We drive the Cobra electric Superformance and we ask ourselves: who is this for?


To the Specialty Equipment Market Association 2018 (SEMA) fair, Chevrolet unveiled COPO Camaro electric and was greeted with whistles. Electric motors, the crowd seemed to think, had no place in high-performance car culture. It turns out that Chevy was just guilty of getting to the party early, because this year EV is in it. At the 2021 SEMA Show there were more options for drop-in engine conversions and at least nine EV-swapped classics on display, from Ford F-100 to Hot rod magazine’s famous Project X Tri-Five, as well as a hydrogen-powered LS-powered ’48 Chevy truck built by Arrington Performance (not electric, but certainly not traditional SEMA fare). Everyone was surrounded by interested crowds and heavily covered in online galleries. If someone is whistling, they are doing it silently, and many people seem to think this is the future of classic car collecting. AND? It should be?

I had a chance to drive one of the show cars before the event, Superformance’s Tesla-Motor Cobra replica, the MkIII-E. There is a market for volts under the hood, but it may not be people who already have a classic car in their garage.

Superformance offers licensed Shelby continuation cars that replicate all the quirks and rudeness of the originals – Cobras are some of the rawest red meat driving experiences. But the company also has its own line of builds, which offer a little more flexibility in engine choice, and some modern comforts like coil-over suspension or additional NVH protection.

“Have you ever driven an original Cobra?” Sales Manager Ashton Stander said while showing me the Superformance warehouse in Irvine, California. “Heat only travels through the entire machine.” Most Superformance customers are happy to forego some historical accuracy in exchange for less heat transferable fiberglass body versions with large fender flares, custom interiors and a wide variety of engine options. The real Shelby roadsters I sell to seven figures, which makes the replica market, even with cars reaching $ 100,000, a bargain. Purists choose the well-mannered small Ford 289s or the boisterous 427s, but you can buy a car prepared for any of the common classic Ford V-8s, as well as the modern Coyote 5.0L or the massive 7.3 liter Godzilla. You can even grab a Cobra and drop a – gasp – Chevy LS engine. Heck, if you wanted a Ferrari V-12 in one, the people in the shop would do their best to make it possible (it has been done). But putting an electric motor in the midnight blue, wide fender MkIII roadster sitting innocently next to the roll-up door was such a reach for Superformance. CEO Lance Stander which was almost not built.

Jessica Lynn WalkerCar and driver

“He was a little reluctant at first,” said Joven Katic, owner of Joe’s Garage, who works with Superformance on prototypes and development. Katic and Stander have been friends for nearly 40 years and regularly exchange ideas. Katic was fascinated by the technical challenge of electrifying a Cobra, but said Stander was concerned about the lack of sensory arousal. “He always dealt with the noise,” Katic said. Ultimately, Stander was won over by the same thing that wins over so many electric vehicle drivers for the first time: instant torque and endless acceleration. “Anyone who drives it feels different after that,” Katic said. Sure, 1500 pound-feet of torque is a change of mind.

That 1500 lb-ft is the tuned version. The engine of the MKIII-E is the rear-wheel drive unit of a Tesla Model S. Open the deck lid and you will find it hidden between the rear wheels and visible behind a plexiglass window. Under the hood is a bespoke battery pack consisting of two 16-cell LG Energy units combined into a 32 kWh pack good for around 100 miles of range, assuming you only do donuts part of the time. Stander said the original construction was undriveable in the lightweight Cobra, instantly turning Nitto 275 / 35-18 tires into smudges and smoke. It was just as difficult to stop, as the regenerative braking settings that worked in the Tesla Model S were strong enough to spin the car. “It took a little bit of tuning,” he said.

Jessica Lynn WalkerCar and driver

Katic said: “We had to learn how to do it. Before we start building something, you know exactly how to do it. Then you start building …” It stopped, but the inference was clear, electric motor conversions are still not that easy like a more traditional engine change.

When I got into the Cobra, the big concerns had been resolved, but Stander had warned me not to treat it like a modern electric vehicle. “There are no driving aids,” he said more than once. There’s also no park setting, no hill holding, and no working parking brake, which gave it a surprisingly authentic manual Cobra feel, despite having no transmission and no gears to shift.

When it doesn’t start out on extreme levels, the MKIII-E is easy to drive and there are no usual Cobra worries: no fussy carbs, no hot side pipes to blow up, just those fenders like rolling hills and the usual convertible problem of what to do. with your stupid hair. No wonder Ken Miles had a crew cut. At speed, the roar of the wind distracts from the silence of the car, but when cruising, the loudest noise is the click of the solenoids on the brake pedal. “It is very unusual to hear birds while driving a Cobra,” said Katic. “There aren’t too many electric convertibles.”

Jessica Lynn WalkerCar and driver

He’s right, and it’s one of the things I’ve always been excited about when we start seeing more off-road EVs. A quiet ride on a cross bike? Moab without the howl of a million ATV engines? Yes please. But do I want to quietly ride Highway 1 along Laguna Beach? I’m not sure. The benefits were obvious – no shrill headaches, no need to yell at the passenger for a roaring V-8 – but I missed a few things on a traditional cruise in a classic. With no sound waves drifting away from the Cobra, you don’t get that snap response from other car lovers. If they’re not looking in your direction, nothing tells them you’re nearby. Is it vanity? Yes, but to deny it’s part of the allure of classic car ownership is a lie. The lack of vibration made it easier to read the surprisingly high number on the 15,000-rpm speedometer, but I missed the urgent feel that a lopey gas engine offers. There is something almost alive in the way an old car pulls against the transmission, in the way it trembles through its core, a racehorse at the starting gate. Then there are the driving characteristics – tunable to a certain extent – but I’ve always loved the silky glide of a sloping coast out of the gas, the little clash of the transmission when you turn on the throttle. The MKIII-E drove like an electric go-kart, all on or off, a crazy hard track with its sleek curves. It was still fun. People still loved to see it and came to talk about it. I wouldn’t kick him out of my driveway. But given the choice between the MKIII-E and one of Superformance’s gas-powered Cobras, I’d take the fuel and never look back.

Earlier I said there is a market for motorized swapped classics, and I think that’s true, it’s just not that electric tech swaps will win gearboxes over electric vehicles. Most classic car owners love them not only in spite of, but also because of their flaws. We like the sound, we like the smell, we forgive their leaks and breakdowns, and we often enjoy the maintenance process as much or more than the actual driving. What the electric classics can do is bring a new audience to classic car ownership. For people who appreciate looks but stayed away because the classics are loud, cluttered or old-fashioned, electric vehicle swaps could encourage interest in cars as a hobby, just as modern engine changes have brought a new group of younger mechanics and performance enthusiasts who had no interest in changing jets in carburetors but loved turbos and laptop tuning in hot-rodding. The more the better, and they can always play engine sounds on the stereo.

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