IRVINE, California — “Of course, they’re also great at this,” Lance Standler, CEO of Superformance half-yelled from the driver’s seat. He popped the clutch on the big-block Superformance Mk. III, snapping our necks back and sending a thick, oily cloud of tire smoke from the massive bias ply Goodyears out back. I was sampling a V-8 smorgasbord at Hillbank USA, the stateside headquarters for the South African speed peddler. Superformance invited me to the Shelby Birthday Cruise-in at the Petersen Museum the next morning, and the participant dress code dictated I show up in something Shelby-esque.
I hopped out of my cushy, cocooned Lexus RX loaner to face a cluster of gleaming Cobra roadsters. The plan was to pick one of the three available testers and keep it overnight for a cruise to the Petersen the next morning. Two distinct variants were offered for test—two 427 S/C-style with bored-out small-blocks and an early “Slabside” 289 Cobra.
I tried one of the two 427-style Cobras first. These are the continuation Cobras you see the most, with swollen fenders and comically wide wheels. Big-block cobras are so visually aggressive, it’s almost a caricature, but you can’t blame Superformance for that. They supply inch-perfect recreations of the original design set out between the Brits at AC and Shelby himself.
Compared to privately held Superformance Cobras, this 400-odd-hp V-8 packs only medium power. Some nutters opt for obtrusively cammed thumpers or forced induction, while some of the bravest (or stupidest) opt for both. Either way, buckle up—exploring the powerband is going to feel like a hug from a bodybuilder.
Once you muster enough bravery to point that gaping mouth towards the open road, you’re in for a handful of surprises. Despite chest-compressing power, a curb-weight somewhere around 2,300 pounds, and a short wheelbase, it doesn’t switch ends as often as advertised. Wide bias ply tires out back slip—but don’t step out—if you poke it harder than you should in a straight line. Stab it mid-corner or on a wet surface, though, and your results may vary.
First wave of Cobra survived, I hopped in the glossy black Slabside. It didn’t take long to decide that the ’62 was the one to take home. Its narrow fiberglass body with thin wire wheels and classical red interior were charming, as was the modern fuel injection system on the 347-ci (5.7-liter) V-8. Out on the road, it feels nimbler and easier to live with, aside from a very unboosted braking system that requires looking ahead to compensate for sizable braking distances.
Just like that, I was on my own. The 45-mile drive up the 405 was daunting—my head only came up right above the tire line on some crossovers, and aside from fuel injection, there’s nothing modern about the Slabside. The only way to feel more exposed would be to ride a motorcycle without proper riding gear. No ABS, traction control, stability control, or airbags – just a handsome wood-rimmed steering wheel to break the forward motion of your head in a collision. You’d better hope you don’t get caught out in the rain either, considering there’s no retractable roof.
Suddenly, the traffic breaks. The engine’s breathing freely, settling into a low rumble in fifth gear at 70 mph. The wooden steering wheel is light and delightfully thin in my hands, the wire wheels tracking straight. It’s got that thick, buttery American torque curve, allowing for usable acceleration even in high gear.
The cruise-in wasn’t until the morning and I still had half of a workday to get through, so I parked the Slabside in the office garage, covering the black roadster with a red cover that did little to hide the perfect proportions.
I roused myself just after six, grabbing a gallon of sunscreen and my favorite ball cap from the closet. It’s a chilly morning for LA, with temperatures climbing from the low 50-degree peg. I hop in our Four Seasons Jaguar F-Pace, wiping the dew from the windshield, grateful for my last-minute decision to tuck the Cobra in at the warmer and covered office.
Off came the cover, in went the key. Fuel injection meant I had the sound, performance, and idle shimmy of the old V-8, but with none of the troublesome warm-up sputters and coughs. The steering wheel was cold and I wished that I’d brought along my Autodromo Stringback driving gloves, this being one of the rare cars where they wouldn’t have looked out-of-place. I rumbled out of the garage, and down the street for some locally brewed espresso.
Coffee drank and muffin scarfed, I left the roastery in a plume of exhaust and gas fumes with nose pointed toward the Petersen. It’s easy cruising on empty streets, only downshifting for stoplights and a short tunnel. In this configuration, the soundtrack is decidedly muscle car, with a brassy, baritone pitch. It’s deliciously caramel, but I think a high-revving cammed screamer would suit my tastes better.
I began to run into Shelby friends the closer I got to the show. By the time I rolled down a museum side street, I was being followed by a line of cars that included a GT40 recreation, a modern GT350, and a motley assortment of Cobras.
The show was a concentrated shot of mid-century patriotism, showcasing 50 years of motorsports and horsepower excellence from a Texan chicken farmer. After drinking my fill of Mustangs, GT40s, Daytonas, and Cobras, I roared through traffic back toward my office. A passing looky-loo in a truck rolled his window down and asked a few questions, while the driver of a heavily modified BRZ flashed their lights. Once back at the office, the red cover came out again, the Cobra awaiting flatbed transport in the morning.
It was far too short, but any time spent in a Cobra is valuable. Maybe next time I’ll brave the cross-city traffic, and make it to the coast, but for now, the ’62 Slabside was an early morning treat.