How Do You Top The Old Cobra? Carroll Shelby Lights The Tires on Ford's 605-HP V10 Concept By PETE LYONS (Photos by Boyd Jaynes) (08:30 Jan. 26, 2004) WHAT HE WANTED, CARROLL Shelby says, was "3000 pounds, 600 horsepower, and a beautifully balanced car." The original Cobraman got to open up his Christmas present six days early, on Dec. 19 at Irwindale Speedway. It looked like a mailed fist measuring six-foot-three across the knuckles. A stubby, burly, silver roadster less than 13 feet long, it unmistakably recalled Shelby's own iconic Cobras. It even had the man's name molded into the composite bodywork. But those modernistic J Mays lines tightly wrapped thoroughly up-to-date technology, much of it taken directly from the new Ford GT. And the engine was not the pushrod iron V8 of yore, but a 6.4-liter, four-cam, 40-valve V10 cast in aluminum. Shelby, at age 81 still the tireless entrepreneur, had been involved in Ford's project since its inception, and had briefly driven the prototype up a quiet street, but this would be his first chance to "stick my foot in it a little bit." Shelby roadsters display, Venice, California, 1963. Carroll Shelby with the three Cobra roadsters that would win the 1963 USRRC Manufacturers' Championship. Cobras were raw hot rods the, but "Miss Daisy" is a fully engineered expression of corporate ambition. Can it light the same emotional fires? And could it win races? The 10 cylinders emitted a chesty growl as Ol' Shel threw the car around the asphalt, howling its tires, kicking out its tail, grilling its brakes, heating the exhaust tips till they blistered. When he finally brought the car in, he declared himself "tickled to death with it." Project head Chris Theodore had expected nothing else. He points out that in contrast to typical concept vehicles, most of which are styling mock-ups on dummy chassis, this one, prepared for its debut at the Detroit auto show Jan. 4, was a fully driveable, real car-a car AutoWeek editors named Best in Show. "This is the first truly engineered concept car I've ever seen," says this vp of Advanced Project Creation. Theodore adds that if Ford management green-lights the project for production, and soon, this neo-Cobra could be on sale by mid-2006. Target price is "under $100,000." Whether or not the sensational 605-hp V10 could be part of the package at that price point is not yet decided. Why a V10? Why such a stylistic departure from the beloved old Cobra shape? Why so much advanced engineering invested in a brand that, to its traditional fans, is all about raw meat? Well, the world is already awash in Cobra clones-some being manufactured by Shelby himself. Not to mention Cobra-inspired Vipers. Ford had to take a step beyond. "We wanted to capture the spirit of the original Cobra," is Theodore's explanation. "You know, big engine, little car, all about engine, all about performance, all about dynamics. A very compact vehicle with short overhangs. All this muscle and bone and then you drape a sexy body over it, and the muscles are still kinda poppin' through. "But we didn't want to do anything retro. I'll shoot the first person that says it's retro, 'cause it's not. It's all modern form, but it can only be a Cobra. It's kind of like what would have happened if Cobra had continued on for the last 40 years." They call the car Daisy internally, and it dates to the same time frame as Petunia, project codename for the new Ford GT. That reinterpretation of the old GT40 racer was shown as a concept at Detroit in 2002 and as a production car last June. By then, Daisy was already several months along toward her January '04 coming-out. "Of course we had Carroll involved in the Ford GT program, where I called him our Spiritual Adviser," remarks Theodore, "but he's been even more involved here, and from day one. I guess he's the godfather on this one. He was actually an integral part of the discussions on the design and the engineering and the development, as well as the driving and testing, giving us his experience and his ideas. "We showed him some sketches in March, and I'd already said it, but independently Carroll said, 'You know, we gotta watch the weight distribution. What about doing a transaxle?' So we tried the Ford GT transaxle, and it's worked out perfectly, and that was the breakthrough." Moving the gearbox to the rear yielded two benefits. It gave the front-engined car a nearly perfect 52 front/48 rear weight balance, and also allowed a narrower center tunnel and wider foot boxes. As Shelby noted with approval after his test drive, "You sit square." In his classic Cobra, the massive clutch/transmission housing forced the driver's legs to angle sharply outward. Behind the broad-shouldered V10 is just a small-diameter, twin-plate clutch. A 1.125-inch steel quill shaft inside a torque tube carries power to the six-speed, U.K.-made Ricardo transmission, which is oriented longitudinally behind the differential. The front-engined Cobra also borrows many of the mid-engined car's other components, including the clutch, all four suspension corners (modified for a wider track and different axle weights), the two rear cast-aluminum suspension mounting "nodes" (for packaging reasons the front ones are new, machined out of billet for the concept car) and several of the extruded aluminum chassis rails (a pair of them are actually flipped front-to-back). Other carryovers include Ford's powered rack-and-pinion steering, the Focus-based steering column, and the immensely powerful Brembo brakes. However, the 90-degree V10 under the hinge-up nosepiece derives from that recently shown in the 427 concept sedan, its displacement reduced here from 7.0 liters to 6.4 (390 cid). Bore and stroke are 3.66x3.70 inches (93.0x94.0 mm), compression ratio is 10.8:1, and redline is 7500 rpm. Power and torque ratings are 605 hp at 6750 rpm and 501 lb-ft at 5500 rpm. For a lower center of gravity, the engine is dry-sumped like that in the Ford GT. Mr. Shelby put his own hand on the concept's firewall, but it was already molded into the "barge boards" that smooth airflow out of the mighty V-10's filled-up engine bay. The show car sports glorious velocity stacks and twin sliding-plate throttle assemblies like a race car, but if the engine reaches production it would have a more practical cross-ram/butterfly setup with air cleaners. Also, the present honeycomb composite bodywork would be redone in Superformed aluminum, like the Ford GT. Another change will have to be an increase in fuel capacity-the concept car only holds 10 gallons in the cell nestled between the rear suspension "nodes." At 155.4 inches the new roadster is very slightly shorter than the original Cobra, which measured 156 inches (13 feet), but its wheelbase is fully 10 inches longer, at 100 vs. 90. Over-all body width is 75 inches. Track dimensions are 60.6 front/60.4 rear. It weighs in at 3075 pounds, slightly above Shelby's wished-for weight. The BFGoodrich racing tires on the show car are P275/40-18s front and P345/35-19s rear, and are mounted on wheels styled and engineered by Ford but made by BBS. Even though it's topless, the new Cobra's chassis is immensely stiff. It's actually almost twice as resistant to bending as the production Ford GT, while at 10,060 lb-ft per degree, the torsional rigidity comes close to the GT's 11,928. A carved-from-billet look layers an Atomic Age feel atop 21st century technology. Many internal components are borrowed from the Ford GT, including rear-mounted transaxle that provides generous foot room-something the old Cobra was short on. Despite its greater power, Theodore doesn't expect the roadster to be as fast as the GT coupe-despite the 267 mph listed as theoretical top speed! The drag figure is a whopping 0.480, according to Ford's computer. That's despite the "barge boards" similar to those on F1 cars, which here smooth airflow out of the wheel wells and engine bay. Small lips along the bottom of the rocker panels do the same for air escaping laterally from under the car. Small venturis under the tail, outboard of the twin exhaust pipes, are meant to generate downforce to hold the back end down at speed, an inherent problem with roadster bodywork. Theodore admits these venturis haven't been tunnel-tested yet, but if real life doesn't bear out Ford's CFD (computational fluid dynamics) work, he has a backup plan. "We haven't done it on this car, but we had an interesting idea that if you really want to go up to speed, you open the trunk and flip out a little hinged spoiler..." Racing! Yes, that's in the minds of many on the Daisy team. Even Mr. Shelby, who won Le Mans as a driver (1959) and whose Cobra marque was made with seven U.S. national championships and one world manufacturers' championship (1965). "I hope that we do return to Le Mans in GT cars," he stated at Irwindale. So do we.