Reincarnation Magazine

Reincarnation Magazine
Continuation, Reproduction and Replica Automobiles
Rein Car Nation Cover Spring 2020
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For the Record

CSX4224 makes a 2015 speed record at 199.0 mph

Story and Photos by Steve Temple, Track photo courtesy of Virgil Benton

We ran a cover feature a couple years ago on a Superformance replica that broke Dick Smith’s Shelby Cobra topspeed record of 198 mph, set at Daytona in 1967. Ted Taormina edged past that figure, hitting 201 mph, and our magazine and other publications thus touted it as “the world’s fastest Cobra.”

“Hold on a minute!” opines Virgil Benton, who correctly pointed out that the Superformance car is not an original Shelby Cobra. (Although this company does build Shelby Cobras under contract with Shelby American as well, and both cars are offered at the same facility in Irvine, California). He went on to state that his CSX4000 series is an authentic Shelby Cobra, and it, technically speaking, is actually the fastest one on the planet. Virgil’s CSX4224 beat Smith’s CSX3035 by 1 mph, hitting a top speed of 199 mph on April 11, 2015, at the Mojave Air & Space Port.

In the interests of being technically precise, we should point out that the CSX4000 Cobra, sold as a component Cobra in recent years, does not have exactly the same construction as the CSX3000 Shelbys from the 1960s, which is what Smith drove. And even the Cobras from this era went through some changes during their production, as they were refined and modified.

But Virgil does have a point, and we’re glad to bring it out, as Cobra enthusiasts are a passionate lot and we wouldn’t want to overlook his impressive achievement. And in fact, Ted was the individual who brought Virgil’s car to our attention.

To be fair, all three of these cars (and others, too) reached astounding speeds, despite having “the aerodynamics of a shoebox,” as Carroll Shelby admitted. What we can all agree on is that Virgil built an astounding Cobra from the Shelby component package, so that’s what we’ll highlight and what led him to tackle such a daunting top-speed challenge. But first, a bit about his background.

“I’ve always been interested in cars, and I worked for Keystone Automotive Industries for almost 25 years,” he relates. Virgil is naturally mechanically inclined, and he has plenty of experience dealing with paint and body shops during his time at Keystone.

“I like working with my hands and building things,” he adds. “So when I learned that Shelby American was selling original-component Cobras, I decided I could have my dream car — and build it too!”

Virgil ordered his aluminum-body Cobra from Shelby with additional triangulation for spec series road-course racing. High-quality DOM tubing was welded onto the stock ladder-frame chassis, with crossmembers up front, and reinforcements from the front to the cowl and on the sides and back of the rear bulkhead — all of which increased rigidity to provide more safety and better handling performance.

Virgil’s project went through three major phases. He started the initial build in 2003 and completed it in 2006. After a minor accident at Willow Springs in 2011, he repaired the car. Later on, he wanted the color scheme to match his Shelby pickup that his wife gave him for his 60th birthday. So he redid the paint and did other restoration work on the car from 2016 to 2019.

To punch through the roadster’s aforementioned air resistance for a land speed record, he went with an aluminum Shelby 427 engine, enlarged to 510 cubes. It’s topped by an Edelbrock Victor single-plane intake and a 1,000 cfm carburetor. The latter has a Holley base plate with custom-built metering blocks. He also slid in a camshaft from Bullet Racing Cams that actuates Crower severe-duty mechanical roller lifters on the ported and polished heads. All told, this lightweight big-block churns out 650 hp — far more than most original 427 Shelby Cobras ever dreamt of.

On the other hand, unlike Ted’s Cobra replica, which had a number of aero treatments and special suspension settings, Virgil simply used Shelby American’s recommended alignment specs for the toe-in, toe-out and caster. The only aero mod was a spoiler for the front that utilizes the existing bumper jack hardware, along with a low-profile windscreen.

Thinking back on the speed runs made in April 2015, Virgil admits that during the initial setup, he “kind of soft-shoed in on first pass. I left a lot on the table.”

The second run ended abruptly when the car shut down by itself due to a bad ground. He worked feverishly to trace down the cause and got the car running in time for just one more attempt before the event closed.

On this one, he really laid into it, shifting at 7,000 rpm to avoid losing any speed. Describing his sensations as he approached the 200 mph mark, he recalls, “The car felt solid. It didn’t feel bad at all. But the steering is way more sensitive, and I was just focused on keeping it straight.”

Once he was done grinning and fist-pumping from setting a record, he began thinking about going back again the following year since he felt the car could easily exceed 200 mph.

Unfortunately, due to some unrelated issues involving the sponsor and location, this speed event is no longer held. So Virgil is looking to other road race events to flex the muscles of his purpose-built Shelby Cobra.

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