THERE is a lot of history that comes with building a Cobra. The brawny AC Cobra we know today had its origins in an elegant British sports car known as the AC Ace. AC began producing cars as Autocars & Accessories in England way back in 1904. While the company built a reputation for sporting cars and had significant success in motorsport during the 1920s, it produced everything from golf buggies to trains.
The pretty Ace entered the picture in 1953, with an aluminium body and powered by an overhead-cam six-cylinder that was originally designed by company founder John Weller way back in 1919! This was replaced by the 135hp Bristol six-pot, before the car was significantly modified to accommodate the much-hotter Ford Zephyr six in 1961. Only 37 of the Zephyrpowered cars were produced, but they set the stage for Texan race driver Carroll Shelby to enter the picture.
Shelby needed a car to take on the Chev Corvette, and approached AC to see if they’d be up for fitting the new Ford Windsor V8 into the Ace. The mods needed to fit the Zephyr six into the Ace meant that the 260ci Windsor was no big stretch, so in 1962, AC started exporting cars – now dubbed Cobras – to the US, painted and trimmed, but without engine or gearbox. The drivelines were fitted in Shelby’s LA workshop, with a small number of cars also built by Ed Hugus in Pennsylvania. The Cobra soon evolved into the infamous 427, which featured the extra-macho styling that has been the basis of thousands of copies ever since, including those built by Python Vehicles Australia.
Founded by Melbourne’s George Vidovic in 1979, Python has built over 100 hand-crafted Cobras. George still has the very first car he built, which he refers to as The Dinosaur. “The early cars weren’t that great,” he says. “I was very young and didn’t have much experience, just a lot of enthusiasm! You can’t compare that first car to the ones we build now, but at the same time, I can’t get rid of that first car or try and fix it – it reminds me of how far we’ve come.”
And yes, the cars have evolved a long way since 1979, with development pushed along not only by the demands of customers, but also by George’s need for speed on the race track. For example, the original Python cars used a Jaguar IRS, but these proved too fragile for race use, so now they use a custom independent rear suspension, combined with a Ford 8.8-inch differential that is not only strong, but has excellent aftermarket support in terms of beefed-up components, and a good choice of ratios.
Each of the 100+ cars built at Python is unique. While the vast majority have employed small- or big-block Ford V8s, LS-based engines are now popular, and the crew have also built some cars powered by 4.6-litre Ford modular V8s – most notably a supercharged version for F1 legend Michael Schumacher.
This Sidchrome Cobra, however, will be the first of the breed to pack one of Ford’s 5.0-litre Coyote V8s. While these motors are relatively rare on our shores, they are currently powering Ford’s brand-new Mustang, so expect to see more of them turning up in the pages of Street Machine over the next few years.
The Coyote is a double-overhead-cam, alloyblock unit with 32 valves, variable camshaft timing and is rated at 412hp out of the box.
More than enough to give the Sidchrome Cobra some serious oomph! Behind the 5.0- litre is a sturdy Tremec five-speed gearbox, which connects to a short custom tailshaft and on to that 8.8-inch diff.
Because the Python crew had already built some 4.6-litre mod-motor cars, they had a pretty good handle on how the big Coyote motor would fit, but there was still quite a bit of research and development involved in making it all work, with mods required for the
steering set-up, which in turn meant tweaks to other components. It’s a tight fit, but luckily Sidchrome opted to keep the Cobra on the pure sports car end of the scale and not fit too many luxuries. That means no power steering, no air conditioning and definitely no cup holders.
Yep, Project Cobra will be a serious driver’s car, although they have opted to fit a hidden Clarion stereo, with up to six speakers tucked away wherever they can find space. The head unit will live in the boot, so the system will be controlled by a marine touch pad that will blend in nicely with the chromebezel gauges.
And while there are 21st-century horses under the bonnet, the styling is pure 60s, with Halibrandstyle knock-off rims, white-letter Goodyear rubber,
chrome roll bar, jacking point and those sexy sidepipes. In short, a race car for the street.
With over 100 cars built, the Python crew have construction down to a fine art. George has the bare chassis prepared by an engineering firm, while the fibreglass body – made of 17 separate pieces – is made by Fran Cronie at Raceglass.
From these beginnings, George orders everything else needed to build a complete, road-registered car and mechanic Joe Imperatori begins trialfitting the suspension, brakes, steering and driveline components, before test-fitting the body multiple times to ensure everything fits and is going to be easily serviceable. This extends to the point of the car being completely plumbed and wired, and in some cases even started and taken for – ahem – test drives, before the whole car is blown apart and every single piece is bagged and tagged. Joe takes hundreds of photos and draws multiple diagrams of how things fit together. This means that when the parts are sent off in various directions for different types of coatings, they all come back!
The chassis itself is powdercoated and when everything is safely back at the workshop, Joe rebuilds the car from scratch once more. It is a super-impressive thing to see, with the whole car basically rebuilt in a week. What most street machiners wouldn’t give to be able to build a car with every single part easily to hand and clean as a whistle! As we speak, the Cobra has gone off to the students at Chisholm TAFE for paint, and then it will head back to our old mates from Australian VW Performance Centre for trimming.
Once that is done, we’ll fire this baby up!
Now, I’m not saying it will be a bigger moment than when that very first AC Cobra was fired up inside Dean Moon’s Santa Fe workshop in 1962, but I reckon everyone involved with this project will have a little insight into what old Carroll must have felt way back when he first saw his crazy idea of marrying an English sports car with cutting-edge Ford power roar into life. To see it happen, keep an eye on www.streetmachine.com.au. s THE Sidchrome/Python Cobra is being put together using Sidchrome tools, naturally!
WANNA get your hands on this awesome Cobra? We don’t blame you! Happily, one lucky Sidchrome customer is going to roar away in this thing early next year. For all the info you need to enter, visit www.winwithsidchrome.com.au.