers with more chutzpah than good taste, who cater to the nostalgic tendencies of back-yard tinkerers or slightly askew car nuts. The replicar list runs the gamut, with garish, custom-built mega-dollar creations such as ersatz Thirties Mercedes at the one end and do-it-yourself MG TC look-alikes on Beetle chassis at the other. Most are little more than crowd pleasers.
The ERA 427SC, however, isn’t that kind of replicar at all. Given the Cobra’s legendary status, it’s not surprising that it’s one of a handful of Cobra kits currently available—and it may be the best. The ERA isn’t intended just to evoke the past; it’s an honest attempt at a true reproduction. The SC is to Shelby’s original what a piece of modern-day Chippendale furniture is to the real thing: even an expert can’t tell the difference without a close inspection. From the voluptuous curves of the bodywork to such minutiae as the graphics on the gauges, the ERA 427 is dead-nuts accurate.
Like any kit car, the 427SC is a grown-up’s version of a Revell car model. The ERA kit includes the body (predrilled to accept all the necessary hardware), an Era-designed chassis, and almost everything else you need—including a full interior and a telephone-book-size instruction manual. You’re responsible for supplying the powertrain, the brakes, a Jaguar XK-E rear-axle assembly, and paint.
Era claims that the kit is virtually a bolt-together operation, requiring about 125 hours of labor to assemble (not including painting), but our collective kit-car experience suggests that this estimate is optimistic for most folks. If you never managed to finish How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot, you’re in for a lot of knuckle-skinning adventure.
This is especially true if you aim to build anything like the gleaming maroon nugget that Era handed over to us for testing. This gem was built as a demo by the factory and was equipped with every possible extra, including chrome side pipes and roll bar and aluminum replicas of the original Halibrand knockoff magnesium wheels. Era says that if you do all your own work, you could duplicate our test car for “under thirty grand.” If nothing else, our tester does prove that you can build a nearly perfect Cobra replica from this kit, if you know how. If you don’t, Era will gladly sell you a finished unit—for a mere $37,000.
Don’t laugh. After two weeks of living with the 427SC, most of the hard-nosed C/D staff would say that’s a pretty fair price. You see, real Cobra 427s (only 316 were built ) now command a dizzying $50,000 to $70,000. And the Era version is such a convincing imitation of the genuine article—well, the difference almost doesn’t seem worth the price.
In drawing power alone, the ERA can almost justify its cost. Next to this car, 60-grand Ferraris fade into the background—even though most folks crowding around our 427SC didn’t seem to know what a Cobra was, let alone that our ERA was a copy. And don’t ask what effect it had on the pump-jockey contingent. (One attendant was ogling the engine so intently that he didn’t notice his polyester pants melting against the hot side pipes.)
Better still, the 427SC served up that good old-time performance like almost nothing else you can buy. Our test car was fitted with the same basic engine used in the original, a Ford 428 Cobra Jet V-8 (actually displacing 427 cubic inches) of about 300 hp, working through a Ford top-loader four-speed and a 3.54:1 final-drive ratio. Its ability to rip off zero-to-sixty runs in 5.6 seconds and rocket to 100 mph in 12.1 seconds can’t convey the way the scenery gets yanked backward whenever you put your foot deep into it. The numbers can’t relate how the engine’s thunder shuts out everything else, or the narcotic effect of the noise and wind and speed. What fight with your girlfriend? So who cares that the boss is mad at you? Don’t worry about the mortgage, just drive.
The SC is faithful to history in another way as well: despite its modern rubber and careful chassis development, it’s a point-and-squirt special, just like a real Cobra. In fact, the handling is touchy enough that even certified experts have to treat it with grave respect in the fast bends. Still, the SC shows once again that massive amounts of horsepower seem to hide a multitude of sins. With all that power to make you happy, who cares if it isn’t particularly stable in bumpy corners?
Sure, you’re saying this is a really dumb car. Well, yeah. It’s cramped and crude, and you can’t take it anywhere for fear it will be stolen. It doesn’t have roll-up windows, various pieces are bound to go south at regular intervals, and the top is a nightmare. And yes, it will cost you an arm and a leg, and you’ll have to build the sonofabitch yourself.
We admit it. The 427SC doesn’t make much sense when you think about it—that is, until you slide your penny loafers deep into the footwells and roll up the sleeve of your white oxford shirt and…WaaaaAAAAAAAAAA!
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