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What's the big to-do with period-correct?

Shelby Cobra – it inspires all kinds of emotions – and our hobby is one of the few that is all-welcoming. Whether you own a $1.5M original or have the $15K rough FF Mk1, we all have one thing in common – The Shelby Cobra. Our hobby welcomes many varied interests – Restored vehicles, track cars, show cars, daily drivers, garage queens. Each owner is allowed (and encouraged) to express his (or her) interests, skills, and capabilities. Whether an original, a beautiful replica, a resto-mod that resembles a cobra, or the 15year, unfinished build, we admire each for its own merits. So what’s the big deal about period correct?

Many have the desire for the original Cobra, but are hampered by two things – MONEY and availabililty. With less than 1,000 originals available, if you can find one, it’s going to take a little more than giving up your daily trip to Starbucks to purchase it. And that will not change anywhere in the future. Availability drives pricing – and they aren’t making them anymore. So we pursue the dream with the next best thing – replicas. Continuation cars may be the next step. Yes, some argue they are also originals. That argument will never be resolved. But even they become pricey. The next step is the higher-end cars that emulate the originals. The market has clearly identified the more the vehicle appears to be an original, the higher the sale price it commands. So is the guy who owns the cobra with 19″ wheels, highback bucket seats, cupholders, and a stereo wrong? No, he’s pursuing his own dream, no matter how different it is from ours. So what classifies ‘period correct’? As the replicas evolved, some items help with the appearance of a 60’s vehicle, some seem to don’t matter and some become very obvious.


Round or Square Frame?

The original 427 Cobra was built with a 4″ round tube frame. Many replica manufacturers have opted for a rectangular tube frame, mostly for the ease of manufacturing – some will argue for the strength, also. The square frame is generally more rigid than the original frames. But there are a lot of design considerations that come into play in analyzing this. But even so, for the most part, the frame is hidden from the eyes of the audience who is focusing more on the engine or cockpit. Does it matter? Clearly depends on who you’re asking. Take a look at the blue car here, it’s an original car. Without crawling under it or really close examination under the headers, can you tell if the frame is square or round? Like I said, “Does it matter?” Yea, you may get points for a tube frame, but don’t let ownership of a rectangular tube frame keep you frame replicating your dream. 95% don’t know the difference anyway.

Period Correct Replica


The originals came in two variants – small block (260, then 289) and big block (FE; 427 or 428). There weren’t any Windsors, Clevelands, 460’s or heaven forbid, Chevy’s. But where do you draw the line? There are a few givens:

  • The FE variants are very difficult to distinguish exactly which version it is. To the untrained, a 427 and a 390 all look the same.
  • The 427 side-oiler is the holy grail for big block cars, however it is very expensive. Except for the block and pistons, the 390 uses all the same parts. While it may be half the price, you’ll miss the top dollars when it comes time to sell.
  • Your locale, situation or preference may lead you to a motor other than Ford. Be aware, the value of the car will be severely diminished as the next owner is likely to prefer a Ford engine, in which your pride and joy will be removed and sold to the highest bidder.
  • While the small blocks and modern motors are not period correct, it’s hard to beat the prices of crate motors that come with a warranty. But a true afficianado will know your 427 Windsor wasn’t in an original big block car.

Motor compartment details

There are a number of different items that make the period correct car stand out.

  • The firewall of the original cars carried most of the electrical items of the vehicle. The Brake light/Turn Signal relay, flasher, horn relay, fuse box, starter solenoid. An excellent place to start with your build.
  • Look back atop the drivers footbox and you’ll see the windshield wiper motor and a footbox vent valve.
  • Hydraulic reservoirs were mounted on the left side of the engine compartment, one short can for the clutch, two taller cans for the brakes. Nothing fancy, no bling, no polish, just simple cans with Girling lids.
  • Radiator inlet tube – the original cars used a Chevy style radiator. Inlet on the left top, outlet on the right bottom. Most replicas have this reversed. Another spot to add accuracy. 
  • Radiator reservoir and vent hose. The FE’s were equipped with a large overflow tank at the top front of the engine. They were reversed from the standard Ford configuration so as to work with the leftside inlet. The lower right corner of the reservoir was connected to the top of the radiator tank with a 3/8″ vent hose. Oh, did you notice the tag on top the radiator? Yes, they are available.
  • Look down atop the coil-over mounts and you’ll see Lucas type 9 horns, one high note, one low note
  • A hinged hood prop was located along the right side of the engine compartment
  • The passenger side foot box carried the ID plate and the Ford voltage regulator, just below the starter solenoid. Buried back under the fender is the passenger side footbox vent valve.

Most builders spend some time addressing these items, some more than others, items and builders. Adding one little detail is a step in the right direction but you’ll find that one detail compliments another to the point that the more detail you have, the better it looks. (did you notice the hood latch retainers at the back of the hood opening?)

Cobra brake and clutch reservoirs
Wiper Motor, Original


It’s difficult to use ‘creature comforts’ and ‘period correct’ in the same sentence. Technology has changed, times have changed. While we admire the mastery with how they made do back in “the ole’ days” no one wants to go out without air conditioning or power windows. Times and expectations change.

  • The layout of the Comp, S/C, and Street car dashes has been clearly defined and documented. We’ve come to accept while there were 998 +/- cobras made, each one was individualized by either the owner or subsequent restorations. So what is period correct?
  • Shifter. When they squeezed the engine and drivetrain into the AC body, there was only so much room, and the shifter handle came up almost behind the driver. Not to be deterred, Shel’s hot-rodders figured out if you mounted the shifter handle backward, the human interface end was in the right spot! Looked weird but it worked! But look closer – does it have the bend in the shaft just above the shifter boot? Does it have the little lift lever for the reverse lockout?
  • The originals came with low back bucket seats. You can cheat and hide seat heaters inside them and no one will be the wiser. With a little ingenuity, you can adapt current day seat sliders to appear as the 60’s era Leveroll versions.
  • Most of the difficulty in being period-correct is finding the parts and then dealing with the costs as cheaper alternatives are always present. Compare a wiper switch knob – $20 for a period-correct appearing one, $2 for one that works but came from a current-day car. It’s all about the look you’re trying to achieve.

We’ve all come to love and want our creature comforts. But remember, cup holders, Blue-Tooth, radios, remote speakers are all items of the 70’s and later. These cars were from the mid 60’s.

We recommend you first identify your goals and your audience. Do you just want to have a cool car to ride around in? Or are you trying to build the one that other cobra owners will look at and say “This guy really did a good job – this is a true replica” Either choice is correct. One has a little more research and expense involved in the build, but also has a lot more return on the dollar and satisfaction meter. The choice is yours.

Where do I start this research? Imagine doing this without the Internet! Take a look at The Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC) site. ClubCobra, our site, there are a number of places you can get close-up information on our toys. Look for our new, soon to be opened, historical albums. Pictures you can view and research online.

Oh, one last little challenge. As you get into chasing that Holy Grail, you’ll find little tidbits like this.

Most everyone will recognize the handle used on the hood or our cars. Take a close look at the base. Little different, isn’t it. Not the die-cast base you find on the typical reproduction. AC cars used a simple bearing washer, screwed to the hood to accept the latch handle, which, in turn, was retained on the bottom side by spring and cotter pin. Look anything like yours? Or did we just give you one more feature to replicate? You’ll find the pieces and advice necessary to do so at Period Correct, LLC

Original Hood Latch

As stated earlier, our hobby embraces all the cobras, whether extremely period-correct or those that approach ‘Resto-mod’. In our opinion, the period-correct ones are just a little bit better.

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