Shelby American’s winning homage to a famous Cobra

Back in the mid-1990s, outraged by the proliferation of half-baked Cobra replicas and kit cars, racing hero Carroll Shelby jumped back into the business of building his signature roadster, setting up shop outside Las Vegas, Nevada, a stone’s throw from the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Since then, Shelby American’s continuation-series Cobras – both the lithe 289 and brawny 427 models – have done steady business with a pedigree-conscious (and deep-pocketed) brand of sports-car enthusiast.

In 2014, two years after Carroll Shelby’s death, his namesake company has unveiled a special model, one that honours the 50th anniversary of the five competition cars Ol’ Shel prepared for the FIA Division III class – machines that competed against such heavy-hitters as the Jaguar E-type and the Ferrari 250 GTO. The 50th Anniversary Shelby Cobra 289 FIA roadster – production of which is limited, naturally, to 50 examples — is a genuine Shelby-made Cobra, with hand-formed aluminium bodywork over a tube-steel frame, complete with billet-aluminium badging to prove its Shelby descent.

Of course, the 50th Anniversary Cobra is notable as well for what it does not include: an engine or transmission. A classic Cobra, built to original specifications, has no hope of meeting modern US-government standards as a production car, but it is legal to sell as a kit car, to be completed when the owner installs his or her powertrain of choice (in this case, ideally, a true 289-cubic-inch small-block V8).

It bears mention that this Cobra’s aluminium flanks, however lovely, are historically inaccurate. The 289 Cobra’s svelte lines mimicked those of the AC Ace, the mild-mannered British sports car from which the fearsome Cobra sprung in 1962. This 289 Cobra has the flared fenders of the later 427.

Another somewhat discordant note is that Shelby has decided to compete with the makers of unofficial, fibreglass-bodied kit cars by offering a presumably higher-quality glassfibre-bodied version of the 50th Anniversary model, priced at a still-steep $94,995.

Either way, each of the 50 cars will be finished in Viking Blue paint with the period-correct roundels in Arctic White, ready for its fortunate owner's racing numbers.