There is one muscle car out there that has screamed down a drag strip, zipped around a race track and has had the checkered flag in front of them and a plethora of cars in its rear-view mirror. This is the car that has been named the Fastest Muscle Car of All Time. Some may think it’s the Mustang, others may argue that it’s a Camaro, and others may argue that it’s a Corvette, but they are all wrong. The fastest car of all time is the Shelby Cobra 427.
The AC Cobra, or Shelby Cobra as it is known in the United States, started being produced in 1961. AC was looking to build a race car that was lighter and faster than the competition. First, they went to General Motors (GM) to see if they could use one of their Corvette engines, but GM did not want competition to their Corvettes, so they declined. ACs next stop was Ford, who was more than happy to share their engine to compete with GM. In the Mark I, ACs first Cobra, the first 75 cars were fitted with Ford’s 260c.i. (4.2L) engine and the remaining 51 cars built were fitted with the Windsor Ford 289c.i. (4.7L) V8 engine. In late 1962, production began on the Mark II Cobra, which got a new front end and rack and pinion steering, but kept the leaf spring suspension. It was not long before AC noticed that the Cobra was starting to lose its supremacy in racing, so they decided to try to fit the Mark II with the engine Ford FE engine (390c.i.). When race car drive Ken Miles tried to race the car, he said it was “undriveable” and it was subsequently named “The Turd”.
Well, AC did not want that name to be its legacy, so in 1965, they worked on the design of the Mark III Cobra (later to be called the Shelby Cobra 427) in cooperation with Ford in Detroit. The car got a new chassis, new coil spring suspension, wider fenders, a larger radiator opening and most importantly, the new Ford 427 (7.0L) engine. This car was a racer car drivers dream; it produced 485bhp and went 185mph in the competition model (standard model produced 425bhp and went 164mph). Due to this new model that was faster and 500lbs lighter than its competition, the Cobra became the fastest muscle car of all time and won a lot of races, beating out the Corvette many times. The standard model even contributed to there being a national speed limit set in the UK because the Cobras performance was so successful.
While this vehicle topped the racing charts, its sales numbers were a huge disappointment to AC. Only 300 vehicles were built and most of them did not have the 427 engine, but had the Ford 428c.i. engine because it was cheaper and was meant for the road, not racing. Due to these low numbers, AC had to stop importing them to England in 1967 and they stopped selling them in Europe in 1969. AC eventually shut its doors in 1984, as well.
There are still quite a few Shelby Cobra 427s in existence today. Of the originals built, 22 were built for competition. One was part of the European promotional tour, one was given to Bill Cosby as a gift, but he returned it because he could not handle the speed. That vehicle was sold to Tony Moxley, who also had issues with controlling it, which caused him to lose control and drive it off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. One of the originals was kept by Carroll Shelby, himself. Another was sold at the 2007 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Event in Scottsdale, Arizona for $5million plus commission. Most originals that were not built for competition can be found at auction for around $1.5million.