Birth of a New Machine - Building a Cobra Kit Car
Copyright 1996, Daniel J. Sommers
Part 3: Planning the Project

Spring was in the air as Deb and I started our annual late-April ritual of preparing our two fair-weather "cruisers" -- Deb's '57 T-Bird and my '66 Pontiac GTO -- for the soon-to-come warm weather. As we uncovered the hibernating cars, I couldn't help thinking about what NEXT spring might be like with a Cobra replica added to our small collection.

T Bird

Certainly a Cobra replica could be built in a year. Heck, some of the kit manufacturers' promotional literature claimed it would take only 40 hours to build one of their kits. A year was plenty of time!

That evening, Deb and I gathered all the Cobra kit car information we had collected over the past several months. We scrutinized features, compared costs, and considered the stability and reputation of the companies behind the products. After weighing all the options, it didn't take long for us to choose ERA as the kit-car company we wanted to do business with.

In addition to ERA's excellent track record in the kit-car business, we liked the way the company paid attention to the details that can make a Cobra replica so much like the original, it would take an expert to discern it from the real thing. Of course, the performance of their cars really made an impression too. Like a "Car and Driver" magazine test of a customer-built ERA Cobra replica that delivered 0-60 mph acceleration in 3.3 seconds, more than 1.05 g of road-holding grip on a 200-ft skidpad, 70-0 mph braking in 176 ft, and excellent maneuverability through a 1000-ft slalom at 66.8 mph. Not bad for a kit car!

Another major ERA feature was the way they packaged their standard kit. Rather than selling a bunch of discrete parts for you to bolt together, ERA delivers the body already mounted on the chassis -- there is no fabrication or fitting required. Plus, the standard kit includes braking, clutch, cooling, fuel, electrical, steering, and suspension systems; dashboard with instruments and gauges installed; interior components; and trim, fasteners, and attachments.

We could have the suspension and braking systems installed by ERA, so all we would have to do is tackle the electrical system (complete wiring harnesses are included in the kit); outfit the interior (seats and carpeting are included with the kit); and attach mirrors and trim parts (also included in the standard kit).
As we started thinking about what our new Cobra would look like, we found ourselves savoring the superb photography in a hardcover book written by Rinsey Mills called, "Original AC, Ace, & Cobra." Subtitled, "The Restorer's Guide to AC, Bristol, and Ford-Engined Cars Ace, Acea, and Cobra," the book gave us an appreciation of the original Shelby Cobra. Man, it was a handsome car -- with timeless styling that still looks great today.

The photographs of original 427 Cobras convinced us that we should strive to build our replica to look as authentic as possible. From the Halibrand knock-off wheels to the walnut-and-aluminum steering wheel, we wanted a Cobra that looked like the ones in the pictures in that book. After all, this was to be a once-in-a- lifetime project, and we decided that we wouldn't settle for anything less.

Fortunately, ERA's information kit came with a price sheet that listed all the optional components available from the company -- like those Halibrand wheels, for example. The price sheet made it easy to calculate exactly how much our Cobra replica kit would cost. Because this information is so important in planning a project like this, here's the pricing exercise we went through, based on ERA's list prices in April, 1995:

ERA 427SC standard assembly

$ 17,900.

Prep and paint chassis


Bond body, floors, etc.


Assemble rolling chassis


Pin-drive Halibrand wheels


Rear suspension assembly


Ford Toploader transmission


Front brake calipers


Front coil-over shocks & springs


Rear coil-over shocks & springs


Driveshaft w/ universal joints


Repro emergency brake handle




Integral hood scoop


Front and rear nudge bars


Oil cooler


Steering gear


Chrome roll bar (installed)


Seat harnesses (lap and shoulder)


Primary exhaust pipes & gaskets


Stainless steel sidepipes


Soft top and bows


Plexiglass side curtains


Custom ERA steering column


15-in. repro steering wheel


Front & rear anti-sway bars


Wiper motor and mechanism



$ 37,120.00

Yes, I checked the arithmetic. We're talking 37 big ones here -- and that doesn't include tires, prep and paint for the body, and a suitable engine to make it move!

I thought back to the ads I had seen in "Hemmings." Now I was beginning to understand why some Cobra replicas cost as much as a couple of Lincoln Town Cars!

Thumbing through the ERA promotional literature again to make sure I hadn't misplaced a decimal point or something like that, I found a section on page 16 that talked about the time required to assemble their kit. Here's what it said:

"Assembly of the kit, with the drive-train ready for installation, will take about 100-120 hours, with body preparation and paint additional. Except for some straightforward riveting and bonding of the body. All work is of the 'wrench turning' variety. Most people can beat this conservative estimate! At a SAAC convention in California, we assembled a standard kit, without interior and paint, in 35 man-hours."

Assuming that ERA knows what they're talking about here, Deb and I estimated that it would take us at least 120 hours if we worked slowly and carefully. Realistically, we knew we could dedicate about 10 hours each weekend to the project. That means it would take about three months to complete the car -- not counting time for prep and paint work.

I found a calendar and pencilled-in May 1, 1996 as the proposed project completion date. Working backwards, flipping calendar pages as we went, we allocated three months for our work; two months for prep and paint at a local autobody shop (trust me; they're very good, but very slow); and seven months for ERA to build and deliver a kit to us. Suddenly, there was May, 1995 -- and it was less than a week away.

I felt a sense of urgency. It was time to move forward with the project or just throw in the towel and put this dream on hold.

Debbie and I made the decision together -- and haven't regretted it since.

Next Week: Ordering the Kit