Superformance: Daytonas and Cobras and Vettes…Oh My!

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You can tell immediately that this company is about speed. I mean, they don’t even have time to call themselves Super Performance. But they’ve put all of that saved time to good use, creating today’s versions of some of the most iconic American speed machines from the 1960s. The list of their reproductions looks like what would be on most gearheads’ dream garage inventory: Cobras (289 and 427), GT40s, Daytona Coupes, and Corvette Grand Sports.

While these cars greatly resemble the originals, they actually are faithful replicas which provide much of the look, feel and sound of the originals. These are not so-called “kit cars” as they are completely manufactured, painted, upholstered and assembled in South Africa (the factory employs some 500 people) and shipped to the United States needing only the addition of an engine and transmission. Buyers chose the car, body style paint and interior colors at one of the U.S. or foreign dealerships and then the buyer decides on which engine and transmission to have installed once the car is here.

Let’s take a little closer look at the various vehicles which are offered.

The Mark II Slab Side

TED_4309Photo Credit: Ted7

This car looks very much like the initial Cobras, the 289s. Those cars started out as English sports cars, made by AC Cars when Carroll Shelby decided to buy several AC Ace two-seater sports cars and install Ford V-8 engines in them. The Superformance version utilizes the same type of tube chassis and transverse rear leaf spring suspension from the past, providing what Superformance calls an “authentic driving experience”. The Mark II Slab Side is produced under an exclusive agreement between Superformance and Carroll Shelby.

The Mark II FIA

ted_4223-XL-1Photo Credit: Ted7

Superformance created this version to emulate the racing 289 Cobras from the 1960s. Utilizing a round-tube chassis, the car is a true authentic reproduction of those racers. This car also is a licensed Shelby.

The Mark III

TED_6205-XLPhoto Credit: Ted7

While there are various companies which make cars which look like the Cobras of the 1960s, this is the only 427 Cobra replica which is built under license from Carroll Shelby Licensing, Inc. The Mark III – Superformance’s most successful car to date — looks like the beefy 427 Cobras from the past, when Shelby started shoehorning huge motors into a body and frame created (with assistance from Ford in Detroit) just for his cars. This is a somewhat “reimagined” car in that it uses different, more modern, components compared to the original cars. For example, it has a fiberglass body (the originals were aluminum) and a heavy-duty TIG-welded ladder frame. But none of that takes away from the look and feel — I was driving a Cobra in the warm California sun!

The GT40

TED_9575-XLPhoto Credit: Ted7

This turned out (to my surprise) to be my favorite car to drive. It does take a little getting used to since it is a very faithful reproduction of a race car. For example, one removes the steering wheel in order to get in and, once seated, the driver is in a partially-reclined position. This car’s heritage is also the most interesting to me. Ford and Ferrari had been in discussions for Ford to purchase the Italian company but the talks broke down at the last minute, after Ford had spent millions of dollars in pre-purchase due diligence. Furious with Ferrari, Ford then decided that it needed to enter into international racing, especially as those were the days of the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” school of car marketing, so Ford partnered with British builder Lola and had a wonderful success – in their first Le Mans 24-hour race (in 1964), the three Ford GTs finished first, second and third, thereby ending Ferrari’s long domination of the field. They say revenge is a dish best served cold and this was a cool revenge, indeed.

The Superformance GT40 is available with a small or big block engine and, luckily for me, I drove the big block. The limited visibility out the back isn’t a problem since no one will be passing you when you’re driving this car. Aside from loving the looks (“mine” was liveried in the historic Gulf colors, with baby blue paint and orange highlights), driving the GT40 proved to be a true visceral delight.

The Daytona Coupe 

TED_8989-XLPhoto Credit: Ted7

With the Shelby cars performing so well in races, it was only natural that they would create a grand touring car, which looked something like a hard-top Cobra with a fastback rear and an enormous back window. That car became the only American-made car to win the World Manufacturer’s Championship for Grand Touring Racecars. Driving the Superformance version, with electric blue and white areas on which black racing numbers were painted, I felt track-ready. The outside exhausts (which had some type of mufflers but which didn’t quiet the car much), added greatly to the aural pleasure of the drive.

The Corvette Grand Sport

TED_6029-XLPhoto Credit: Ted7

Corvettes really were the cars of my youth. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about sports cars (or “foreign cars”, as we called them then) but the Corvette was my fantasy car. And Superformance has taken the biggest fantasy Corvette of all to recreate. Even before the Cobras, the Corvette guys were trying to win the 24-hour race at Le Mans so, around 1962, they built special Corvettes just for that race. Unfortunately, the company cancelled the program after building only five of them. A few made it in to private hands and were raced successfully. The Superformance interpretation has all of the pizzazz of the originals, with the sleek front end and side exhausts. Superformance offers five different engine choices, which are sourced from GM Performance Parts so they carry two-year 50,000-mile warranties through Chevrolet.

What a wonderful experience it was for me to drive the entire spectrum of Superformance machines. I smiled for days afterwards, having gone back in time to experience the (then-unattainable) cars of my youth. To me, the Superformance vehicles are great analog machines in a digital world (as Dom Irrera would say, I mean that in a good way). With some Cobras now selling in the millions, for example, owners of the original cars may pause before taking theirs out for a drive. For a lot less money, one can own a car which looks, sounds and drives a lot like the original and still have money left over for dinner, and then some.

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