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Kirkham Cobra - Snake Skinned - DrivingScene

Kirkham Cobra – Snake Skinned

Posted on 18 September 2011 by Adam Kaslikowski


We all know where this is going. It’s a 427 freakin’ Cobra. It is insane, awesome, noisy, squirrely, and every man’s fantasy. You get it and I get it. What you might not know, however, is what makes the car you’re currently ogling different. I’ll give you a hint: it’s the kind of difference that makes Carol Shelby himself take notice. Continue reading to find out what the difference is.

Aircraft, beer cans, and the original AC Cobra all share something that your average Cobra replica is missing – aluminum. The 427 Cobra is the most replicated car in the world, but almost all of them are made with fiberglass bodies. Now, fiberglass is great; it’s light, strong, durable, and easy to mold. These qualities make it great for canoes and insulation. Not so great for cars though. A friend of mine lost a family member not 3 weeks ago when the Cobra replica she was in was hit by an actual steel car. He described the accident by saying that the Cobra just “shattered” on impact. That’s what fiberglass does when stressed, it shatters where metal bends and absorbs energy. It is a tragedy that every replica out there is made out of plastic and no one is actually making them out of the original aluminum anymore. Oh wait, someone is…

Kirkham Motorsports out of Provo, Utah makes aluminum bodied 427 Cobra replicas by hand. I don’t mean the kit-car definition of “by hand,” I mean the Rolls-Royce definition of “by hand.” That curvaceous body is pounded out using hammers, English wheels, and sweat. Seriously. The story behind how this aluminum skin came to be is as interesting as the cars are fast.

The year is 1995 and the Soviet Union has been gone for 4 years. Great news in the West, not so great for the average people of Eastern Europe who depended on Mother Russia for such small things as jobs and food. This was the case in much of Poland, and importantly for our story one specific factory that crafted the aluminum skins onto MiG fighters. With no orders coming in, no materials, and no lights it was as if they were just waiting around for an American businessperson to come along and ask them to start making stupefying well-crafted sports cars – and what do you know, that’s exactly what happened.

Forgive me for making that series of events sound easy, because it wasn’t. David Kirkham missed his final exams in his final semester of college to fly to Poland and make the deal. Did I mention that he doesn’t speak Polish, and none of the factory workers spoke English? But as Kirkham employee Eric put it, “math is the universal language.” Great, so communication is kinda/sorta/not really handled. But wait, there is also a severe shortage of paper (yes like paper to write on) in Poland. So the two parties are literally tracing measurements and equations in the dirt outside the factory with a stick. This really happened. Are you starting to get a sense of how monumental it is that the finished product not only somehow had the correct number of doors and headlights, but is such a faithful replica that Carroll Shelby himself buys Cobra bodies from Kirkham?

You want one now? Great, so order one up and the Polish wizards will hand form the body and attach it to the frame of your car. Next, it is sent to Utah for finishing. There one very talented man spends 2 weeks filling, sanding, and polishing your car; once again all by hand. After all the mechanicals and interior are attached, only a total of 10 to 13 people have touched your new car and barely a month has elapsed. Drop in the crate motor of your choice and you are now ready to terrorize your neighborhood.

When you inevitably start doing donuts you might feel and appreciate some of the suspension tweaks Kirkham has seen fit to install on their replicas. They have evaluated many of the original components and seen areas where they can improve upon the original car. Eric summed it up this way: “We put new technology in an old car.” This is all part of the big trend in the last decade to improve the handling characteristics of the original Cobra. Their suspension upgrades are so renowned that many owners of lesser Cobra replicas have chosen to buy Kirkham parts to improve their cars’ handling characteristics.

Alright enough stalling already, you want to know what these cars are like on the road. Let me tell you they are epic when in motion.  The noise, oh the noise… Explore the gas pedal and your hearing explodes as the horizon ahead turns into tunnel vision. The body dances with each revolution of the cylinders, and the cycle of the cam becomes part of your heartbeat. This thing is scary, but not in the way I thought it would be. I’m in a replica with 400 hp that has been purposefully tuned and set up to act and feel like an original 60’s era Cobra. Let me rephrase that – the car I’m in has purposefully terrible brakes, outdated suspension, and a rough feel to it. Even with all this, I found it perfectly comfortable cruising through town and being stuck in traffic. Give a Kirkham some space though, and even at half throttle you will rocket forward with the kind of gusto few on this world get to experience. If you plan on owning one of these, you’re going to have to get used to braking before a turn, idling through the apex, and only getting on the gas when the road ahead is both straight and clear. This is where I got scared. Not on a sweeping left hander or halfway through a barely controlled drift but on a perfectly straight and level road. Rocketing from 20 to 80 in the shortest seconds of my life and hurtling towards the BMW X5 ahead with us having purposefully bad brakes tends to do that to me. God I want this car. I want it in my life all the time forever and ever. I love it more than I’ve ever loved anything. Forget everything you know about motoring, speed, and what life should feel like. Imagine surfing through a supernova while drinking a slurpee and shouting “kowabunga” and you are still nowhere close to how epic you will feel in one of these cars.

So you knew I was going to say all that, because you already knew what the 427 Cobra is all about. So why did you read the last 1,108 words? You did it because it’s an icon and you’ve always wanted one. Well, now you know which one to get. Kirkham Motorsports makes the finest reproductions of the giant killing 427 Cobra currently available. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start searching my couch for $60,000 worth of loose change.

-Adam Kaslikowski