Snake Bite

By
Updated: December 6, 2019

Nothing stops traffic like a Cobra, and this British Racing Green project takes desirability to a whole new level.

It’s one of the most distinctive shapes in automotive history, and still has the power to shock and awe just as it did on its 1962 debut. The AC Cobra – or Shelby Cobra in the US – is a riot of curves, body stripes, fat tyres and huge bonnet concealing, usually, a monstrous V8 powerplant. As with anything this desirable, demand has always outstripped supply, pushing prices of genuine Cobras into the stratosphere.

The first Shelby Cobra ever built – CSX 2000 with a 260 cu in V8 – was Carroll Shelby’s own car and development prototype. In 2016 it sold for $US13.75- million, making it the most expensive American car ever sold at auction. Little wonder original examples or even licensed “continuation specials” are out of reach to most enthusiasts. The result? The Cobra’s probably the most replicated car in history, with companies making turn-key replicas or providing kits for backyard mechanics to create their own legend.

These DIY projects have various levels of success, but it’s not hard to spot a good one. This is Julian Maricich’s effort, and it’s practically a work of art from its curvaceous chrome-lined windscreen down to the side-exit heat-shielded exhaust pipes running between period knock-on split-rim alloys. Finished in British Racing Green with gold flake it dazzles in the Queensland sunshine, and looks race track ready with its Shelby strips tapering at each end, racing numbers and white lettering for the tyres. Little wonder it’s brought home trophies from both Show ‘n Shine and track events.

The project began in his native South Africa over thirty years ago when Julian bought “a rubbish second-hand V8 engine.” It l[;lll[l[ll;lllllllllllll;l;.’/it,” Julian said. “I had my own business so I worked on it whenever I had the time and money. All the bits and pieces I’ve chosen as I’ve gone along; I’ve had lots of time to do shopping over those years.”

“The Project Began In His Native South Africa Over Thirty Years Ago When Julian Bought A ‘Rubbish’ Second-Hand V8 Engine.”

Julian said he’s always been crazy about cars, with a Porsche 911 being his dream car. “I realised I’d never be able to afford one (although he ultimately did), so the second best was to build up a kit car. I love V8s, so that’s why I decided to go the Cobra route. I love the old school drive, but also its looks. The older it gets the more beautiful it becomes. New cars keep changing, but Cobras look just like they did when made in the early 1960s.”

Although not a trained mechanic, Julian co-owned a V8 shop with his son and good friend, Swanny, and is one of those enviable people who can seemingly successfully turn their hand to anything. “It’s a hobby, but help from friends and Google means we got things done,” he said. “If it’s not right first time, it gets scrapped and we go again until we do get it right.” The quality of the finished product is testament to that.

The bespoke chassis and body kit were bought from a Cape Town company called Shamrock. “I chose their kit as it was 50mm longer in the door,” Julian said. “I’m a tall guy and wanted a bit more length than other replicas of that time.” While the original Cobras used Ford V8s, Julian’s employed a Chevy V8. Interestingly, Carroll Shelby approached Chevrolet in 1961 to see if they’d provide an engine for his car, they rejected to avoid competition against the Corvette, so it was a Ford Windsor small-block used on the first Cobras. “My preference was Chevy, it always has been,” he said. “It’s a matter of taste, it’s slightly different to the Ford but both are good. Nowadays there are Cobras built with a Lexus V8 engine in them.” Not sure the purists would approve…

In its first iteration Julian used a 350 cu in Chevy V8. “I beefed it up a little, it still wasn’t fast enough so I beefed it up again,” he said. “I got a good price for it when I removed it for a new build. The current engine is a 350 with four-bolt main block, I then got the crank of a 400, it has a four-inch bore and stroke of a 400 which works out to 383 cu in. It’s a very strong, torquey engine. Some say it doesn’t rev as high with the long stroke, but I’ve had it to 8000rpm: that’s good revs to me.”

Sitting in the open Cobra – Julian has a hardtop for wet weather use – be in no doubt this is a serious weapon. The GM 350 Turbo three-speed auto takes care of the changes in an impressively silky manner, allowing the driver to hold on to the wooden steering wheel while it surges from about 2500rpm. Acceleration is mighty, and the wall of V8 noise utterly addictive. Its covered the quarter-mile in 12-seconds at altitude in South Africa, so it would go even faster should it line up on a Queensland drag strip.

“The only original part of the Chevy engine is the block,” Julian explained. “The pistons, crank, rings, bearings, intake manifold, carburettor… everything was aftermarket. I built it to be driveable on the street but also go like crazy on the drag strip. My business partner Swanny put the specification together, I bought the right stuff because we were in the business, and under his watchful eye I put it all together.” The gearbox was strengthened and built with a specific torque converter to handle the abuse, suspension is from a Jaguar 420, brake rotors are ventilated with aluminium calipers for track use and the Cobra replica 15-inch Halibrand wheels are shod in fat Toyo tyres that beautifully stuff those curved arches.

Exhausts had to go along the flanks rather than underneath to make life easier over speed bumps (looks cooler too), the seats came as fibreglass shells which Julian had cushioned and leathered, while the curved fibreglass dash panel also got the black leather treatment after the instrument locations were decided. With black carpeting to finish, it’s pure sportscar inside with a lovely period feel thanks to the three-spoke steering wheel.

Julian said a South African panel beater and spray painter friend Tommy did some work on the doors, bonnet and arches to ensure a perfect fit – they’re now incredibly true – added a bonnet scoop and applied that show-stopping paint. “At first I wasn’t going to have the stripes as classic Cobras were only one colour, but eventually I thought it had to have the white stripes, and I think it looks spectacular.”

Compared to a modern car, upkeep is relatively simple. “There are no computers, ECUs or fancy stuff you have to link up to,” Julian said. “It’s old school. I do spark plugs, oil changes, timing and away you go. Make sure there’s enough oil and tyre pressures are right: really simple. I’ve put the car together, so I know where to look when something sounds strange. And when you put your foot down, it just feels fantastic.”

There was no question Julian would bring his Cobra to Australia when he moved here a few years ago: “I’d worked on it too long,” he said. His garage also houses a red Cobra with manual gearbox better suited to circuit racing, while he’s almost completed a 1968 Chevy Impala. “They’ll be staying in the family,” he said with a smile. “The kids can fight over them when I’m gone. I’ve two children and two kids; they can choose which one they’d like!”

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