Editor’s Note: The decade of the 1960s is considered by many to be the greatest in American automotive history. There’s little mystery why. The 1960s gave birth to the “muscle car wars” and game-changing performance pony cars. Legends like the Pontiac GTO, Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, HEMI-powered Mopars, and several others. How does one choose which is best? Controversially, we’re guessing. That’s why you’re taking some of the heat, too. We sync’d up with our friends on Summit Racing’s social media team to put the question out to their Facebook and Instagram audiences: What is the top car of the 1960s? The countdown to #1 continues.
As the old saying goes: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
Such was the case for automotive and racing legend Carroll Shelby. When a heart condition forced him to give up racing, he made the best of a sour situation by creating one of the most sought-after automobiles of all time: the Shelby Cobra. Just about the absolute furthest thing from a “lemon” you can imagine, the Shelby Cobra combined European sports car styling with American power and oozed performance. When Shelby swapped out the original small block for the 427 big block, you got one of the most insanely quick cars on the planet: the 1966 Shelby Cobra 427.
The first true Cobra was completed in 1962. Shelby teamed up with AC Cars from England and the Ford Motor Company, which was looking to get involved in the production of a high performance racing machine. By combining AC’s lightweight roadster body and twin-tube chassis with Ford’s 260 and 289 V8 engines, Shelby took the competition world by storm.
And he wasn’t finished.
Shelby began work on a more extreme version of the Cobra in the mid-1960s. This big block-powered Shelby Cobra 427 looked the same as the 289-powered version produced since 1962; however, it was a significant redesign. The body had to be widened and stretched, and chassis and suspension needed to be greatly improved to handle the Ford 427-cubic-inch powerplant. By combining the brute big block power with a lightweight body, the Shelby Cobra 427 yielded some eye-popping performance numbers:
- Horsepower: 450
- 0-60 time: Just over 4 seconds
- 0-100 time: 10.3 seconds
Only 348 original Shelby Cobra 427s were made from 1965-67, according to Hemmings. However, the popularity of the Cobra gave rise to replica car companies, which offered enthusiasts the “Shelby Cobra experience” for a fraction of the cost of owning the real thing. It’s a good thing, too, because the authentic Shelby Cobra 427 is one of most expensive collector cars on the market today.
And it’s (the 1966 Shelby Cobra 427) the #3 car on our reader-voted list of the top cars of the 1960s.