2004 Ford Shelby Cobra concept roars into Jay Leno’s Garage

After decades apart, Ford and Carroll Shelby reunited in the early 2000s, and one of the first projects of the reconstituted partnership was a 21st century Cobra. The Shelby Cobra concept debuted at the 2004 Detroit auto show, and is now owned by Chris Theodore, one of the designers who worked on it. The car, Chris Theodore, and automotive appraiser Donald Osborne recently rolled into Jay Leno’s Garage to tell the story of the last Cobra.

The concept was a product of the retro craze that swept the auto industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The styling was meant as a take on the original Shelby Cobra, which married Ford V-8 engines with AC Ace chassis. While the reborn Cobra never went into production, Ford subsequently launched versions of the GT and Mustang with styling inspired by their 1960s predecessors.

Unlike most concept cars, this Cobra is fully driveable. Behind the massive oval air intake sits a 6.4-liter V-10, an engine that, like the car itself, never made it to production. Other components were sourced from the Ford GT that the company had engineered at the time. Shelby likely didn’t have much engineering input, but he gave the project his stamp of approval, and drove the concept ahead of its auto show debut.

2004 Ford Shelby Cobra concept

Designers didn’t want to do a carbon copy of the original Cobra, hence the concept’s blocky exterior surfaces, Theodore said. To this day, people mistake this 16-year-old design for a new car, he added.

Theodore, who was Ford’s vice president of advanced products when the Cobra concept was built, purchased the car at auction in 2017 for $825,000, but Osborne said the car is worth $1.5 million in its current condition. As a one-off concept, the Cobra isn’t registered for street use. If that could be done, the car could be worth up to $3 million, Osborne said.

If the Cobra had gone into production, it would have sold for around $99,000, Theodore noted. Ford ultimately shelved the concept, leaving the replica industry to handle demand for new Cobras.

Stay tuned through the end of this 5-minute video to see Jay drive the car on Southern California, right after they make clear not legal for the street.

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