Kirkham 427 SC

These days it seems that every where you look, you see a replica or a clone of something, an object that isn’t the real deal. In automobiles, this often gets looked down upon and owners of authentic versions will even turn their chin up when seeing a fake. Why the snobbish attitude though? As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and in this case can end up benefiting the authentic vehicles. I’ll use the most replicated car in history to make my case and drive my point home. The Shelby Cobra and more specially, the 427 Cobra S/C [Semi-Competition] of which only 31 were ever built.

Back in the day when the Cobra was in production over at Shelby American, a small number of Cobras had been constructed for racing however not all of them sold. Carroll Shelby decided to convert them into street legal cars to try and sell them. It worked, perhaps a little too well. The result became an icon for the ages even if you aren’t into cars. Cobras in general get attention like a topless chick walking down main street but this version just nailed it, a porno on four wheels. About a decade after the Cobra went out of production, replicas started to pop up and from there it snow balled into numerous companies all trying to copy the same car.
It's easy to see why Kirkham's usually are left unpainted.

Today, the Cobra can be had from a wide range of options for your replica. Shelby, Superformance, Kirkham, Factory Five, ERA, and Backdraft are just a few of the companies that offer a replica Cobra. Shelby’s replicas are called continuation Cobras, come with a CSX number and either a fiberglass body or an aluminum body. ERA is one of the oldest companies that build fiberglass replicas and Superformance is the only Shelby authorized replica manufacturer. Factory Five and Backdraft are two of the more inexpensive companies with FFR providing kits you build yourself.

Then there is Kirkham Motorsports, a company that prides itself on building replicas that are exact copies of the original Cobras, down to the aluminum bodies. Their work is so impressive that they even provide some parts, including aluminum bodies, to Shelby American. There is a pretty large market for the car and there are easily a dozen companies to have existed that created copies of the Cobra. The Cobra has been replicated so much that there are at least ten times as many replicas as there are of the original Cobras, of which only 1,003 were ever made. One can start to see how rare the originals are, especially considering the most famous iteration is the Semi-Comp, which is about as rare as the Ferrari 250 GTO.

Anything that is rare and desirable ends up being worth a lot of money and in this case, try seven figures for a Semi-Comp. Other versions of the Cobra are easily worth half a million as a starting point. If you told Carroll Shelby back in the 60’s that his cars would end up being worth millions, he’d probably tell you that you need your head checked in some manor of speaking. At one point in time, he didn’t even care about the car or the name. He sold the rights to the “COBRA” name to Ford for $1.

The fact remains though that the originals are worth a lot of money and are easily out of grasp to a lot of people. At one point in time, even Jay Leno couldn’t afford an authentic Cobra. So he bought a replica and still loves the car to this day. Here is where I come to the first point about how replicas and clones help authentic versions of a vehicle. They help drive up the prices of the real deal. You see more of the cars out there, helping increase demand and the originals can end up being rarer than they would have been without any replicas or clones.

The fact that there are replicas and clones of something brings up another point, availability of parts. If something on an original needs to be replaced, you have a better chance of trying to find a suitable replacement part if there are replicas and clones being done. Not everyone can afford to have a one-off part made like Jay Leno for his rare collector cars, even if you own an expensive original. The availability of new parts can also mean parts of a higher quality. Let’s be straight here, original parts made decades ago can mean inferior parts as well. Even NOS (New-Old-Stock) parts can end up falling victim to the effects of time and that’s assuming nothing has changed in production quality of the part when compared to a modern repro.

Let’s look at this from a different angle now. Should the unfortunate event of an accident happen, would you rather it be a replica or an original that just got turned into a large paperweight? The answer to that question I believe is part of the reason why people who own an original will hardly drive their amazing vehicles. The risk of losing something that is almost impossible to replace. Replicas and clones sound pretty nice in this situation. I’d wager 99.999% of the time you see a Cobra on the road it’s a replica.

Without replicas and clones, some cars would never have a second chance at life, never to be enjoyed on the open roads long after they went out of production. That’s incredibly sad, talk about a death worse than having Iron Man fall through the roof and crush you. When I find exotics that hardly ever see the other side of a garage door… my heart cries for them. That’s like having a sexy runway model for a wife but not sleeping with her so that her next husband will enjoy his time with her. Without replicas and clones, you also wouldn’t see cars like a Cobra or GT40 in a movie.
Just part of Kirkham's facility.

If the above arguments aren’t enough, maybe this will do the trick. Without replicas and clones, the pride of answering the question “is it real?” with a “yes” wouldn’t exist for the owners of authentic versions. There is a pride in owning something that other people love so much that they have to copy it. In the case of Cobras, it seems everyone has an Uncle or some distant relative that owned a real Cobra back in the 60’s.

At the end of the day, owners of either an original or a replica / clone are getting to enjoy their dream and have fun with their passion. The owners of replicas or clones are just not fortunate enough to own the real thing. Replicas and clones actually help the authentic versions and make the vehicle more popular. Regardless of what you own, we’re all enthusiasts and that’s what really matters.

Lastly, I’d like to thank all the photographers that contributed to making this article possible. Chance Hales was very helpful as he is Kirkham’s in-house photographer but not all of the photos were taken by him. Some of the pictures were by none other than David Kirkham, the blue FIA Cobra shots were by Trevor Legate and the cover shot is by Matt Charlton.

22 COMMENTS

  1. FWIW, the total count for original Cobras is 998 not 1003. The five chassis only built for Paramount are no longer considered in the total count. I would guess the number of replicas closer to 20 to 1.

  2. I will add another twist to your story If you are sleeping with a supermodel that looks the part and has all the right curves in the right places. But her name was john in her previous life….. Its no different than sleeping with a real supermodel?

    Parts availability goes down every time a clone owner decides he needs a real part to make his car better.

  3. I will add another twist to your story If you are sleeping with a supermodel that looks the part and has all the right curves in the right places. But her name was john in her previous life….. Its no different than sleeping with a real supermodel?

    Parts availability goes down every time a clone owner decides he needs a real part to make his car better.

  4. Parts availability doesn't necessarily go down. The popularity of some cars that are replicated / cloned pushes people to restore parts because they are now more valuable. Authentic versions are fixed up instead of just being sent to the crusher or a bone yard.

  5. I know the number of replicas is a lot higher, it's hard to really know how many there are. I didn't know that the 5 Cobras for paramount were no longer considered part of the production. They were still made.

  6. Chris, that isn't entirely true. FFR's kit is very affordable and it's actually the FFR Roadster that got me hooked on Cobras. You can buy one for sale in the 20's that easily cost twice that to build.

    As for 6 figure, yes I was thinking of how many zeros. Will correct that, thanks! When I originally wrote this, it was late at night and I never caught it later on. :)

  7. As a past owner of a "original" 289 Cobra, I believe that the above is true. Parts for "original" Cobras would probably be non-existent. What upsets me is the large number of Replica, Clone & Fake Cobras who proudly proclaim that – yes it is a real Cobra to all who would listen. THAT IS ABSOLUTE BS!

  8. As a past owner of a "original" 289 Cobra, I believe that the above is true. Parts for "original" Cobras would probably be non-existent. What upsets me is the large number of Replica, Clone & Fake Cobras who proudly proclaim that – yes it is a real Cobra to all who would listen. THAT IS ABSOLUTE BS!

  9. Bill, that upsets the replica owners too who find someone trying to pass their replica off as an original when those who know the cars very well can spot it's a replica. No one likes dishonest people.

  10. In 1977 I fulfilled the dream of just about every true car guy who has ever lived; I bought a REAL A.C. Cobra at a bargain basement price. It had been ridden hard and put away wet to say the least, but it was a real Cobra and I OWNED IT! It was a great feeling that never really dissipated, even after I traded it for my 65 Shelby. One thing did sort of take the icing off the cake right away, though; The first time I tried to sit in it! A 6'4" I did not fit the car and it I thought it would have taken a lot of work for me to fit in it. After it was finished I drove it and the same issues were present.
    Now, fast forward 36 years, I drove a Factory 5 car and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. These cars are designed with American drivers in mind. Since a CSX3 series car is well out of my budget I would consider a replica.

  11. Zeppi Bauer Parts availabilty goes down because there is "x" numbers of parts for real cars left.

    And you keep expanding the number of cars using that group of parts the availability does go down. There are 5 sets of wheels available and 5 cars left . no problem ……..

    BUT Now there are 5 sets of wheels left and 250 cars because now everyone is building a clone.

    And someone decides to copy the wheels and makes them but they are not correct.
    so the real wheels are even more desirable because they fit and work.
    now there are 250 looking for those 5 sets of wheels.

  12. Philip Murphy The original parts are limited but when there is a replica market, there is a demand for the same parts. This causes companies to make reproduction parts that are identical in every way and sometimes even better. Without the demand for car, replacement parts would be less likely to end up being made again, often by the original manufacturer or by someone who bought the tooling, molds, etc. If it wasn't for the replica market, many cars wouldn't have replacement parts, reproduction or NOS. Do you think you would be able to find replacement parts for the GT40 if it didn't end up being replicated? FAV / JW Automotive only made so many of them and finding original parts for that car is hard because they didn't make sure there were a ton of parts left at the end of production.

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