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Blue Oval Oddity: Kelly Python Prototype

Kelly Python prototype on Craigslist

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, Craigslist

A long-lost Fox body-based successor to the iconic AC Cobra? You could probably sell me on the idea, especially considering the boxy ’90s Ford-type styling and storied history between Carroll Shelby and Ford Motor Company. But the truth behind Alvin A. Kelly’s Ford Python is a bit more convoluted than that and only has a distant connection to the snake charmer himself. However you shouldn’t quite dismiss this car outright, as it’s a bona fide Ford product, and likely one of the rarest Mustang spinoffs ever made. Offered for sale on Palm Springs Craigslist is this Kelly Python prototype, one of roughly seven known to exist.

By the best accounts available, the basic design of the Kelly Python was sketched by Eugene Bordinat, VP of design at Ford, back in the 1960s. It’s unclear whether the brass tasked him with the job or if he came up with the idea on his own, but either way, the design was intended to replace the Cobra body after they were no longer available from AC. The bodies were to be made from a new plastic material called Royalex, which was a made by the large American rubber company Uniroyal. The project was soon abandon though, either due to the gas crunch or Ford splitting with Shelby, and just two bodies were built.

Sometime in the 1980s, a fellow named Alvin Kelly stumbled upon one of the Bordinat Cobra bodies and felt compelled to finish the project. With the green light from Bordinat, Kelly constructed molds along with four fiberglass prototypes, and began working with Ford on a Mustang-based version of the car. Much like Harry Shay’s Model A replicas, Kelly’s Python would be sold through Ford dealerships and offered with a full warrantee.

While the Python's boxy exterior is a little awkward in some angles, it's quite appealing from others, especially the rear. From the front, we're reminded of the Triumph TR7 in a way, and since that car was designed in the ’70s, I'd consider Bordinat's design ahead of its time. But it fits the Mustang platform quite well honestly, even more so in other colors. I also think the Thunderbird taillights and flip-up Probe headlights fit very well. It's also probably a hoot to drive, being considerably lighter and tighter than the standard Mustang.

The final design of the Python was based on the Fox-body Mustang platform, albeit shortened in wheelbase for better weight distribution and heavily reinforced. Mechanicals were standard Mustang fare and several interior upgrades could be specified. What’s unclear is how large of a role Lotus played in the project, as it’s suggested that they fine tuned the car’s handling, but very little information is out there on the topic.

A goal of 5,000 units was placed, but only around 12 cars were completed, and almost half of them are unaccounted for today. This blacked-out Kelly Python on Palm Springs Craigslist surfaced a while back, and it’s a fairly well preserved version in nice drivable condition. Some part of me thinks the car has been painted at some point, for sure the wheels, but it’s otherwise pretty complete and original aside from the aftermarket stereo equipment. It has right around 47,000 miles on the clock, meaning it hasn’t been a total garage queen all its life, but has been cared for.

The seller is asking $35,000 for the car, which is considerably higher than other examples we can find that have surfaced in the past years. That being said, there’s no way to determine how the coming years will impact the value of this car, especially as anything related to Shelby (or Ford in the 1960s for that matter) goes through the roof.

See the Kelly Python prototype here on Palm Springs Craigslist.

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Concept Cars Ford Mustang