By Steve Temple

Photos by T.J. Grewal and Steve Temple

There can only be one. Initially, the fastest Shelby Cobra roadster was Dick Smith’s CSX3035, which hit 198 mph while racing at Daytona way back in 1967. As a testament to the Shelby race program, Smith’s record stood for nearly 50 years before being broken. In April 2015, Virgil Benton was clocked at 199 mph in his Shelby Cobra CSX4224 on a 1.5-mile flat spot in the Mojave Desert. But now, a new record stands.

Ted Taormina of Taormina Imports jammed the throttle pedal to the firewall and bested that record by a few ticks, hitting 201.1 mph. But this wasn’t a case of beginner’s luck for Ted and his streamlined Superformance replica.

In Bonneville Salt Flat terms, that might not sound like an extreme number, but it’s still one heck of an achievement. After all, a Cobra is known more for the quickness of its strike than absolute top end. And Carroll Shelby admitted that it had the aerodynamics of a shoebox, hence the need to develop the slippery Daytona Coupe for the long straights at Le Mans. 

So that begs the question, how did Ted break through the 200 mph ceiling? It took numerous attempts, with many tweaks along the way, but he relates that it was more about brute force than any tricks up his sleeve. Like Dick Smith’s Cobra, it runs a 427 FE engine, but was massaged to deliver 690 horses, and 710 lb-ft of torque. 

The engine was bored and stroked to 496 cubes, and fitted with a Crane cam, CP pistons, custom headers, and Blue Thunder intake topped with 48 mm Webers. A lot of headwork was required at Ted’s shop, with material added to the intake to port-match the valve size on the heads. The engine is backed by a Tremec six-speed and 3:48 rear gears.

Even with Ted’s emphasis on raw power, he picked up several airflow pointers from a course on aeronautics and the European exotics in his shop. He sealed the belly with aluminum panels for reduced drag, and added a pair of canards on the fenders to keep the nose from lifting off. The main effect on downforce, however, is an under-car spoiler, extending from underneath the driver’s seat to the rear of the car. 

“Downforce was truly the magic,” Ted explains. “The angle was initially too high, making the rear fender too low. Even though it felt planted, it initially slowed me down.” 

Adjusting the angle was just one of many air-management tools he employed. The air flowing underneath the car exits through a diffuser with vertical strakes to spill air cleanly off the rear end, both minimizing turbulence and providing directional stability. Ted also fabricated an aluminum tonneau cover to seal off the passenger side of the cockpit. When aiming for the top gun record, the windshield is not slanted, but instead replaced with a mini plexiglass wind deflector.

At speed, he says the sensation is similar to skydiving, since Ted gets thrills from that sport as well. His only worry is a blowout, but he keeps an eye on tire temps after each run. Otherwise, the car feels remarkably sure-footed, with custom TKO Motorsports shocks and zero toe-in on the suspension to keep things from getting twitchy.

But what about that Italian national colors on the paint job? Carroll was a Texan, and had a thing for besting that famous race car driver and builder from Maranello, Italy: Enzo Ferrari. Ted has always been a big fan of Italian exotics, but admits that, “The Cobra gets my heart beating the most.” So he’s obviously a red-blooded American.

Even so, his firm, Taormina Imports, bridges these two cultures, as it’s an exotic car service specialist for Superformance vehicles, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and other exotic and classic cars. Founded in 2010, Taormina brings 25 years of knowledge and experience to the San Francisco Bay area.

After setting a speed record in a Lambo at 201.3 mph (“I’m kinda stuck at the 201 figure,” he admits), he decided it was time to do it in a Cobra. It took about six months to complete all the mods noted above, and three trips to the Mojave Air and Space Port before cracking Dick Smith’s record. 

“I set this in just a mile and a half,” Ted says with an obvious note of pride.“Given more road, the Cobra could have gone faster. At 5,600 rpm in sixth gear it was still stable and pulling.”

We expect to hear much more from this Italian Job.