How to Go Back in Time With Continuation Cars

[Editor's note: This article originally ran in the September 2019 issue of Classic Motorsports. Some information and prices may be different today.]

Story and photography by John Webber

Contrary to popular opinion, you can go back. Yessir, in 2019—more than half a century after Carroll Shelby unleashed two of his most storied creations on the driving public—you can buy a new/old Shelby GT350 as well as a new/old slab-side, small-block-Ford-powered Cobra.

Full disclosure: Time travel does not come cheap. More about that later.

The ’60s reincarnations you see here share Shelby DNA in their lineage, are licensed by Shelby (and listed as continuation cars in their respective registries), and are an absolute blast to drive, but that’s where their similarity ends

New Cars That Look Old

At a glance, these cars look like they just rolled out of the ’60s. But looks deceive.

Under its familiar shape, the Revology GT350 offers both brawn and brains; it’s a modern marvel that bristles with techno bells and whistles along with gee-whiz comfort. The Superformance Shelby Cobra, on the other hand, is a raw, unadorned and unapologetic throwback that strives to be as close to the original as possible while hiding a few drivability improvements.

Along with period looks, these rides are capable of delivering the driving experience that ol’ Shel intended. When provoked, each can be just as rowdy—if not as high-strung and ornery—as its namesake. With this in mind, we thought it would be entertaining and instructive to invite these new/old Shelbys out to play together. Turns out we were right.

Revology’s GT350

Orlando-based, small-volume manufacturer Revology Cars opened shop in 2014 and delivered its first production Mustang in 2016. (We reviewed its prototype convertible in our January 2017 issue.)

Founder and CEO Tom Scarpello, who spent years at FoMoCo in marketing and on the SVT team, has leveraged his love of Mustangs—his first car was a “pretty ratty” 1965 fastback—into a company that develops, engineers and builds over-the-top, vintage-appearing Mustangs and Shelbys.

The manufacturer's GT350 sounds marvelous, goes fast, turns and stops quickly, and offers an impressive list of creature comforts, including a/c, leather, power everything, in-dash display (reverse camera!), and Apple CarPlay. And everything is finished to the nth degree.

Tom graciously agreed to make Revology’s “company Shelby” GT350 available to us; we also roped him into driving and sharing his observations on the Superformance Cobra. This particular GT350 was built in 2016 as the company’s fourth production car and is equipped with a Ford 5.0-liter Coyote engine and a Tremec six-speed transmission. After faithfully serving its development and testing duties, it has been updated to current Revology specifications.

So, what we have here is a 435-horsepower Shelby that pulls like a locomotive while carrying a host of goodies like keyless entry and LED bulbs in its door handles. The man himself would chuckle—while he counted his royalties.

Superformance’s Cobra MKII

Superformance, the only Shelby-licensed builder of continuation Cobras, started selling cars in the U.S. in 1994. Its factory is located in South Africa (with 12 dealers in the U.S. and 10 overseas), and it has built more than 5000 cars there, including its Superformance Cobras, genuine CSX Cobras and Daytona Coupes, GT40s and Grand Sport Corvettes. Most of its cars are supplied to customers worldwide as rolling chassis minus engines and transmissions.

While the big-block MKIII Cobra is a strong seller, Superformance owner and CEO Lance Stander has a soft spot for the classic MKII. “The first MKIIs were actually offered as Shelby 50th anniversary Cobras to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first CSX 2000 Shelby Cobra slab side,” he explains. “To date, we’ve built about 160, including MKII street and Shelby FIA models. The MKII gives you the closest thing to an original Cobra you can get. It has that true British sports car feel, enhanced with American V8 power and sound. Customers tell us it is one of their all-time favorites.”

Ford enthusiast Jim O’Brien, who lives in Fairhope, Alabama, always knew which Cobra he craved. While he loves horsepower as much as the next gearhead (he also owns a 302-cubic-inch-powered, five-speed Sunbeam Tiger and a 2016 5.0-powered, six-speed Mustang GT convertible), he was not tempted by the big-blocks. “I’ve always loved the early Cobras,” he says. “To me, that car exemplifies the purest classic form with its simple, elegant lines. I’ve always wanted one.”

But prices of these early original cars rocketed out of his reach, zooming well beyond nosebleed territory. As the cost of his dream car disappeared into the stratosphere, Jim started researching the next best thing—a continuation car—which led him to Superformance.

Jim had his MKII built in South Africa from scratch, choosing Larch Silver over red leather and 60-spoke chrome wire wheels. After a six-month build, he had the roller shipped to Olthoff Racing, a Superformance assembly specialist in Charlotte, North Carolina, where a 340-horsepower, small-block Ford crate engine and Tremec TKO five-speed transmission were installed. More power is available, of course, but Jim chose this package for reliability and drivability. Plus, he figured that 340 horsepower in a 2500-pound roadster is plenty.

After a brief discussion about the quirks of each ride, we installed Tom behind the wheel of the Superformance Cobra, and Jim slid into the Revology GT350. We then spent the next hour on the route that Revology uses for testing, which includes city traffic, freeway time and curvy two-lane roads. Neither driver spared the horsepower. When we hit the freeway, our chase car, a 260-cubic-inch-powered Sunbeam Tiger (another Shelby creation seemed appropriate) soon begged for mercy.

During our playtime, both Shelbys behaved impeccably. No overheating in traffic, no smoking wires and no stalling. In fact, they drove like…well, new cars.

“I totally get the attraction,” a wind-blown Tom told us as he crawled out of the Cobra. “I feel like I need to smoke a cigarette. The wind, the sound and the smells all combine for a very visceral experience. You feel connected to the car and the road. Everything is at hand, and the ergonomics work well. In some ways, it’s almost like riding a motorcycle.”

He was somewhat surprised by the effort it took to drive the Cobra, which has no power steering or boosted brakes. “It gives you a real workout,” he said, and noted that the transverse leaf spring arrangement delivers authentic, vintage handling and ride. He praised the short-throw, slick-shifting Tremec and noted that the floor-hinged brake and clutch pedals felt odd at first, but he quickly adapted. Overall, he came away impressed: “It runs great, and inside and out, the fit and finish look good; I see a lot of attention to detail.”

Before his turn in the GT350, Jim expected it to drive a lot like his 2016 Mustang, which has basically the same drivetrain. Not so. “It’s very different,” he said. “Compared to the Mustang, it has very much a race car, period feel. It’s nimbler and more precise, and the Shelby has more torque and feels faster. But despite that, it doesn’t give up much in ride and comfort. You can tell the bones are good because it’s quiet, with no rattles or squeaks. The exhaust sounds better than my Mustang, too. I may go with a similar Borla system for my car.”

He continued: “I think it must be very difficult to capture the soul of a Shelby while adding all of today’s comfort and technology options, but Revology has pulled it off. It’s very well appointed, and the fit and finish tells me this is a hand-built car.”

How about compared to his Superformance Cobra? “Well, that car is on a different planet, and it’s meant to be. It has a few drivability and safety improvements over the original, but other than those, it’s very much a vintage car, and it delivers all those sensations. That’s the reason I love it.”

Perspective, Please

Continuation cars like these can be polarizing. Mention them in some circles and eyes roll. Many enthusiasts, however, believe that these cars have earned their place in the market (as does Shelby Licensing), and those who still doubt are often those who haven’t driven one.

Prices of the originals have simply rocketed beyond the reach of most mortals. Hagerty values a concours Shelby GT350 at north of $500,000 and a concours early Cobra around $1.4 million. Sadly, for most owners, pure economics has relegated these cars to their garages, seldom (if ever) to be driven. That’s understandable; they are irreplaceable.

For those who love Shelbys and want to drive one, continuation cars offer hope. And—dare we say it?—the cars we enjoyed here drive better and are safer and more dependable than the originals.

Still, handmade new/old cars don’t come cheap. Revology’s Shelby GT350 sells for more than $200K, depending on options. A turnkey Superformance Cobra MKII can be bought for around $100K or, for enthusiasts who want to finish one on their own, for about $20K less as a roller. And there’s the added value and appeal of driving a vintage-looking new classic that won’t leave you and yours standing alongside a dark and lonely two-lane.

So it’s all about perspective, not to mention wallet size. Tom tells us that he has clients who enjoy what might be called a best-of-both-worlds situation: They own an original GT350 yet bought a Revology Shelby. “They end up driving our car while the original sits in the garage. When they have both, they really can enjoy the difference,” he said.

Jim said he’s sometimes asked if his Cobra is real. “I tell them that I always wanted an early Cobra and this is the only way I could ever get into one,” he says. “I drive it to the grocery store and to the hardware store and just for fun. And I never get out of it without a smile on my face. It cost me one-tenth the value of an original. Yes, it’s real.”

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sfisher71 New Reader
7/5/20 5:47 p.m.

Excellent article. I had the pleasure of interviewing Chic and Cris Vandagriff in the late '80s for a feature about their CP Big Healey which dominated Sixties SCCA racing. At the time, they had an original 427 Cobra (with a genuine CSX number les than 3360), but even then it was too valuable to drive in L.A. traffic. So they bought the best replica they could find -- can't remember which manufacturer, but it was some time before the term "continuation car" had escaped to the wild. Their point was that the reproduction gave exactly the same sensations as the original, but at about a tenth the price, meaning the possibility of a door ding or loose shopping cart, while still stressful, wasn't going to damage something irreplaceable.

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