Superformance MKIII R Cobra – Click above for high-res image gallery
It's mea culpa
time. While it's probably best not to begin a review with an apology, I'd be fairly derelict in my auto bloggin' duty if I didn't admit that not only does this review represent my first time in a Cobra – ever – but that I went in wanting to love the car. After all, not only is the Cobra Daytona Coupe the single greatest car I've ever driven, but I'm what you might call a Shelby-head. At least once a week my fiancee is hollering at me to put one of my several Shelby books back in the bookcase. But still, before today, I'd never driven a Cobra.
Of course, purists will argue I still haven't. This gun metal gray beauty wasn't built on Princeton Ave. in Venice Beach. Nor was it built at Shelby America's hanger near LAX. In fact, it wasn't even built in America. No, this particular Cobra – the Superformance MKIII R, a special version of their MKIII – is built in South Africa. Recently, too. The MKIII R actually has a modern, square-tube spaceframe chassis with different hard points and suspension than you'd find underneath a classic Cobra's skin. Perhaps it's not a "real" Cobra, but here's what Carroll Shelby has to say about Superformance's efforts, "It's not a true Shelby, but I've endorsed and licensed the car for being as close to correct and well-built as possible."
Good enough for me.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
And old Carroll was talking about the regular MKIII, not the one-of-two-ever-built MKIII Rs. And it's only when you start to take in the finer details of the MKIII R that you realize just how special this particular vehicle is. First of all, unlike the bulk of Cobra recreations, the hoses coming out of the lower, jaw-mounted oil cooler aren't anodized red and blue metal – they're black. In fact all the trim on the MKIII R's exterior is black chrome. Each piece is hand dipped and goes beautifully with the Viper Steel Grey paint and dual red and black pinstripes. The miniature beast sits crouched on 18-inch American Racing 427 Series wheels with custom pin drive centers.
In all honesty, the MKIII R's one of the most beautiful vehicles I've ever laid eyes on... and I've looked at plenty. During our photo shoot, Drew Phillips and I just kept shaking our heads in amazement. You just don't see cars this lusty, this sculpted and this desirable. We were just mesmerized by its dark, sinister charms – hypnotized even. The longer you leer the better looking it gets. From the pontoons supporting the tri-power lights, to the longer than you'd think snout, to the massive rear-haunches, to the aluminium dash and rear-firewall – every line, every curve, ever angle is placed perfectly and brought to life by a meticulous finish. Drew, for his part, has shot dozens of Cobras and kept repeating, "I think this is my favorite." Mine too.
But is there go with all that show? I suppose now's the point where I should explain that the "R" in Superformance MKIII R stands for Roush. And under the aluminum hood sits an absolute brute of a motor. A Roush 427 SR to be specific – one that generates 520 horsepower and 530 pound-feet of torque. And all that fury gets ram-rodded through a nine-inch racing clutch to a Dana Hydra-Lok limited-slip differential fitted with 3.46:1 gears. Superformance took great pains to point out that the entire clutch assembly – the clutch, flywheel and pressure plate – weighs just twenty-two pounds. The MKIII R rides around on Bilstein coilovers (mounted straight up and down, unlike the original cars slanted inboard shock system) and gets hauled to a stop by Wilwood Big Brakes.
So how's it drive?
In a word, "Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!" In three(ish), "Sweet mother of...!" I knew going in that the MKIII R would be freaky quick. But all that power tugging around just 2,450 pounds makes the MKIII R silly quick. Or is that stupid quick? And the complete lack of a roof and tiny windshield means that every time you goose the throttle you're making silly and stupid faces, as the thrust – or at least the sensation of thrust – defies convention. It's crazy, psychotic and violent. Thrillingly so. Put another way, I've been dreaming about punching a Cobra as hard as possible since I was ten years old. The MKIII R and its ludicrous Roush motor surpassed my childhood fantasies. And I was a complete nut in my youth.
The one aspect that should have been obvious from the four months (if not longer) of my life I've spent staring at pictures of Cobras – but totally wasn't until I drove one – is the sound. Yeah, sure, big V8 engined cars with massive headers collecting into even more massive short pipes are going to burble like no one's business. But notice in the pictures how the side-exhaust tip is lined up almost perfectly with your ear. Meaning that every semi-hefty boot of the throttle is rewarded with a bellowing, blistering belch from the big block that's surely one of life's finer pleasures. It's like a handgun blast run through a distortion pedal -- but better
. The noise is juvenile and intoxicating and just flat out incredible. Honestly, it's the most gloriously aggressive exhaust note I've ever heard.
Going around corners however, was a bit of a surprise. While the MKIII R's acceleration is world class (quarter-mile transpires in 11.2 seconds), turning the wheel reminds you that the chassis layout dates back to the 1950s, if not earlier. It's not bad by any means, but it is from another era. Vintage, classic, or – dare I say it – old. Maybe "old school" is the proper descriptor. Obviously, the MKIII is nose heavy as you're essentially sitting in the rear end and the unassisted steering means you really have to work for your dinner, so to speak. Feedback isn't the Cobra's forte. The grip is massive, but you're very aware that careless footwork – like say burying the throttle pre-apex – would result in spinning both you and the nasty Cobra off into oblivion. Long story short, you'd better respect this car, because it couldn't care less about you.
Likewise, it's not the easiest car to drive. The gas pedal is almost lined up with the steering column. Meaning the brake pedal is inline with your left foot, while the clutch pedal is against the fender. Tight shoes and left-foot braking are near mandatory. Figuring out a proper heel and toe downshift would require a week of practice. But that's okay, as this particular Cobra can be thought of as a good challenge. Just like in any proper supercar, correct inputs are rewarded via raw, mechanical payoff. It just feels so
good when you get things right that all the pesky annoyances are quickly forgiven and forgotten. The closest modern example we can compare the Superformance MKIII R to is the Dodge Viper
, another car that will kill you just as soon as kiss you. And as I'm not dead, I think it's safe to say I'm in love with this smashing, wonderful, incredible
monster of a car – the culmination of a childhood dream that, for once, exceeds expectations.