My Car Quest

October 26, 2021

Editorial: Death In The Afternoon

by Wallace Wyss –

I don’t exactly know when the crash happened, just that it was September 16th, 2021 in Temple City, CA. I was driving and I heard on the radio the words “Cobra…fatal crash.” At first the news media thought it was a genuine AC Cobra, one that Shelby built.

But in the next few hours it emerged that the car that hit the tree was a replica, a Superformance Mk. III. which looks like a big block Cobra but may have been sold with a small block.

The driver was a 33-year old Sheriff. He was thrown from the car by the impact. So was his 28-year old lady friend. He died, and that same day the media reported she was hospitalized with injuries.

I don’t know the cause of the accident but, in the pictures the right side is intact–tires inflated, wheels upright. The stance of the car on the flatbed looks like the driver’s side still has intact wheels. One media report said he hit the center divider, lost control and then hit the pole.

I think all this brings up a nagging question with replica cars. Here this car was made in modern times, certainly a good 50 years after the real 427 Cobras, but it had
no:

-collapsible steering column
-side door guard beams
-steering wheel air bag
-side air bag
-padded dash
-autonomous emergency braking

Of course it did have all the things one buys a car like that for–the rough and ready acceleration, the booming side exhausts, the wind in your hair. Ya just wonder, with all the laws passed on safety starting in the ’70s, why replica cars being sold today can so blithely ignore them?

I know, I know, we have a right to build and drive replicas. But I’m just asking is everyone aware of the risk they are taking buying a car built to a 1953 design (The year the A.C. Ace premiered) and driving it with maybe three times the horsepower?

I have driven small block Cobras and found them controllable. Spirited? Yes. But even no less an expert than Carroll Shelby himself told me “The 427 will kill you in a second.” It’s like going from a .38 caliber revolver to a .44 Magnum.

I am sure I will hear the facts about this accident as time goes on. It could very well have been, say, a collapse of a suspension arm (though as I say the vehicle looks upright on the flatbed). But it could also be a too-spirited drive where there are hazards (curbs, trees, traffic lights) not found on race tracks.

Maybe it was “showing off” as was the case with the star of the Fast & Furious series of action films. He was investing in exotic cars on the side when his car dealer partner came over to a charity show to show him the latest Porsche he had acquired for re-sale. They took off, the driver’s foot to the floor, and a mile later they were dead. The Porsche had hit an above ground gas pipe installation, which exploded. All the safety features I mentioned wouldn’t have helped when you hit a live gas main.

What’s my point? High performance cars are awe-inspiring but for a reason. Like a spirited horse, you know they are a handful to control. They can get away from you and that might not be good if you’re on board.

And I still want to know how replicas manage to skirt ALL the rules…

AC Cobra Crash

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss was a reporter whose beat was car accident research in the mid-to-late ’60s.

 
 
 

 

 

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Editorial:  Death In The Afternoon
Article Name
Editorial: Death In The Afternoon
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High performance cars are awe-inspiring but for a reason. Like a spirited horse, you know they are a handful to control. They can get away from you and that might not be good if you're on board.
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Comments

  1. Tony Olissoff says

    Well there is a question Wallace.
    Maybe the question should instead be; Why don’t they drive them like they did in the day?

    Drive them with a close eye, to where the line rests between Mortal and Fatal.

  2. Robert Feldman says

    This is not a problem with just Cobras. YouTube is full of videos from overly aggressive owners of muscle cars, supercars, modified trucks, lawn tractors, you name it. Anybody that can write a check can own a car or truck that is well above their driving skill.
    With all due respect to the unfortunate occupants of this car, we don’t know the surrounding circumstances. However, when building a replica of a 50 year old car it would be difficult and most likely expensive to adapt air bags, anti lock brakes, and other modern car protective systems that we take for granted in our every day modern drivers.
    The important thing as stated is to understand, accept, and respect you don’t have them in a replica of a 50 year old car before you get behind the wheel.

  3. Sad story indeed, I hope the Sheriff’s passenger makes it in one piece.

    I would advise Wallace that driving high-powered classic or new/classic/vintage replica should be treated as if one is driving a literbike, the latter alittle faster and a little less safe. I regularly drive a ’69 vette ragtop (now with a 5-spd) and built motor and it, like my old ’91 GSXR is analogous to cohabitating with a venomous snake. As my dad used to say, “Watch yourself at all times son.”

  4. Superformance Cobras are made in South Africa and shipped to the US without an engine. The buyer is responsible for the engine. I believe in this way they are not required to meet US laws for an automobile.

    • As I understand the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015 allows builders like Superperformance to ship cars with engines as long as they dont import more than 325 units a year.

  5. My 1987 AC Cobra Mk IV was made in England and shipped fully assembled as an automobile to the US. They met the US laws with a leather wrapped steering wheel (which I promptly changed to a wood Moto Lita) and the bumpers met the 5 MPH crash rule by using essentially a shock absorber to attached the bumpers.

  6. Fred Johansen says

    Restrict low performance drivers, not high performance cars.

    This sounds like when the Vincent Black Shadow first came out. Such a shame. Perhaps we need more race tracks? That’s what they did in the ’50 to vent off street racing.

    Just think of all those fiberglass T-buckets with big engines.

  7. The larger problem here is one Iho see all the time. Unqualified enthusiastic drivers that have never driven a Cobra, have no inherent driving skills w all say the same thing. I have driven a lot a fast cars in my day. When in fact they don’t know what fast really is. They don’t know it in a 90″ wheelbase car and most importantly, the car is never set up right to drive as it should. I have built motors for continuation/Kit car guys that all come in wanting the same thing. 427 Alloy block/alloy heads and 750hp. I always ask if they have ever driven a car with that kind of power in a Cobra. The answer is always the same. I have driven a lot of fast cars. Then I take them out in an Original 427 Cobra with a Standard but built 427 that makes 580hp. I rip thru the gears at 7000 rpm shifts and out of the corner of my eye, I see terror with a half a smile. They then ask me how much HP does that one make. I say about 580. You still want 750? Well, yeah of course. This my friends is the problem. Anyone can stab a gas pedal. It doesn’t take talent or brains. I always caution new to the Cobra world owners to be careful what you wish for. This is a very common event.

  8. What about the guy who buys an SUV with 8 air bags for his wife, and then rides a Harley as the breadwinner?
    It’s also chic these days for the wife to have her own Harley complete with that necessary full set of black leathers for the weekend party! Safety first…… or last.

  9. wallace wyss says

    I have seen this phenomena in a couple private aircraft owners. They had fast cars for the road so they thought “What they hey–I can handle some trick flying” or maybe “Storm–I don’t care–I’m a great pilot.”
    Dead and dead, and the worst thing is they took their lady friend with them.

  10. one of the risks of ownership. I am glad we have the freedom to buy cars like this one.

  11. Just a thought, perhaps if they were wearing seatbelts that might have pervented them from both being tossed out of the car!

  12. wallace wyss says

    The guys who want 750 hp. for the street are evidence that deep in the core of the human psyche there is a craving to have the biggest and the best. I’ve known people that want to own tigers–impressive at first when you see the tiger obeying them but when the tiger decides not to–well, you don’t want to hear about it. Isn’t there a Chinese saying “He who rides the tiger often ends up inside…”

  13. Wayne Watkins says

    How about these super quick Teslas which are way faster than any Cobra ever was ? Any Tom Dick or Harry with the dollars can get behind the wheel of one of those with absolutely zero driving experience of fast cars . Maybe they should stick to Chev Volts that self destruct in their garages with no driver !

  14. Today’s new fast 0-60 under 3 second cars are a huge problem. Ask any insurance agent. They should never exist. Fortunately and unfortunately, they have more built in protection than a cobra which has zero.

  15. wallace wyss says

    It is the Bolts with a “B” that immolate themselves.But I have wondered about Teslas too. My friend with a Tesla took a lady for a ride and floored it without warning and she heard a snap in her neck and had had to take her to the hospital They are as fast as 427 Cobras on acceleration. i see no reason why Musk wanted them to be that fast other than to give Tesla owners bragging rights.

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