We drive the Superformance Electric Cobra, and we ask ourselves: who is it for?
At the 2018 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, Chevrolet unveiled an electric COPO Camaro and was greeted with boos. Electric motors, the crowd seemed to think, had no place in performance car culture. It turns out that Chevy was only guilty of arriving early to the party, because this year EVs are in the game. 100 to Hot rod magazine’s famous Project X Tri-Five, as well as a ’48 hydrogen-powered, LS-powered Chevy truck built by Arrington Performance (not electric, but certainly not at traditional SEMA fare). All were surrounded by interested crowds and covered extensively in the online galleries. If anyone hoots, they are doing it quietly, and a lot of people seem to think this is the future of vintage car collecting. Is it? Should it be?
I was fortunate enough to drive one of the show cars before the event, Superformance’s Tesla-motor Cobra replica, the MkIII-E. There is a market for volts under the hood, but it might not be the people who already have a classic car in their garage.
Superformance offers licensed Shelby continuation cars that replicate all of the quirks and coarseness of the originals, with the Cobras being among the most raw red meat driving experiences. But the company also has its own line of builds, which offer a bit more flexibility in engine choice, and modern amenities like coil spring suspension or additional NVH protection.
âHave you ever driven an original Cobra? Said Sales Manager Ashton Stander, showing me around the Superformance warehouse in Irvine, CA. “The heat spreads through the whole car.” Most Superformance customers are happy to forgo a bit of historic precision in exchange for less heat transfer fiberglass body versions with large fender flares, custom interiors, and a wide variety of engine options. . Real Shelby roadsters sell for seven figures, which makes the replica market, even with cars fetching $ 100,000, a steal. Purists go for the well-bred small-block Ford 289s or the rowdy 427s, but you can buy a car geared up for one of Ford’s classic V-8s, as well as the modern 5.0L Coyote or huge Godzilla. 7.3 L. You can even grab a Cobra and drop a gasping Chevy LS engine in it. Damn, if you wanted a Ferrari V-12 in one, the folks at the store would do their best to make it possible (it’s done). But putting an electric motor in the wide-winged midnight blue MkIII roadster sitting innocently near the roll-up door was such a reach for Superformance CEO Lance Stander that it hardly got built.
âAt first he was a little reluctant,â said Joven Katic, owner of Joe’s Garage, which partners with Superformance on prototypes and development. Katic and Stander have been friends for almost 40 years and regularly exchange ideas. Katic was mesmerized by the technical challenge of electrifying a Cobra, but said Stander worried about the lack of sensory arousal. âIt was always about the noise,â Katic said. In the end, Stander was won over by the same thing that appeals to so many first-time EV drivers: instant torque and endless acceleration. âEveryone who rides it feels different afterwards,â Katic said. Of course, 1,500 pound-feet of torque is a game-changer.
Those 1,500 pound-feet are the optimized version. The engine of the MKIII-E is the rear drive unit of a Tesla Model S. Open the trunk lid and you’ll find it hidden between the rear wheels and visible behind a plexiglass window. Under the hood is a bespoke battery made up of two 16-cell LG Energy units combined into a 32kWh pack that delivers about 100 miles of range, assuming you only donuts part of the time. Stander said the original construction was impossible to drive in the lightweight Cobra, instantly turning the 275 / 35-18 Nitto tires to stains and smoke. It was just as difficult to stop, because the regenerative braking settings that worked in the Tesla Model S were so strong they made the car spin. âIt took some tweaking,â he said.
Katic said, “We had to learn how to do this. Before you start building something, you know exactly how to do it. Then you start building…” He stopped, but the inference was clear, electric motor conversions still aren’t as easy as a more traditional motor swap.
By the time I got into the Cobra the big concerns had been resolved, but Stander warned me not to treat it like a modern electric vehicle. “There are no driving aids,” he said more than once. There is also no park adjustment, no hill hold and no working parking brake, which gave it a surprisingly authentic manual Cobra feel, despite having no transmission and no speed to pass.
When not starting up on extreme inclines, the MKIII-E is easy to drive, and there are none of Cobra’s usual hassles: no finicky carbs, no hot side pipes to jump through, just those fenders like the hills and the usual convertible problem of what to do with your stupid hair. No wonder Ken Miles had a crewcut. At high speed the roar of the wind distracts from the silence of the car, but when cruising the loudest sound is the click of the solenoids on the brake pedal. âIt’s very unusual to hear birds driving a Cobra,â Katic said. “There aren’t a lot of electric convertibles.”
He’s right, and that’s one of the things I’ve always been excited about as we start to see more and more electric off-road vehicles. A quiet all-terrain motorcycle ride? Moab without the howl of a million ATV engines? Yes please. But do I want to silently navigate Highway 1 along Laguna Beach? I am not sure. The benefits were obvious – no headache, no need to yell at the passenger for a V-8 rumble – but I missed a few things about a traditional cruise in a classic. With no sound waves moving away from the Cobra, you don’t get that instant response from other car enthusiasts. If they’re not looking in your direction, there’s nothing to warn them that you’re nearby. Is it vanity? Yes, but to deny that this is part of the allure of owning a classic car is to lie. The lack of vibration made it easier to read the surprisingly high number on the 15,000 RPM tachometer, but I missed the urgent feel of a lopey gasoline engine. There’s something almost alive about the way an old car pulls against the transmission, the way it shakes its core, a racehorse in the starting grid. Then there’s the ride characteristics – adjustable to a certain extent – but I’ve always loved the silky glide of a downhill hill off the gas, the little shock from the transmission when you put the throttle on. The MKIII-E drove like an electric kart, all on or off, a hard binary with its shiny curves. It was always fun. People always liked to see it and came to talk about it. I wouldn’t take him out of my driveway. But given the choice between the MKIII-E and one of Superformance’s gasoline Cobras, I would take the fuel and never look back.
Earlier I said that there is a market for classics traded with motors, and I think this is true, only, it is not that electric technology trades are going to gain reducers for vehicles. electric. Most classic car owners love them not only despite, but because of their flaws. We love the sound, we love the smell, we forgive their leaks and breakdowns and often enjoy the maintenance process as much or more than actual driving. What electric classics can do is attract a new audience to classic car ownership. For people who appreciate the looks but have stayed away because classics are loud, messy, or old-fashioned, EV exchanges could encourage interest in cars as a hobby, similarly. way that modern engine swaps have brought in a whole new group of young mechanics and performance fans. who had no interest in changing carburetor jets but loved turbos and hot-rodding laptop tuning. The more the merrier, and they can still play engine sounds on the stereo.
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