The new Ford Shelby Cobra concept marks the
latest step in an exciting evolution of Ford concept vehicles, with an
evocative design, bonafide performance credentials and – thanks to
engineering as nimble and efficient as a sports car – a level of
feasibility that is already close to production-level.
Like the 2002 Ford GT40 concept, the Ford Shelby Cobra draws on Ford’s
emotional and performance roots in a thoroughly modern interpretation
that reinforces the company’s product-led momentum. It takes its place
with the 2005 Ford Mustang, Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle crossover
in the "Year of the Car," the largest new-product barrage in Ford’s
"Our lineup of new 2005 cars is all about momentum," said Jim Padilla,
executive vice president and president of the Americas, Ford Motor
Company. "But the Ford Shelby Cobra concept is all about speed."
The Ford Shelby Cobra’s design reinforces this mission, with minimalist
interior and exterior elements that emphasize its performance-oriented
function. Cues like the massive grille opening, side vents, low-back
seats and bulging wheel arches establish an emotional connection with
Carroll Shelby’s original 1960s Cobras, but no dimensions or proportions
are copied in this thoroughly modern two-seater.
The Ford Shelby Cobra concept team drew heavily on the Ford GT
production car – especially the space frame and suspension – to maximize
efficiencies. Although the cars have vastly different characters and
different dimensions, smart engineering quickly adapted the
rear-mid-engine Ford GT platform to this front-mid-engine application.
Inspired by the biggest, baddest Cobra of all – the renowned 427 – Ford
engineers created a new aluminum-block V-10 to power the Ford Shelby
Cobra concept. This 6.4-liter engine, adapted from Ford’s MOD family,
delivers the rush of raw power associated with that big 1960s V-8
monster – with 605 horsepower and 501 foot-pounds of torque – without
the aid of supercharging or turbocharging.
This combination of brute force and thorough engineering has created a
rarity in the world of auto shows – a concept car that can actually do,
rather than merely promise, zero to 60 in under four seconds, and would
easily exceed 100 mph if not electronically limited. With show cars
typically limited to a stately 15 mph or so, this fact points at the
level of engineering packed into the Ford Shelby Cobra concept – and
points to the authenticity that comes from working with Carroll Shelby
"I'm sure the question on everyone’s mind at this point is, ‘Are you
going to build a production version?’ The answer is, ‘We'll see.’ If we
get the same overwhelming reaction to the Cobra concept as we did to the
GT concept, anything is possible," said J Mays, group vice president,
A New Legend is Born
As the saying goes, too much power is
almost enough. So thought Carroll Shelby when he shoe-horned a
427-cubic-inch Ford V-8 under the hood of a small British roadster,
giving birth to the legendary 427 Cobra.
Four decades later, Ford’s Advanced Product Creation team – an in-house
think-tank cum skunk works – explored the idea of applying Shelby’s
famous formula to the latest components and architectures Ford has to
offer. The result is the Ford Shelby Cobra concept, a radical new
roadster, fully engineered for high-speed testing, completed in just
five months by a small, tightly focused team of enthusiasts.
This production-feasible roadster has a 427-inspired 605-horsepower,
all-aluminum V-10 engine mounted at the front of an advanced aluminum
chassis modified from the rear-engine Ford GT.
It weighs slightly more than 3,000 pounds and is about as long as a
Mazda Miata. There’s no roof, no side glass, not even a radio. "That’s
the formula," said Carroll Shelby. "It’s a massive motor in a tiny,
The Ford Shelby Cobra concept is not just
a huge engine with a pair of seats along for the ride. Owing to its
front engine and rear transaxle layout, the roadster has nearly perfect
weight distribution and a world-class supercar suspension for agility to
match its alacrity.
What’s more, this ultimate roadster seats full-size adults without
compromise. It actually has more front-seat legroom than a Ford Crown
Victoria sedan. This key packaging achievement wouldn’t be necessary on
a typical show car – but is absolutely essential to demonstrate
"We put together the mechanicals of a world-class supercar in a compact
roadster package that can seat full-size adults," said Manfred Rumpel,
manager, Advanced Product Creation. "And we did it in just five months
on a budget smaller than that for many nonfunctional, nonengineered show
The secret to the team’s success was Ford’s stepped-up efforts toward
commonality, speed and the expertise of a team of engineers who had
previously completed the all-new Ford GT in just 15 months.
"With the Ford GT, we now have a collection of supercar components,"
said Chris Theodore, vice president, Advanced Product Creation. "We also
have a team of engineers who know how to work fast to get the job done.
"It can take a year to build a concept car that doesn’t even run or is
speed-limited to 15 mph," Theodore said. "But in five months, we built
one that will do 100 mph on the racetrack today."
Honoring the Cobra heritage is a fully
modern architecture with subtle styling cues that hint at the legendary
Cobras of the 1960s.
"What we’re trying to do is not just take the audience somewhere they
haven’t been in a very long time, but take them somewhere they’ve never
been – and there’s a lot of magic in trying to do that," Mays said.
First and foremost, the Ford Shelby Cobra concept is a performance car,
and every surface and line has its roots in the car’s engineering
"The powertrain, the space frame and the suspension were all key
elements in the design, although for the most part, you don’t see them,"
said Richard Hutting, chief designer. "These established our proportions
and naturally led to a race-bred shape that evokes the original Shelby
Cobra, without sharing a single dimension or proportion. Just like its
underpinnings, this car is thoroughly modern in every way."
While the design is clearly 21st century, the roadster is intentionally
familiar. Key details – the dominant grille opening, hood scoop,
vertical bumper bars and stacked lamps front and rear – establish the
historical connection to Shelby’s original creation.
"When you’re setting out to tell a story about an automobile in a fresh,
contemporary way, you’re not actually looking to create beauty – you’re
looking to create meaning," said Mays. "We have interpreted that raw,
aggressive Cobra attitude in a very modern way."
The Ford Shelby Cobra concept completes the trilogy of Ford’s greatest
performance vehicles: the GT40, Mustang and Shelby Cobra. It heralds a
new era of speed from Ford, the company that best knows and most loves
Ford And Shelby:
Partners At The Finish Line For More Than Four Decades
Carroll Shelby’s role in the program was
more than that of a spiritual leader. "As soon as we decided to build
the Cobra, J Mays and I went to talk with him," Theodore said. "Carroll
has been involved every step of the way."
Shelby’s presence at every management review provided authenticity, as
well as real contributions to the program. For example, he and Theodore
independently hit on the breakthrough idea of the rear transaxle.
It might shock many young racing hopefuls today to learn that Shelby
didn’t enter his first automobile race – a quarter-mile drag meet –
until he was nearly 30 years of age. What’s no surprise, of course, is
that the hot rod Shelby drove to the finish line that day in 1952 was
powered by a Ford V-8.
Shelby may have started late, but he was a winner from the beginning.
Just two years into Shelby’s driving career, Aston Martin’s racing
manager, John Wyer, recruited him to co-drive a DB3 at the Sebring
endurance race. Within months, the chicken farmer from Texas was bumping
elbows and trading paint with the likes of glamorous grand prix drivers
Juan-Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill and Paul Frère. He won Europe’s
prestigious 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans in 1959, driving an Aston
Martin DBR1 with Roy Salvadori.
Early in 1962, Shelby drove his second Ford-powered race car. It was the
first mockup for the Cobra, Shelby’s now-legendary marriage of a
lightweight British roadster body with a small-block Ford V-8. By
January 1963, he had homologated the car under the FIA’s GT III class
rules and was lapping Corvette Stingrays at Riverside Raceway in
In January 1965, Ford hired Shelby to lend his expertise to the upstart
GT40 campaign. While Ford and Shelby took on Ferrari at Le Mans with the
GT40, and won, they continued to fight Corvette at home with the Cobra.
Production of the vehicle, which had a 1-ton weight advantage over the
Corvette, began in June 1962 and continued through March 1967.
The first 75 Cobras that Shelby built were powered by Ford’s
260-cubic-inch V-8; 51 more had the larger and far more powerful 289.
Shelby first installed the Ford "side-oiler" 427 engine in the Cobra in
October 1963, but the combination of this powerful engine and the rear
leaf-spring suspension made the car treacherous to drive. Ford helped
Shelby completely redesign the chassis, including an all-new coil-spring
rear suspension, and by January 1965, Shelby introduced the production
427 Cobra – the car many enthusiasts herald as the ultimate street-legal
"Our original objective was to build a sports car that would outrun
Corvette," Shelby said. "I never dreamed it would become the icon that
The Ford Shelby Cobra concept, like the
legendary 1960s original, features a utilitarian body tightly wrapped
around a race-bred engine and chassis. Every surface and line has its
roots in the car’s uncompromised performance.
"We let the powertrain, the space frame and the suspension dictate the
architecture for the body," said Richard Hutting, chief designer. "The
result was a very authentic, modern and desirable shape that does
justice to the original Shelby Cobra, but doesn’t share a single
dimension or proportion with it."
Through key design details – the dominant grille opening, vertical
bumper bars, stacked lamps front and rear, side air extractors and, most
importantly, the powerful bulge over each rear wheel – the historical
connection to Shelby’s original creation is undeniable.
While Ford Design is known for its modern
interpretations of legendary vehicles – the Ford GT, Mustang and
Thunderbird, to name just a few – it also leads the industry in
innovative ways to carry people and cargo.
From the Model A to the first Mustang, to the world’s most versatile
sport utility vehicles, Ford has a history of packaging efficiency, and
the Ford Shelby Cobra concept is no exception.
A key engineering decision – to mount the concept’s six-speed manual
transmission at the rear of the car – enabled designers to give the car
almost 3 inches more legroom than similar competitors’ performance
vehicles, while providing nearly perfect weight distribution.
"From a package perspective, the rear-mounted transmission and the
small-diameter, twin-plate clutch made for a larger foot space than
typically possible in such a small car with a large engine. This
10-cylinder, 605-horsepower, all-out sportscar has more legroom than in
a Ford Crown Victoria sedan," Hutting said. "We also didn’t have to
compromise the driving position by offsetting the pedals – an important
consideration in a performance car."
Long Wheelbase, Short
Performance elements help to define the
exterior, as well. Because the engine sits rearward of the front wheels,
the front overhang is extraordinarily short. An equally brief rear
overhang gives the Cobra concept a 100-inch wheelbase – longer than that
of a Dodge Viper, but with a head-to-tail measurement that is more than
20 inches shorter. In fact, the front and rear overhangs are both
shorter than on the 1965 Shelby Cobra – the rear considerably so.
These proportions place the Ford Shelby Cobra concept into a league of
its own among production-feasible vehicles, communicating rear-drive
power and serious performance. The car's stance on the road is
unmistakably purposeful, with only 4.5 inches of clearance between the
carbon-fiber chin spoiler and the pavement. From the rear, powerfully
bulging wheel arches embrace the massive 19-inch rear wheels, signifying
that that’s where the power comes to the ground.
Just as designers used the mechanical
package to drive the Ford Shelby Cobra concept’s proportions and
attitude, they drew from the car’s racing persona to create a clean,
unembellished "wrapper" for the powertrain and chassis.
The front section of the body is a forward-tilting "clamshell." This
simple design provides immediate, wide-open access to the powertrain and
front suspension while defining the clean hood profile. Prominent design
elements include the oversized grille opening for the radiator and the
chin scoop below it for the oil cooler.
The headlamps and driving lamps at the front of the car are stacked
vertically, as on the original Shelby Cobra.
"These lamps, combined with the vertical billet-aluminum bumper bars,
the grille opening and the muscular fenders, are the way the front of
the concept communicates ‘Cobra,’ " Hutting said.
In character with the Ford Shelby Cobra concept’s uncompromised
performance, there are no windshield wipers, no side windows and no
convertible top – it is a fair-weather-only racing machine.
The sides of the body are pure function. Just aft of each front wheel is
a prominent rectangular air extractor – to cool the engine and the
brakes – and a conventional forward-swinging door with a dramatically
simple shut line that terminates at the rear fender. To emphasize the
clean body sides, designers also omitted door handles.
The decision to forgo exterior door handles left the team with a
quandary: How do you open the doors? They briefly looked at
incorporating an electronic button but settled on the original,
elegantly simple Cobra solution of placing the inside handle up high,
where it can easily be reached from outside the car.
"It’s a race car," Hutting said. "The driver would rather reach inside
to open the door than carry the weight of two more handles."
Aluminum A-pillars and dual roll hoops behind the low-back seats are
modern touches that expose the advanced aluminum space frame while
echoing the form and function of the classic chrome roll hoops used on
some original Cobras.
Rearview Camera System
for Clean Flanks
In keeping with its racing mission, the
Ford Shelby Cobra concept does without side mirrors in favor of a
higher-tech, lower-drag design. A trio of video cameras – mounted high
in each A-pillar and at the center of the windshield frame – create
real-time color images that are displayed on a digital version of the
traditional center-mounted rear-view mirror. The images from each camera
are stitched together on this liquid-crystal display to form a perfect
180-degree panorama of the competition.
A mere 27 inches of rear overhang (measured from the axle line to the
bumper) and other rear design details further develop the themes of
uncompromised performance and Cobra heritage.
Benefiting from four decades of aerodynamics research, the Ford Shelby
Cobra concept departs from the original car by incorporating
carbon-fiber "barge boards" to manage air extraction from the side
vents, and a carbon-fiber diffuser in the rear to create downforce.
These aerodynamic aids borrow heavily from wind tunnel lessons learned
with the Ford GT and Formula 1 racing and were devised and tested with
the aid of computational fluid dynamics software.
The rear transaxle cover is left exposed and becomes a design element
that conveys mechanical strength.
Small, stacked round taillamps and vertical billet-aluminum bumper bars
subtly trace their bloodlines back to the original Cobra.
"Even within the very modern framework of the short overhang and exposed
underbody aero effects," Hutting said, "the rear of the car has Cobra
cues to connect it to the legend."
A bright, Tungsten Silver metallic paint reinforces the car’s mechanical
precision, while twin stripes in a lighter shade of silver run fore and
aft over the hood and rear deck, in a nod to Shelby’s traditional race
Seven-spoke BBS racing wheels were chosen for strength and light weight.
Dramatically larger than the 15-inch wheels of the original Cobra, they
measure 18 inches in front and 19 inches at the rear. The wheels wear
lower profile rubber all around – with the massive 35-series rear tires
measuring more than 13.5 inches wide.
"When you see those massive tires under their bulging fenders and those
exposed aerodynamic aids, you know at a glance that this is a serious
racing machine," Hutting said.
Proving that a minimalist roadster also
can be comfortable, the 605-horsepower Ford Shelby Cobra concept offers
none of the traditional electric amenities, yet boasts more front-seat
legroom than a Ford Crown Victoria sedan.
The rear-mounted transmission offers a huge advantage in interior
packaging: The driver and passenger are positioned close together near
the vehicle centerline and separated by a narrow driveline tunnel. The
spacious foot wells are nearly rectangular, in marked contrast to
vehicles where the transmission tunnel hump severely restricts the
driver’s foot room on the right, or the front wheel intrudes on the left
– or both. The Ford Shelby Cobra concept driving position is comfortable
and ergonomic, with an adjustable steering column.
The carbon-fiber racing seats with five-point belts offer support for
high-performance driving. Their low-back profile – a nod to traditional
sports cars – is made possible because the roll hoops behind the
seatbacks are padded to double as head restraints. This allowed
designers to capture the old-school feeling of the original Cobra seats
in a thoroughly modern execution.
The cockpit is trimmed in aluminum, with electric blue splashed on the
seat trim and steering column. A full-width aluminum instrument panel
spans the cockpit in one unbroken swath – a throwback to the true "dash
boards" of yesteryear and a contrast with today’s driver-centric
cockpits. Instruments include a 220-mph speedometer, 10,000-rpm
tachometer and critical temperature and pressure readouts.
There is also a fuel pump switch, an under-hood fire-suppression system
release and an emergency master kill switch to comply with racing rules.
What’s missing? "There’s no audio system at all," Hutting said. "The
tuned exhaust makes its own music."