If you like the Jaguar F-type

It’s been out of production for almost 40 years, but time has only added to its allure. It was provocative like a Lamborghini, but clean, lithe and elegant, too. Jaguar’s E-type will always be the ultimate two-seat British sports car, a car Jaguar could never replace – and so it didn’t even try until 2013.

The new Jaguar F-type doesn’t ape its grandfather, but rather updates it with a new, emphatically 21st Century interpretation of British sex appeal. It is voluptuous, aggressive and feline, with crisp edges atop its fenders that speak of laser-guided design tools.

The F-type is, as was the E-type, available as either a convertible roadster or fastback coupe. The lower end of the range is powered by a 340-horsepower, supercharged 3-litre V6 engine in its nose backed by an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission that can be manually shifted. For coupe customers there’s an “S” model that sees the V6 fortified to 380hp. But buyers in this class don’t go in for half-measures, and the V8-powered F-type have been most popular worldwide, with its supercharged 5-litre unit rated at a virile 495hp. Coupe buyers can thump even harder, with 550hp available from the range-topping R.

But with much of the world entering the longest days of their year, drop-top motoring in a loud, bawdy F-type V8 S convertible is the cubicle fantasy. With a claimed top speed of 186mph, this is one of the fastest convertibles on earth. If there’s some unfathomable need to travel at 187mph or faster in a British convertible, you’d have to part with a lot more than the V8 S’s $92,925 price of admission.

Granted, you’d also likely spend beyond $105,000 for the F-type V8 S once options such as heated steering wheel, sport seats, colour-coordinated seat belts and $12,000 carbon-ceramic brakes are added to the bill.

While the F-type carries everything a modern car should, it offers a raw, visceral, immersive driving experience like few other new cars can. Driver and passenger sit low in the cockpit, with the doors and cowl – the line where the windshield and dash meet – relatively high, creating a cocoon-like atmosphere even with the top down.

Despite being built mostly of aluminium, it can weigh more than 3,700lbs. But it doesn’t feel its tonnage. At 176in long, it’s only a fraction of an inch longer than the original 1961 E-Type and more than 8in shorter than the last, V12-powered version of the classic, giving it a taut, muscular feel down the road.

Push the anodised orange start button and the engine awakens with a ferocious growl, then settles into an eager idle. The roar returns as the car builds speed. This is a tightly suspended machine on low-profile tires; it’s not uncomfortable but hardly coddling. It is also one of the few new cars that has not adopted electric power steering, sticking with the better feel of traditional hydraulic assist.

The cockpit does not aspire to XJ sedan levels of opulence, but it’s a comfortable and serious place from which to conduct the business at hand. With back pressed against seat, wind rushing above and exhaust roaring behind, the F-type focuses a driver’s attention like few new cars do.

With its balance and raft of safety gear, the F-type represents a secure way to experience automotive rawness, a plush toy that can blast off at the slightest nudge. But maybe you want to fly without a net?

Then try…

Performance cars  come no more raw than the Shelby Cobra 427 – a fragile, effete English AC Ace sports car fortified and battle-hardened to swallow the meanest American V8 the Ford Motor Company could build in 1965. If it were any more elemental, you’d have to duck to avoid being hit by the throws of the rotating crankshaft.

No traction control, no power steering, no ABS, no airbags, not even any side windows. Just 485 horsepower from a beastly 427-cubic-inch (7-litre) V8 engine capped by two four-barrel carburettors devoted to emptying the atmosphere of oxygen. And it weighed in at less than 2,900lbs – a half-tonne lighter than the F-type. Blip the throttle while out of gear and the entire structure rustles, creaks and groans under the torque. Running on massive Goodyear Blue Dot racing tires, the Cobra would, legend has it, blast to 100mph and back down to stop in only 14.5 seconds.

But real Shelby Cobras are such legendary monsters that collectors have pushed their prices into the stratosphere. In 2013 one of the 260 street-bound Cobra 427s sold at the Gooding & Company auction in Monterey, California, for $1.1m. Earlier this year one of the 23 Cobra 427s built for racing failed to meet its reserve after a $1.7m bid at the Mecum auction in Kissimmee, Florida.

So let’s dispense with an ugly truth: few people can afford a genuine Cobra 427. Fortunately, the world is awash in replicas. And the dirty secret is that because the real Cobra is so primitive, driving a replica can be better than driving an original. Or far, far worse.

See, the quality of replicas ranges from cheap fibreglass bodies duct-taped to flimsy chassis to re-creations done in better-than-original, highly polished aluminium bodies over chassis far superior to what Shelby peddled a half-century ago. The trick is in knowing what you’re looking at.

To go cheap, the sensible strategy is to scour the internet for what is generously known as a “project car” – something that someone, somewhere has lost interest in seeing through to completion. Over the years many replica kits were built by companies that have long since folded, so don’t expect how-to resources online or a friendly 800 number to dial in your darkest hour of wrench-turning. But with above-average mechanical skills and a decently equipped work space, you can pick up a bungled project car cheap and turn it into a true warrior. Just assess your abilities honestly.

At the top end are cars and components built by companies such as Kirkham Motorsports, of Provo, Utah. Kirkham sells a devastatingly beautiful aluminium-bodied replica rolling chassis of the street Cobra 427, which sits on a billet suspension that is a work of art in itself. The price – minus drivetrain – is $79,995 before hitting the options list. Want a bronze body with brush-etched stripes? That’s another $49,995. Want the big 42-gallon fuel tank? Cough up another $2,255. Kirkham will even sell you an aluminium, 625-horsepower version of the Ford 427 engine for a mere $24,995.

Somewhere between trying to save a basket case and blowing your retirement savings, there are replica bargains to be had ranging from complete cars indistinguishable from original Cobras to machines that make noise, earn double-takes, but would not stand up to an enthusiast’s scrutiny.

As with most things automotive, fun costs money, and the Cobra replica does not flout these laws. But whether spending $10,000 or $200,000, a resourceful buyer can tap the Shelby mystique at a limitless number of price points. All that’s left to reconcile is how much mystique you’re willing to accept, versus how much you can afford.

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