As a boy, it was a dream of mine to own a Shelby Cobra. It was one of the cars that made me become a car person. Once I was old enough to understand that the price of such a machine was prohibitvely expensive (it was around that time I also realized I would never become a professional basketball player), I began to consider alternatives. Like many, I realized that the replica/kit cars of the world could offer the experience of driving a rare classic, but without the headaches that come from taking such an expensive item on the road. It would be like bringing the Mona Lisa to a house party.
Of the replica kit cars on the market today (and there are many), the Factory Five lineup is perhaps the best collection of retro rides available. Their portfolio includes a ’33 Ford replica, called the ’33 Hot Rod, and a Shelby Daytona Replica, called the ’65 Coupe. Additionally, they also make a supercar, called the GTM. I can’t tell if this is a tribute or a variation on the Ford GT40, but I can say for sure that car is a face-melter.
Lucky for me, I was able to attend a Factory Five open house. I was specifically there for the Cobra replica, known as the Mk4 Roadster. I was given the keys by CEO David Smith, and when I asked any advice on driving the car, he gave me one line of advice:
“If you don’t respect the car, it will kill you.”
With a 465-horsepower Ford Racing crate engine, and curb weight of only about 2500-pounds, he’s right. Smith also went on to explain that there is a special way to enter the Cobra replica…
You first need to reach behind the door for the release handle, which is hidden. No problem, because there are no windows or convertible cover. Once the diminutive drivers’ door is ajar, you place your left foot on the “Factory Five” in the middle of the floor mat (one of the car’s few frills) and prop yourself up while you slide your right foot into the footwell. You then lower yourself into the bucket seat, and you are shoehorned into a vehicle of massive acceleration.
A car like this is a lifestyle choice. Like owning a motorcycle, or being a swinger. You’ll have to change your routine.
Other things to know. The throttle is unsurprisingly very responsive, and though the clutch has a lot of travel, the contact point is close to the top of its travel. That means that the first few times you shift, you’ll be revving the engine to the stratosphere of the tachometer before you engage, and you instantly have to ease off the throttle, lest you rocket out of the parking lot’s physical bounds or into the car in front of you.
Additionally, the throws on the shifter are stupidly short. Like, sneeze-and-you-are-in-4th short. Needless to say, until you get a feel for the shift pattern and the clutch, every shift is terrifying.
Once you get a feel for the ole girl (really, brand new girl), the car is glorious in a controlled madness kind of way. You begin to feel the areas where the car CAN lose control, and if you don’t want to be one of those unfortunate souls who leaves the earthly bounds of the paved road, you play within those constraints. The car requires the same kind of zen-like focus as learning to pilot a motorcycle.
With only an hour of getting used to the car, straight line acceleration is where you can safely play, and my god is the power insane. The Mk4 has a 5-speed overdrive manual transmission. 1-4 are all close, while 5th drops the revs down to 2000 rpms on highway speeds. As Smith put it “5th is for talking to your wife, 4th is for turning her out.”
The biggest fun on the highway was dropping it down to 4th and laying into the throttle, and letting roar of the enigne overtake the drone of wind buffeting your ears. You are in an absolute tunnel of sight, sound, smell and feel, and the car is overwhelming all of these senses.
I spent little, if any, time putting the Mk4 through really serious cornering. I will get that chance soon when I visit their factory.
Hopefully, then I’ll get some seat time in their GTM supercar as well.