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						Kirkham Cobra A9

Naked Gun

Story and Photos by Steve Temple

Shelby Cobras have been built in just about every possible permutation, from road-course racers to dragstrip duelers, powered by everything from Ford small-blocks to a twin-supercharged big-block.

Just when we think it’s all been done before, somebody comes up with a new twist on the tail (and tale) of the snake. Check out this Kirkham replica, for instance. Two differences are immediately evident at first glance: the elemental, bare-aluminum body and the removable hardtop with a split-lid trunk.

Granted, we’ve seen unpainted aluminum Cobras before, but this one takes it to a new level of finish by using a special treatment from the aerospace industry (more about that shortly). And the LeMans hardtop has some historical basis, but not in a precise fashion.

According to Tom Kirkham of Kirkham Motorsports, originally this modification was used on an AC Cars Cobra raced at LeMans, but never offered on the 427 in the U.S. by Shelby American. “It was a good idea from one car that was moved to another,” he notes.

How so? Basically to improve on the Cobra roadster’s poor aerodynamics, which Carroll Shelby has compared to a “shoebox.” (Hence the need for designer Pete Brock to develop the wind-cheating Daytona Coupe that went on to win the World Manufacturers Championship.) Kirkham says a roadster with a hardtop runs as much as a half-second quicker per lap on the road course at Goodwood in England.

No surprise, then, that this hardtop configuration appears on many roadster replicas raced in Europe, but it’s still fairly rare here stateside. As of this writing, Kirkham has produced only a handful, probably because this option is fairly pricey, and requires a split-trunk setup, along with enlarged side vents adjacent to the front wheel wells.

Tom Kirkham admits that it makes the car  harder to get in and out of (since you can’t slide in from above the cockpit like most Cobra roadster owners normally would), and rearward visibility is reduced, but with a 500 hp Roush aluminum V8 under that shiny hood, you probably aren’t going to worry much about what’s behind you unless it’s a car with flashing red lights. While Roush builds a comprehensive range of engines, it worked in concert with Shelby American to achieve this power output by punching out a 427 aluminum block to 451 cubes. It’s mated to a short-shaft TKO 600 tranny.

Owner Darren Freidman admits his car is a handful with so much torque on tap. “It’s not a first-timer’s Cobra,” he warns. But he really relishes big-block power with small-block poundage.

Darren has built nine Cobras over the years, many of them groomed to a fare-thee-well, with every conceivable option and upgrade, and engines ranging from a 289 to a 460 Ford. This Kirkham, though, took a different path: “No more customizing — just stripped-down raw fun on this one.”

He means that in every sense of the term. Besides lacking such simple amenities as a radio and fuel gauge for the mammoth 40-gallon tank (which Cobra enthusiasts know aids the weight balance of the car), the aluminum body has just a simple skunk stripe down the middle, created by brushing the masked-off surface with a Scotch pad.

So how did Friedman achieve such a flawless finish? We’ve seen bare-metal Cobra bodies with a satin finish, and a few with a similar mirror surface, but nothing to this degree. Based on recommendations from Kirkham, Friedman used a compound and device from Perfect Polish that’s employed by the aircraft industry to give a gleam to the exterior panels on jetliners. He admits the process was fairly time-consuming, but the results were worth it.

As a side note, when Darren registered the car in California, the highway patrol officer who inspected the car said it was the nicest one he’d ever seen, but he did point out that he’d write a ticket for the non-DOT racing tires if he spotted Friedman on the street. Those Goodyear Eagles are actually racing tires that were custom-grooved with a V-tread. Trigo supplied the 15-inch knockoff wheels. All told, that cop knew this Cobra is a high-caliber piece, a naked gun loaded with a full-metal jacket.

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